"La commedia" (1307–1321), now known as The Divine Comedy, is a monumental epic work, a poetic encyclopaedia of the Early Renaissance. This is one of the most interesting pieces by the Italian poet Dante Alighieri and is featured in the exhibition “Dante's Divine Comedy.”
The book was printed in 1481 by Niccolò di Lorenzo in Florence and is one of the earliest editions with engravings on metal (mederites) that never became popular by the mid-16th century. Engravings in “La commedia” are executed by the master of the Baccio Baldini School, according to drawings by the famous artist Sandro Botticelli.
There are between two and twenty engravings in the various copies of the edition that have survived around the world. The first two engravings of "The Virgin asks Dante to choose a different path" are printed together with the text, which is noted in the copy shown in the exhibition. The remaining images were printed separately and then pasted onto the prepared space; unfortunately, the copy of the National Library of Belarus does not contain these pictorials. But there are glue and press marks on blank spaces on sheets  from the Purgatorio part, as well as on  from the Paradiso part, which gives us reason to speculate about the possible existence of engravings on these spaces in the past.
The binding of the 16th-century book is of a high standard. The boards are covered in blind-framed leather with roll embossing and decorated with patterned fillets and gold embossed super-exlibris. The back of the book is blind embossed with a stamp.
The book has a number of marks of artists and ownership. A blank sheet of paper has handwritten details of the copy in front of the text and handwritten text in the upper right-hand corner: «Ex libris… mann Hannoverae». Two circular stamps with the image of the coat of arms and poorly printed text are stamped on the lapel of the upper flyleaf: «Bundes Denkmalamt Wien».
The genius of Dante Alighieri's The Divine Comedy is undeniable. The poet presented something that European antiquity understood quite differently and the Middle Ages did not address at all: he showed the image of a human. This emphasizes the poem's significance in the history of world literature and philosophy. The work also has a definite place in the history of art. Many talented artists have turned to illustrating the work.
Exhibition “Dante's Divine Comedy” is on show in the Book Museum until 16 January 2022.
The end date is subject to change.
Book Research Department