[an error occurred while processing this directive]
BBC News
watch One-Minute World News
Last Updated: Friday, 12 January 2007, 12:54 GMT
Scientists recreate Dante's face
By Christian Fraser
BBC News, Rome

Recreation of Dante's face
The face was modelled from skull measurements taken in the 1920s
Meet Dante. Not the best looking man in the world, but certainly better-looking than he has often been depicted in famous paintings.

Scientists believe this face is the closest match to the poet's skull found in his tomb.

And for Dante scholars it has thrown up a few surprises. They always imagined him to have a long aquiline nose.

But the team from the University of Bologna, who remodelled this face, believe it was bent and crooked.

He looks as if he had been punched.

"We all had our ideas of what Dante looked like," said Professor Giorgio Gruppioni, the anthropologist behind the project.

"But if this is right, it shows his face was quite different from what we had envisaged."

'Psychological renditions'

The popular conception of what Dante looked like came from classical portraits.

Professor Gruppioni said most were done by Renaissance artists after he had died.

They are what he calls "psychological renditions" - impressions artists had formed of Dante, from his work they had read.

A number of death masks also exist but historians believe these, too, were sculpted after his death.

"No human face could stand having 30 death masks made of it," said Professor Gruppioni.

Dante died in 1321 shortly after finishing Paradise, the last book of the Divine Comedy.

Dante's skull superimposed on a Botticelli portrait
Scientists superimposed Dante's skull on a portrait by Botticelli

His bones were moved to the northern town of Ravenna in 1509 by monks who feared they might be stolen from his home town.

The face has been modelled from measurements taken of the skull when the crypt was opened in the 1920s.

The measurements are thought to be correct but the jawbone, which was missing from the crypt, has been engineered to fit the skull.

Forensic techniques

Once a complete cast had been re-created the artists began applying the flesh.

They used computer technology and new forensic techniques to simulate the muscles with plaster, plastic and other materials.

Professor Gruppioni concedes that superficial details on the face, such as wrinkles and the expression around the eyes and mouth, are slightly speculative.

But he is confident that the shape of the head, the proportion of the eyes, nose and mouth were as you see them.

"It was the closest we could come to it," said Professor Gruppioni.

"We put no expression on the face just its form," he added.

"When we finished it, he looked more ordinary, like the guy next door. I thought this would have caused a scandal but most people think he looks more human."

Hell the musical comes to Vatican
03 Jan 07 |  Entertainment
Dante exile document released
24 Sep 04 |  Entertainment
Dante's ashes discovered
20 Jul 99 |  Europe

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites

Has China's housing bubble burst?
How the world's oldest clove tree defied an empire
Why Royal Ballet principal Sergei Polunin quit


Americas Africa Europe Middle East South Asia Asia Pacific