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Giovanni Boccaccio (1313–1375)

Vita di Dante

Florence, first half of the fifteenth century

This was the first full life of Dante, written as a prologue to an anthology of Dante’s works compiled by Boccaccio, including the Vita nova, the Commedia, and fifteen of Dante’s lyric poems (Rime). It exists in a number of versions, but was first written around 1351–1355, and is a testament to Boccaccio’s admiration for his fellow writer.

The life is full of anecdotes and myths, including the tale of how, eight months after his death, Dante appeared to his son Iacopo in a dream to show him where the final thirteen cantos of the Paradiso could be found, hidden inside the wall in his former bedroom.

LA(4), ff. 134 v–135 r

Immanuel ben Solomon (ca. 1265–ca. 1330)

Sefer ha-Mahbarot

Brescia: Gershom Soncino, 30 October 1491

Immanuel ben Solomon was a contemporary of Dante, whom he may have met at the court of Cangrande della Scala in Verona, or at the home of their mutual friend Bosone in Gubbio. He introduced the Italian sonnet form into Hebrew poetry, and wrote in Italian as well as Hebrew. This is the first edition of his twenty-seven good natured satires on Jewish life, followed by an additional Section 28 on Hell and Paradise. It has sometimes been suggested that the guide to Hell and Paradise, a recently deceased friend called Daniel, may have been modelled on Dante.

CUL Inc.5.B.23.10 [2189], start of Section 28

Leonardo Bruni (d. 1444)

La vita et costumi di Dante

Florence, late fifteenth or early sixteenth century

The humanist and historian Leonardo Bruni was chancellor of the Florentine Republic. This short biography, which dates from the 1430s, includes extracts from letters by Dante. In deliberate contrast to Boccaccio’s portrayal of Dante the lover, Bruni emphasized the political and public aspects of Dante’s life. He ends with an account of how he was visited in Florence by Dante’s great-grandson Leonardo, whom he showed the places where Dante and his ancestors had lived.

The manuscript, once part of a larger codex, was written by Francesco Baroncini, a scribe in a Florentine workshop which produced manuscripts for Matthias Corvinus, King of Hungary.

LA(5), ff. 26 v–27 r

Dante Alighieri (1265– 1321)

La commedia , with the commentary of Iacopo della Lana

Lombardy (Venice?), fourteenth or fifteenth century

“Dante is hard, and few can understand him”, remarks a character in Ben Jonson’s Volpone. Dante himself wrote that the Commedia has multiple meanings, but defined its literal subject as the state of souls after death, and its allegorical subject as how human beings, through free will, merit the rewards or punishments of divine justice. The work is a ‘comedy’ because, like the comedies of classical Rome, it begins in adversity (Hell) and ends in happiness (Heavenly bliss), and also because it was composed in the common language of the country, Italian. In this manuscript the commentary is placed at the end of each canto; in the one on the right it is written in the margins and between the lines.

From the library of John Moore (1646–1714) , Bishop of Ely.

CUL MS Mm.2.3(2), ff. 170 v–171 r (beginning of Paradiso)


Dante Alighieri (1265– 1321)

La commedia , with an abridged version of the commentary of Benvenuto da Imola

Venice, fifteenth century

Copying manuscripts of Dante’s Commedia was a lucrative business. One fourteenth-century scribe secured his daughters’ dowries by transcribing a hundred manuscripts of the poem. Over 800 manuscripts survive, and of these around 100 have some form of illustration—usually historiated initials and decorated borders at the start of each book. Inferno typically has an author portrait; Purgatorio , Dante and his guide Virgil in a boat, representing the ‘little vessel’ of the poet’s genius; Paradiso, Christ in majesty, or the Virgin enthroned, surrounded by saints, with Beatrice and Dante looking on. The artist responsible for the illuminations in this manuscript wrote the words only on the decorated folios, hence the different handwriting on the two pages on display.

From the library of John Moore (1646–1714) , Bishop of Ely.

CUL MS Gg.3.6, ff. 80 v–81 r (beginning of Purgatorio)




Manuscript miscellany of Dante, Boccaccio, and Simone Serdini

Northern Italy (Rimini?), early fifteenth century

The manuscript contains Dante’s Rime and Vita nova, Boccaccio’s abridgement of the Commedia and Vita di Dante, and four poems by the Sienese poet Simone Serdini (ca. 1360–ca. 1420), ‘Il Saviozzo’, who is known to have copied Dante’s works. It is the work of a single scribe who, at the end of the Rime (on display), says he found the poems written in the hand of Serdini in a book belonging to Galeotto Malatesta, which also contained the Commedia. Serdini’s manuscript has not been identified.

LA(unnumbered), ff. 13 v–14 r


Dante Alighieri (1265– 1321)

Lo amoroso convivio di Dante

Venice: Zuane Antonio & Fradelli da Sabio, 1521

The portrait of Dante is the first to appear in a printed book.

Dante began the Convivio (Banquet) in the years following his exile. In it he turns away from his earlier preoccupation with Beatrice in the Vita nova and tells of his love for Lady Philosophy. He was particularly influenced by the Aristotelian and Solomonic traditions and viewed knowledge as “the ultimate perfection of our soul” and the means to happiness. Dante abandoned the Convivio by the end of 1306 or early 1307—most likely to start work on the Commedia—and almost certainly did not circulate what he had written. It was first printed in Florence by Francesco Bonaccorsi in 1490; this is the second printing.

LA(33), title-page

Canzoni and sonnets, including twelve rime of Dante

Italy, early fifteenth century

This manuscript was written in a humanistic hand by Giovanni Bonafede for Isabella Morogina, a noblewoman from Bologna. Most of the eighty-nine poems are by another Florentine poet, Antonio degli Alberti (ca. 1360–1415), and are mainly on the theme of love. The twelve rime by Dante include some of the poems he composed individually but later incorporated into the Vita nova , written sometime between 1292 and 1294. On display are ‘Onde venite voi chosì pensose?’ (‘Where are you coming from, looking so pensive?’) and, from the Vita nova, ‘Ne gli occhi porta la mia donna amore’ (‘My lady carries love within her eyes’). Dante’s Rime were first printed together in 1527; the Vita nova was not printed until 1576.

LA(3), ff. 33 v–34 r




Dante Alighieri (1265 – 1321)

La commedia

Foligno: Johann Neumeister and Evangelista Angelini, 'adi cinque et sei' [i.e. 11] April 1472

The first printed edition of the Commedia , in the beautiful type designed by the goldsmith and papal mintmaster Emiliano Orfini. Emiliano and his merchant brother Mariotto undertook the book’s production, but the actual printing was carried out by Neumeister—who some have claimed worked for Gutenberg in Mainz—and his partner Angelini. Neumeister produced only three works at Foligno before falling into debt, like so many early printers. He returned to Mainz, where he printed works around 1479–1480, and later moved to France, printing works at Albi and Lyons. He died around 1522. Donated in 1933 by Arthur Young (1852–1936).

CUL Inc.3.B.4.1 [3782], ff. 1 v–2 r

Dante Alighieri (1265 – 1321)

La commedia

Mantua: Georgius de Augusta and Paulus de Butzbach, for Columbinus Veronensis, 1472

One of several works printed in Mantua in 1472, the year the first books came off the presses in that city. In contrast to the Foligno edition, the text is printed in double columns. It is prefaced by a dedication in terza rima by Columbinus to the Mantuan poet and scholar Filippo Nuvolone. This copy has illuminated initials at the start of each book. Most early editions simply call the work La commedia , although here only the names of the individual books are given. The title La divina commedia was not used until 1555, in the edition of Lodovico Dolce printed at Venice. Donated in 1933 by Arthur Young (1852–1936).

CUL Inc.3.B.18.2 [3783], ff. 31 v–32 r





Dante Alighieri (1265–1321)

La commedia , with the commentary of Cristoforo Landino

Florence: Nicolaus Laurentii, Alamanus, 30 August 1481

The commentary of the Florentine humanist Cristoforo Landino (1425–1498) was the most influential of the Renaissance, and was regularly reprinted. His interpretation draws on the Neoplatonic philosophy of his day. This was the first Dante to be printed at Florence—a reply to the recent editions of Venice (1477) and Milan (1478). Landino’s preface celebrates Florentine nationalism and reclaims the long-exiled Dante for the city of his birth.

The illustrations are by the Florentine goldsmith and engraver Baccio Baldini after the designs of Botticelli, which were originally intended to be used throughout. Only the first two cantos are illustrated in this copy; a very few have illustrations for the first nineteen.

LA(11), leaves xii v–ai r

Dante Alighieri (1265–1321)

Le terze rime di Dante

Venice: Aldus Manutius, 1502

This was the first ‘portable’ Dante, following Manutius’s octavo editions of Virgil, Petrarch, and Horace of 1501. Like the Petrarch, it was edited by the Venetian humanist Pietro Bembo (1470–1547), and based largely on a manuscript which may have been given to Petrarch by Boccaccio. The text differs significantly from that of previous editions, which had derived from the ‘del Cento’ text based on fourteenth-century Florentine manuscripts. As a result, the Aldine edition met with some hostility in Florentine circles, but proved enormously popular elsewhere. It was pirated in Lyons the same year, and remained the text on which subsequent editions were based until the late nineteenth century.

LA(19), leaves eiii v–eiiii r

Dante Alighieri (1265–1321)

Dante col sito, et forma dell’Inferno

[Venice]: Alessandro Paganini, [ca. 1515]

This pocket-sized Dante is the smallest of the Renaissance. Paganini, regarded as the inventor of this ‘long 24mo’ format, printed it as part of a series which included Petrarch’s Rime and Bembo’s Neoplatonic discourse on love, Gli Asolani. He dedicated it to Giulio de' Medici (later Pope Clement VII, 1523–1534). These portable editions were aimed at the courtly reader, less likely to want the scholarly apparatus of a commentary. Venice produced a number of small format Dantes throughout the sixteenth century, popular with literate noblewomen.

The edition exists in two states. This is the only known copy on vellum, and is in an early seventeenth-century Roman morocco binding.





Girolamo Benivieni (1453–1542)

Dialogo di Antonio Manetti cittadino Fiorentino circa al sito, forma, & misure dello Inferno di Dante Alighieri poeta excellentissimo

[Florence: Filippo Giunta, ca. 1506]

The dimensions of Hell had been debated in some fourteenth-century manuscripts and commentaries, but it was during the Renaissance that the subject was most popular. Manetti’s calculations were never published; they were discussed in the preface to Landino’s commentary (1481) as well as this Dialogo, presented as a debate between Manetti and the Florentine poet Benivieni. It features the first woodcuts of the geography of Hell, with the depths and diameters of the circles indicated. The image on display shows the City of Dis and the sixth and seventh circles.

It was also printed as an appendix to Benivieni’s edition of the Commedia (Florence: Filippo Giunta, 1506). Subsequent editions followed this lead: the second Aldine edition (1515) included an illustration of Hell and two others representing the scheme of sins.

LA(31), leaves Giij v–Giiij r

Pierfrancesco Giambullari (1495–1555)

De’l sito, forma, & misure, dello Inferno di Dante

Florence: Neri Dortelata, 1544

Giambullari corrects a number of Manetti's "errors". Most of the woodcuts of Hell are adapted from Benivieni’s Dialogo. The map of the Earth showing Hell differs from that of Benivieni’s work in naming a number of the countries—the Americas are shown in the West as Terra Incognita. The Mount of Purgatory, formed from the earth displaced by Hell, is a more appropriate size.

Giambullari, a member of the Florentine Academy, had planned to write a new commentary on Dante, but only completed that for the first canto. He later arranged the publication of Carlo Lenzoni’s In difesa della lingua fiorentina, et di Dante (In defence of the Florentine language, and of Dante) in 1556.

LA(32), pp. 18–19

Dante Alighieri (1265–1321)

La comedia di Dante Aligieri con la nova espositione di Alessandro Vellutello

Venice: Francesco Marcolini, 1544

These remarkable illustrations—the first entirely new cycle for a number of years—are highly original, showing the circles of Hell as seen from above. Vellutello disputes Manetti’s calculations as presented by Landino in his commentary of 1481.

Vellutello’s was the first new commentary of the sixteenth century, and sought to correct Landino on a number of points, as well as criticizing Manutius’s edition of 1502. He was particularly interested in clarifying the poem’s historical allusions. The commentary was reprinted alongside that of Landino in the Sessa editions of 1564, 1578, and 1596. It was also reissued in 1564 by Francesco Rampazetto, who presented unsold copies of the 1544 edition as if they were new.

LA(30), leaves BBiii v–BBiiii r

Dante Alighieri (1265–1321)

Dante con l’espositione di M. Bernardino Daniello

Venice: Pietro da Fino, 1568

This frontispiece of Hell is similar in design to that of the second Aldine edition of 1515. It is more detailed than previous illustrations but does not record the depths and diameters of the circles. There are engravings at the beginning of all three books.

The commentary of the scholar and poet Bernardino Daniello (ca. 1500–1565) focused amongst other things on Dante’s lexicon and poetic art, and was influenced by Daniello’s teacher, the Venetian intellectual Trifone Gabriele. It met with little success and was not reprinted until 1989. However, John Milton is known to have had a copy, and transcribed a gloss from it in his commonplace book.

LA(52), frontispiece & p. 1




Dante Alighieri (1265–1321)

Dante con l’espositione di M. Bernardino Daniello

Venice: Pietro da Fino, 1568.

In the frontispiece to the Paradiso the Earth is at the centre of the universe, surrounded by the other elements of water, air, and fire, and the nine spheres—the Moon, Mercury, Venus, the Sun, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, the fixed stars, and the Primum Mobile. Beyond is the invisible Empyrean, the home of God, whose light is shown illuminating the universe.

Dante’s interest in astronomy is evident throughout his work. In Book 2 of the Convivio he mapped out the cosmos and linked each heaven to one of the major disciplines taught in the schools. He also discussed the elements of earth and water in his lecture Questio de acque et terra, delivered at Verona in 1320.

CUL F156.c.2.1, pp. 482–483

Dante Alighieri (1265–1321)

Commedia , with the commentary of Cristoforo Landino

Venice: Bernardino Benali and Matteo Capcasa (di Codeca), 3 March 1491

This was thought to be the earliest edition to contain illustrations for Paradiso, but it has recently been suggested that the one printed in Venice by Petrus de Plasiis may pre-date it.

The upper halves of the woodcuts generally depict Dante and Beatrice conversing with the souls, whilst the lower illustrate a story from their conversation. In Canto x, however, there is no story. Petrus de Plasiis’s edition simply shows Dante, Beatrice, and Thomas Aquinas, but here the illustrator takes inspiration from the canto’s setting in the sphere of the sun and depicts Phaeton, son of Helios, drowned in the river Eridanus, where he was found by the river nymphs.

CUL Inc.2.B.3.71 [3794], leaves CCXXXXIIII v–CCXLV r

Dante Alighieri (1265–1321)

La comedia di Dante Aligieri con la nova espositione di Alessandro Vellutello

Venice: Francesco Marcolini, 1544

The woodcut for Paradiso xxii shows Dante and Beatrice having left the sphere of Saturn and ascended the golden ladder to the sphere of the fixed stars. The striking simplicity of design of the illustrations for this edition contrasts with earlier attempts to convey the whole action and narrative of each canto. Here, only Dante, Beatrice, and the souls in Paradise are depicted, against an intensely realised background of light or stars. The illustrations were printed again in the Sessa editions of 1564, 1578, and 1596.

From the bequest of Samuel Sandars (1837–1894).

CUL SSS.56.5, leaves BDii v–BDiii r




Dante Alighieri (1265–1321)

De la vulgare eloquenzia

Vincenza: Tolomeo Ianiculo da Bressa, 1529

The first printing of Dante’s work on vernacular language and poetic composition, in the Italian translation of Giovanni Giorgio Trissino. The Latin original was published in 1577. Ludovico degli Arrighi designed the elegant italic type, quite different from the one made by Francesco Griffo for Aldus Manutius. Elsewhere Trissino wrote of Arrighi, “in his beautiful types he has gone beyond all other printers”. Our copy was part of the library of Albert Ehrman (1890–1969), which included books of typographical importance.

Dante began this work in the early years of his exile, abandoning it either in 1306 or in early 1307. In it he considers language from historical, philosophical, theological, and political perspectives, and tries to hunt down a form of Italian worthy of poetry.

CUL Broxbourne.b.12(1), title-page

Dante Alighieri (1265–1321)

La traducion del Dante de lengua toscana en verso castellano

Burgos: Fadrique de Basilea, 1515

Ironically, the first translation of Dante was out of the vernacular into Latin by Giovanni da Serravalle in 1416–1417 at the request of two English bishops at the Council of Constance.

The first translation into a modern European language was Enrique de Villena’s Castilian prose version of 1428, written in the margins of a manuscript of the Commedia. Spain also boasts the first printed translation—Pedro Fernández de Villegas’s Inferno in Castilian verse, displayed here. The translation is in twelve-syllable lines and eight-line stanzas. The commentary is mostly from that of Landino. After leading the way, Spain seems not to have produced any new translations until the late nineteenth century.

LA(65), leaves ( viij v–ai r

Dante Alighieri (1265–1321)

Commedia di Dante insieme con uno dialogo circa el sito, forma et misure dello Inferno

Florence: Filippo Giunta, 1506

A Florentine reply to the Venetian Aldine edition of 1502, in the same octavo format and also printed with italic type. The editor was Girolamo Benivieni. It failed to overthrow the supremacy of the Aldine text, but many of Benivieni’s corrections were later adopted in the second Aldine edition of 1515.

The elegant frontispiece is a stylised depiction of Dante’s encounter with the leopard, lion, and she-wolf in the dark wood of the Inferno , Canto i. This subject had been used to illustrate the opening of the poem from the earliest manuscripts onwards.

LA(22), leaves avi v–bi r

Dante Alighieri (1265–1321)

Dante con l’espositione di Christoforo Landino et di Alessandro Vellutello

Venice: Domenico Niccolini da Sabbio for Gian Battista and Melchior Sessa, 1564

Known in Italy as the ‘Big nose edition’ on account of the portrait of Dante, this gives the Aldine text, edited here by Francesco Sansovino, and accompanied by the commentaries of Landino and Vellutello. It also includes the illustrations from the Venetian edition of 1544, in which Vellutello’s commentary first appeared.

A large format edition most likely aimed at the scholar, it was reprinted in 1578 and 1596. The last of these was placed on the Catholic Index librorum expurgandorum in 1614 on account of some passages in Landino’s commentary (a milder fate than that of the Monarchia, Dante’s political treatise on the papacy and the empire , which was burned in 1329 and on the Index librorum prohibitorum from 1554 to 1881).

LA(54), title-page

Dante Alighieri (1265–1321)

La divina commedia di Dante Alighieri nobile Fiorentino ridotta a miglior lezione dagli Accademici della Crusca

Florence: Domenico Manzani, 1595

The Accademia della Crusca, founded 1582, began as informal meetings of intellectuals at the Giunti bookshop in Florence. A corrected Dante was essential for their Italian dictionary. They compared the Aldine text with about a hundred manuscripts, correcting around 650 readings. The result was not entirely satisfactory, but the revision that finally appeared in 1716 merely reprinted the 1595 text, with only some typographical corrections.

This was only the third Florentine edition of the full Commedia, the first since 1506. The title-page shows the Accademia’s device, a flour bolter, with their punning Petrarchan motto: Il più bel fior ne coglie (“She picks the fairest flower”). This copy is from the Dante scholar and mountaineer Arthur John Butler (1844–1910).

CUL CCD.1.3, title-page


Dante Alighieri (1265–1321)

La divina commedia

Venice: Antonio Zatta, 1757–1758. 3 vols.

Part of a five-volume collected works, dedicated to the Empress of Russia Elizaveta Petrovna. Of more than 350 subscribers, however, only four were female. The edition, which provoked differing opinions, featured the first new illustrations since 1544, and was the first to illustrate Dante’s other works. The one on display from Inferno xxxiv, depicts Lucifer chewing on the three greatest sinners, Judas, Brutus, and Cassius. The one from Purgatorio x, illustrates the “visible language” (visibile parlare) of the sculptures on the first terrace of Purgatory.

One of a few deluxe copies, in folio format, with the engravings in red and blue as well as black.

LA(80), Vol. 1, plate facing p. CCCXCV, Vol. 2, plate facing p. CVII

John Flaxman (1755–1826)

Compositions … from the divine poem of Dante Alighieri

London: Longman, Hurst, Rees, and Orme, 1807

Dante Alighieri (1265–1321)

A translation of the Inferno ... by Henry Boyd

Dublin: P. Byrne, 1785

Boyd’s was the second English ‘translation’ of the Inferno, a very free adaptation. In 1807 it was used for quotations accompanying John Flaxman’s illustrations, also on display. The introduction in this copy is annotated by William Blake, who thought little of Boyd, at one point remarking “How very foolish all this is”. Blake’s watercolours of the Commedia were commissioned in 1824 by his friend and patron John Linnell. One of the subscribers to Boyd’s book was another of Blake’s patrons, William Hayley, who had made the first printed translation into English of Inferno i– iii (1782). Hayley took seven copies; it is possible that he gave one to Blake.

From Sir Geoffrey Keynes’s collection. Keynes published several works on Blake, and acquired seven books with Blake annotations.

CUL LE.34.33, Inferno, plate 33

CUL Keynes.U.4.13, pp. 36–37

Dante Alighieri (1265–1321)

La divina commedia. Canzoni e sonetti ... illustrata di note da Romualdo Zotti

London: dai Torchi di R. Zotti, 1808–1809. 4 vols.

The first edition of the Italian text to be published in England, dedicated to the Countess of Lonsdale. The fourth volume of canzoni and sonnets was published a year after the Commedia . 119 of its 163 subscribers were women, with the Queen at the top of the list—a striking contrast to the four female subscribers to Zatta’s edition of 1757–1758. This copy was owned by an Isabella Forde, who has signed her name on the title-page with the date 1816. A second edition of the Commedia came out in 1819–1820.

LA(99), Vol. 1, frontispiece & title-page

Dante Alighieri (1265–1321)

The vision; or, Hell, Purgatory, and Paradise, of Dante Alighieri … translated by the Rev. H.F. Cary

London: printed for the author by J. Barfield, 1814

Cary’s translation of the Inferno into blank verse with facing Italian was published in 1805–1806. This later version of the entire Commedia was privately printed at Cary’s expense and initially attracted little attention. In 1817 Cary met the poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge, whose praise of Dante and Cary’s translation in a lecture the following year led to a boom in sales and a second edition in 1819. The translation opened up the poem to English readers, and has been published many times since, often with the illustrations by Botticelli, Flaxman, Blake, or Doré.

This copy belonged to another Dante translator, Arthur John Butler (1844–1910), and includes annotations and corrections to Cary’s translation.

CUL CCE.1.13–15, Vol. 1, pp. 144–145

Seamus Heaney (b. 1939)

Field work

London: Faber and Faber, 1979

From Chaucer’s version in TheM onk’s tale to that of Heaney, the story of Count Ugolino (Inferno xxxiii) has been translated into English more than any other episode. Ugolino and his sons are imprisoned by Archbishop Ruggieri and left to starve—the tale is infamous for Dante’s ambiguity on whether Ugolino ate the bodies of his dead children: Poscia, più che ’l dolor, potè ’l digiuno (“Then fasting got the mastery of grief”, in Cary’s almost literal translation).

Cary’s version is on display alongside Heaney’s (who decides against cannibalism: “Then hunger killed where grief had only wounded”). Heaney claims Dante as one of his poetic influences, and has also translated Cantos i–iv of the Inferno.

CUL 9720.c.3859, pp. 60–61


John Flaxman (1755–1826)

La divina comedia ... composto da Giovanni Flaxman scultore inglese ed inciso da Tommaso Piroli romano

[Rome], 1802

Beatrice in the Earthly Paradise , by the sculptor and illustrator John Flaxman (1755–1826). Flaxman’s delicate lines are particularly suited to portraying Beatrice’s “beauteous frame” (Purgatorio xxxi, 48, trans. Cary).

The illustrations were commissioned by the art collector Thomas Hope (1769–1831), and were probably begun in April or May 1792, at the same time as Flaxman’s work on drawings for Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey. They were published in July 1793 and confirmed his reputation as the foremost English neoclassical artist. Flaxman, also famous for his designs for the Wedgwood pottery factory, was appointed the first professor of sculpture by the Royal Academy in 1810.

LA(108), Purgatorio, plate 35

Dante Alighieri (1265–1321)

The new life … translated by Dante Gabriel Rossetti, pictured by Evelyn Paul, with music by Alfred Mercer

[London]: George G. Harrap & Co., [1916]

Rossetti’s godfather, the naturalist Charles Lyell, published translations of the Vita nova poems in 1835; the first full published translation was by Joseph Garrow (1846). Rossetti finished his version in 1848, when he was twenty. He intended to illustrate it, but never completed the drawings. It was eventually published in 1861 as part of his collection Early Italian poets.

The illustrator Evelyn Paul studied at South Kensington School of Art. The picture on display is adapted from Rossetti’s Dante’s dream at the time of the death of Beatrice (1856). However, Paul’s Beatrice is modelled on the Elizabeth Siddal of Rossetti’s Beata Beatrix rather than Mrs James Hannay, who sat for Beatrice in Dante’s dream.

CUL 1916.9.85, pp. 94–95

Dante Alighieri (1265–1321)

The Vita nuova of Dante, translated with an introduction and notes by Sir Theodore Martin. 3rd ed.

Edinburgh & London: William Blackwood and Sons, 1893

This translation was first published in 1862, a year after Rossetti’s. Martin was criticized by Matthew Arnold for building the few facts of Dante’s relationship with Beatrice into a “substantial modern love-story”. Arnold argued for a balance between Beatrice as mere allegory and Beatrice as the perfect embodiment of womanhood. Appropriately enough, Martin dedicated his translation to his wife in a sonnet. For this third edition, he also included a prefatory sonnet on ‘Dante and Beatrice’, which neatly conveys his somewhat sentimental view.

From the library of the novelist William Gerhardie (1895–1977).

CUL CCD.29.49, pp. vi–vii

Percy Bysshe Shelley (1792–1822)

Epipsychidion: verses addressed to the noble and unfortunate lady, Emilia Viviani, imprisoned in the Convent of St. Anne, Pisa

Chelsea: The House of the Magpie & Stump, 1931

Like other English poets during the nineteenth century, Shelley was deeply influenced by Dante. He read two cantos of the Purgatorio each day with his wife Mary in the summer of 1819 after the death of their son William, and in 1821 visited Dante’s tomb in Ravenna, where he “worshipped the sacred spot”. In the advertisement to Epipsychidion, Shelley places his work alongside the Vita nova, and his portrayal of Emilia draws on Beatrice from Dante’s poem.

Limited edition of twelve copies, printed by the Chiswick Press. This is one of two printed on vellum.

From CUL Syn.4.93.62

Dante Alighieri (1265–1321)

Vita nova , illustrée par Maurice Denis, traduite par Henry Cochin

Paris: Le Livre Contemporain, 1907

The coloured woodcuts are from designs by the celebrated French painter Maurice Denis (1870–1943), a founding member of the ‘Nabis’ (from the Hebrew word for ‘prophet’). The Nabis promoted decorative painting, Denis himself writing that un tableau avant toute chose … est une surface recouverte du couleurs en un certain ordre assemblées (“a picture above all … is a flat surface covered with colours assembled in a certain order”, La revue blanche, 1890). The illustrations were executed by Jacques, Camille and Georges Beltrand.

Limited edition of 130 copies.

LA(116), pp. 58–59

Jorge Luis Borges (1899–1986)

"La última sonrisa de Beatriz"

Buenos Aires, [ca. 1948]

Slips from a corrected autograph manuscript of one of the articles in Borges’s Nueve ensayos dantescos, a collection of studies put together around 1948, but not published until 1982. Borges comments on “the most moving lines literature has achieved”, those describing Beatrice’s last smile, in Canto xxxi of the Paradiso.

Borges read Dante each day on the tram to his job at the Buenos Aires Municipal Library in the early 1940s. He used the Dent parallel text edition. By the time he reached the end of the Purgatorio, he found he could read the poem in the Italian.

From LA(120)


La festa di Dante: letture domenicali del popolo Italiano

Florence: M. Cellini, 1864–1865

This weekly paper, like the scholarly Giornale del centenario di Dante Allighieri, was issued to celebrate the sixth centenary of Dante’s birth in 1865. The Festa was more ‘popular’ in its appeal. One regular feature took the form of a ‘dialogue’ on a given topic by two characters ‘Vieri’ and ‘Ciapo’.

The 1865 celebrations were witnessed by the British representative Henry Clark Barlow (1806–1876), who reported the speech made in front of the king of the newly united Italy: “From Allighieri Italy had her language, the first element of unity; from him she had also the idea of nationality which … has become transformed into a fact”.

LA(112), issue no. 3, 15 maggio 1864

Enrichetta Capecelatro

Diario Dantesco tratto dalla Divina Commedia

Rome: Tipografia Elzeviriana nel Palazzo delle Finanze, 1881

Every day has a quotation from the Commedia, with a blank space opposite for noting appointments.


La preghiera di Dante , edited by Tommaso Nediani

[Florence]: Passerini, 1907

A curious mix of prayers, quotations, reproductions of woodcuts on mystical and religious themes, and the like. The illuminated title-pages are by Attilio Razzolini. Another edition was published in 1914.

LA(115/4), title-page

The Dante calendar, representing incidents in the life of Dante Alighieri … selected and illustrated by Blanche McManus

London: Alexander Moring Limited, 1906

Each month has a quotation from Dante in English, with an accompanying illustration.

CUL 1906.9.254


Dante Alighieri (1265–1321)

La divina commedia, a cura di Carlo Toth, fantasie a colori di Franz von Bayros

Zürich–Leipzig–Vienna: Casa Editrice ‘Amalthea’, 1921. 3 vols.

A commemorative edition produced by the three German-speaking nations, with the original Italian and facing German translation. The illustration on display depicts the lovers Paolo and Francesca lashed by the storm winds in the second circle of Hell, to which the lustful are consigned. It has some similarity of composition to the engraving for this episode by Gustave Doré (1861), but the influence of art nouveau painters such as Gustav Klimt is also apparent. The artist Franz von Bayros (1866–1924) was famous for his erotic drawings, especially his sequence Erzählungen vom Toilettentisch (Tales from the dressing table), which became the subject of a court case.

LA(118), Vol. 1, plate facing p. 80

Dante Alighieri (1265–1321)

La divina commedia , curato da Berthold Wiese

[Munich]: Bremer Presse, 1921

One of a number of books produced to mark the sixth centenary of Dante’s death, printed in a limited edition of 300 copies. The title and initials were designed by Anna Simons, a pupil of the calligrapher Edward Johnston.

The Bremer Presse was one of the finest German private presses of its time. It was founded by Willy Wiegand and Ludwig Wolde in Bremen in 1911, and moved to Toelz in 1918. It relocated to Munich in 1921, and was destroyed during the bombings of 1944.

LA(117), pp. 6–7

Mary MacGregor

Stories from Dante, told to the children , with pictures by R.T. Rose

London: T.C. & E.C. Jack, [1909]

Perhaps not an obvious source for children’s stories, Dante’s Commedia is retold here by the children’s writer MacGregor, who devotes seventy pages to the Inferno, thirty-six to the Purgatorio, and none at all to the Paradiso: “Of all that Dante heard and saw in Paradise I may not tell you in this little book. But some day you will read for yourself … of the wonder and the glory of the land as he saw it in his dream”. The image on display shows the monster Geryon transporting Dante and Virgil to the eighth circle of Hell.

The Told to the children series was edited by Louey Chisholm. Authors or works featured included Chaucer, the Arabian nights, Beowulf, and Wagner.

CUL 1910.5.203, p. 62 & plate

Nathan Schachner (1895–1955)

The wanderer: a novel of Dante and Beatrice

London: Andrew Melrose Limited, [1948]

Schachner’s historical novel includes quotations from Dante and in his note at the end he expresses the wish that the reader “will be tempted to turn, if he has not already done so, to Dante’s own works as to a fountainhead for the perpetual refreshment of mind and spirit”.

Schachner was born in New York and trained as a lawyer. During the First World War he served in the Chemical Warfare Service. As well as a number of other historical novels and biographies, Schachner wrote a study of the medieval universities and a history of the American Jewish Committee.

CUL 1948.7.199



Dante Alighieri (1265–1321)

Tutte le opera .. . nuovamente rivedute nel testo e diligentemente emendate dal reverendo dottore Edoardo Moore

Chelsea: Nella Stamperia Ashendeniana, 1909

The Ashendene Press was founded in 1895 by Sir C.H. St. John Hornby. It printed the three books of the Commedia separately between 1902 and 1905, and again as part of this complete works. The Ashendene Dante, the Kelmscott Chaucer, and the Doves Bible are generally considered to be the ‘triple crown’ of fine press printing.

The text is based on Moore’s Oxford edition of 1904. Sir Emery Walker and Sir Sydney Cockerell designed the Subiaco type from Sweynheym and Pannartz’s 1465 edition of Cicero. The initial letters are by William Graily Hewitt. Charles M. Gere’s illustrations were cut on wood by W.H. Hooper.

CUL Syn.1.90.12, pp. 130–131

Dante Alighieri (1265–1321)

La divina commedia , illustrazioni di Dalí

[Rome]: Arti e scienze; [Florence]: Salani, 1963–1964. 6 vols.

Salvador Dalí produced 100 illustrations, one for each canto. The wood blocks used to print them were prepared under Dalí’s supervision by Raymond Jacquet and Jean Taricco in Paris, for a French edition of the Commedia published by Joseph Foret, 1959–1963.

The prints were reissued in a number of subsequent editions, including this one overseen by the master printer Giovanni Mardersteig at the Officina Bodoni and the Stamperia Valdonega. The image on display is for Inferno xxi, and shows Dante and Virgil confronted by a devil in the eighth circle of Hell.

From LA(127)

Monika Beisner

Illustrations for Dante’s Divina commedia

Beisner, a well known illustrator of children’s books, spent nearly ten years working on her sequence of 100 exquisite miniatures, which accompanied the German translation of Karl Vossler published by Faber & Faber in 2001. The fifteenth-century artist Giovanni di Paolo, who illuminated the Paradiso for a Sienese manuscript of the Commedia, is one of her major sources of inspiration. Beisner’s illustrations bring the poem to life with a new freshness and immediacy for twenty-first-century readers.

From LA(129)

Dante Alighieri (1265–1321)

Dante’s Inferno , translated, designed and illustrated by Tom Phillips

London: Talfourd Press, 1983

Tom Phillips spent seven years working on this project. Many modern writers and artists have been especially drawn to the Inferno, described by Phillips as “Europe’s harsh masterpiece of eschatology”. Each canto is accompanied by four provocative engravings—the illustration on display from Inferno xxxi depicts King Kong as the giant Antaeus towering over both Manhattan and a superimposed medieval city skyline. The figure of Fay Wray is adapted to allude to the giant’s carrying of Dante and Virgil to the lowest circle of Hell.

Phillips also co-directed with Peter Greenaway A TV Dante (1989), a version of Cantos i–viii of the Inferno with Bob Peck as Dante, Sir John Gielgud as Virgil, and Joanne Whalley as Beatrice.

From LA(128)

Dante Alighieri (1265–1321)

La commedia di Dante secondo l’antica Vulgata

[Alpignano]: Tallone Editore, 2000. 3 vols.

The jubilee Commedia, a reprint of the edition by Giorgio Petrocchi, with an introduction by Francesco Mazzoni. The bindings were designed by Guido Giordano and made by Luciano Fagnola of Turin—red for the Inferno, blue for the Purgatorio, and yellow for the Paradiso. Unconventional materials such as enamel, silver, and brass have been used to great effect.


Anne Stevenson (b. 1933)

‘A lament for the makers’

United Kingdom, ca. 2005

This draft of Anne Stevenson’s poem ‘A lament for the makers’ shows Dante’s influence at work on a twenty-first-century writer. In the passage displayed, the recently deceased poet Peter Redgrove appears to Stevenson in a dream and, taking on a role similar to that of Virgil in the Commedia, acts as a guide to the afterlife of the ‘makers’ whose worldly reputations prevent their passage into the “bliss of extinction”. In a prefatory note, Stevenson traces the tradition in which her poem stands, through Thomas Sackville and the English medieval writers Chaucer and Langland, to “the Colossus, Dante”.

From CUL MS Add. 9451