- The Washington Times - Friday, January 12, 2007

FLORENCE, Italy — Dante Alighieri did not, after all, have bulging eyes or a pointed chin — but his enormous nose was true to life, said scientists who have created a replica of the poet’s face by measuring the remains of his skull.

Dante, who lived from 1265 to 1321, was Italy’s greatest poet. His major work, “The Divine Comedy,” is one of the most important poems in European literature and has inspired countless authors including T.S. Eliot and Karl Marx.

Now, researchers at the University of Bologna have pieced together the “true face” of Florence’s favorite son and discovered that it was different from the portraits of him by the artists Botticelli, Raphael and Giotto.

Giovanni Boccaccio, the Italian author who was 8 when Dante died, described the poet as having “a long face, an aquiline nose, eyes that are large rather than small, a great jaw, and a lower lip that was larger than the upper.”

He added: “His color was brown, his hair and beard thick, dark and curly and his expression ever melancholy and pensive.”

However, the new three-dimensional re-creation of Dante’s face, revealed yesterday, has a wide forehead and a normal, if robust, chin. The features are softer, and the poet’s large nose seems slightly more in proportion.

“He was not a handsome man,” said La Repubblica newspaper. “That much is true. But he was much less ugly than we believed. The nose is without doubt big and important, but it was not aquiline. The classical profile of Dante has been demolished.”

Giorgio Gruppioni, an anthropologist who led the research, said: “We have restored Dante’s humanity. He has become one of us again. The portraits wanted to show something of the spirit of the poetry in his features. They were more sentimental than real.”

The reconstruction took him and two colleagues about a year to complete, he added.

Francesco Mallegni, of the University of Pisa, also worked on the project. He is famed for his reconstructions of Giotto and Count Ugolino della Gherardesca, who reputedly ate his two sons and his grandsons while in prison.

The team worked from measurements and photographs of Dante’s bones collected by Fabio Frassetto, a professor at Bologna University in the 1920s who was given permission to open up his grave in Ravenna.

Although Mr. Frassetto was not allowed to make a cast of the skull, he did create a replica from his measurements.

“Frassetto made hundreds of measurements, and the skull is accurate to the millimeter,” said Mr. Gruppioni.

Working from that replica, the team modeled Dante’s jaw using a three-dimensional computer-imaging tool. Then, with the help of a forensic scientist and a sculptor, they re-created the face and calculated the ratio of fat to muscle in the poet’s features.

“This is the closest we will ever get to seeing the real Dante’s face,” Mr. Gruppioni said.

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