First printed, then decorated by hand: Dante Alighieri's *Divine Comedy* transitions to a new era

Divina Commedia 1491 Illustrated Incunabulum

Venice (Italy) — November 18th, 1491

Divina Commedia 1491 Illustrated Incunabulum

Divina Commedia 1491 Illustrated Incunabulum

Venice (Italy) — November 18th, 1491

  1. More than 400 miniatures and 100 woodcuts by Antonia Grifo (ca. 1430-1510) adorn the masterpiece of Dante Alighieri (1265-1321)

  2. This fantastic codex is evidence of a period when printed works were still adorned by hand with miniatures and initials

  3. Prolific, dense notes in the margins indicate it may have been the personal copy of the text’s editor, Pietro da Figino

Divina Commedia 1491 Illustrated Incunabulum

Alternative Titles:
  • Commedia di Dante con figure dipinte
  • Divine Comedy by Dante Alighieri
  • Divina commedia
  • Estense Divine Comedy
  • Göttliche Komödie
Divina Commedia 1491 Illustrated Incunabulum – Casa di Dante (Rome, Italy)
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  1. Short Description
  2. Codicology

Short Description

With his Divine Comedy, the Florentine author Dante Alighieri (1265-1321) successfully created the most important literary work of Italian literature and simultaneously established Italian as a literary language during his year in exile. His work enjoyed immediate and lasting popularity following its completion in 1320, and as such numerous manuscripts and printed codices of the work have survived, but the 1491 incunabulum at hand is one of the finest. Although the precise ownership history of the codex in unclear, it was created by preeminent scribes, artists, and printers in Venice. This masterpiece stands out not only as a prime specimen of the Dante tradition, but a wonderful example of the emerging art of book printing, which still maintained some elements of manuscript art, which were added after printing.

Divina Commedia 1491 Illustrated Incunabulum

One of the most splendid specimens of the magnum opus by the father of the Italian language: the Divina Commedia by Dante Alighieri (1265-1321) in a splendid incunabulum that was published on November 18th, 1491 in the Venetian print shop of Pietro Piasi Cremonese. This monument of world literature has enjoyed a great deal of popularity since it was first completed in 1320, and has been one of the most influential works in history. This particular specimen is noteworthy as a pre-1500 print, known as an incunabulum, and these printed versions managed to avoid many of the errors that could be made by scribes when making a manuscript copy.

The Poet’s Personal Vision

In his epic, Dante takes the reader with him on an adventurous journey of a very special kind. Together with the Roman poet Virgil, he traverses Hell, ascends the mountain of Purgatory, and finally enters Paradise. In doing so, each stage is in turn divided into nine concentric rings. During this excursion, he meets approximately 600 souls from mythology, poetry, and history, who have to endure various punishments in Hell or dwell in Heaven, each in accordance with their own deeds. The rich imagery and dense symbolism of the text have made it a rich source of inspiration for artists of various disciplines over the centuries.

A Special Annotated Copy

This edition of Dante’s work is appended by a commentary by Cristoforo Landino (1424-98), who was an important Florentine humanist and a champion of Italian vernacular as well. The impressive décor of the codex consists of more than 400 miniatures and 100 woodcuts, including 3 full-page depictions, by the artist Antonia Grifo (ca. 1430-1510). It appears to be a homage to the condottiero Galeazzo Sanseverino (ca. 1460-1525). He fought for both Milan and France and was even present at the famous meeting between Francois I of France and Henry VIII in 1520 known as the Field of the Cloth of Gold before being killed in the Battle of Pavia (1525). Very little is known about the ownership history of the particular codex at hand, but it may have been the personal copy of the text’s editor, Pietro da Figino. This would explain the prolific, dense notes that are written in the margins of the text. It was acquired at auction by the Italian government in 1927 and has resided in Rome’s Casa di Dante ever since.

Codicology

Alternative Titles
Commedia di Dante con figure dipinte
Divine Comedy by Dante Alighieri
Divina commedia
Estense Divine Comedy
Göttliche Komödie
Size / Format
650 pages / 34.0 x 22.5 cm
Date
November 18th, 1491
Illustrations
More than 400 miniatures
Artist / School

1 available facsimile edition(s) of „Divina Commedia 1491 Illustrated Incunabulum“

Commedia di Dante con figure dipinte
Divina Commedia 1491 Illustrated Incunabulum – Casa di Dante (Rome, Italy)
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Commedia di Dante con figure dipinte

1 volume: Exact reproduction of the original document (extent, color and size)
Publisher
Salerno Editrice – Rome, 2014
Binding
Leather
Commentary
1 volume by Luca Marcozzi
Language: Italian
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