Illustrations from Early Printed Editions of the Commedia

Illustrations from Early Printed Editions of the Commedia
Jane Siegel (2017)

The three books whose images are used on this site come from the collections of the Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Columbia University:

La Commedia, with commentary by Christophorus Landinus.
(Brescia, Boninus de Boninis, de Ragusia, 31 May 1487). Call number: Rare Book Incunabula GoffD31. Purchased by the Library in 1902.

The first printed edition of the Divine Comedy was made in 1472, and by 1487, there had been nine editions. This incunabule (a book printed before 1501, in the first half-century of printing) is illustrated with full page woodcut illustrations for each canto, many hand colored, and some with manuscript annotation to identify the characters involved. There are several woodcut borders which repeat as frames around the images.

La comedia di Dante Aligieri con la nova espositione di Alessandro Vellvtello.
(Vinegia : Per Francesco Marcolini ad instantia di Alessandro Vellutello, 1544). Call Number: Rare Book B85DL B44. From the library of the American Type Founders, Inc.

Woodcuts for each canto are colored by hand, although probably not until the nineteenth century.

Dante : con l’espositione di M. Bernardino Daniello da Lucca, sopra la sua Comedia dell’Inferno, del Purgatorio, & del Paradiso; nuouamente stampato, & posto in luce.
(Venetia : Appresso Pietro da Fino, 1568). Call Number: Rare Book PQ4302 .B68. Gift of Christopher Coover.

Three engraved maps, one for each book, act as maps of the books’ spaces, and charts of Dante’s movements. The relative lack of illustrations are balanced by the fineness and detail made possible by using expensive copper engravings as a medium, and by the lively decorated and historiated woodcut initials sprinkled throughout the volume at the head of each canto.

-Jane Siegel, Librarian for Rare Books, Columbia University

Recommended Citation

Siegel, Jane. “Illustrations from Early Printed Editions of the Commedia.” Digital Dante. New York, NY: Columbia University Libraries, 2017.

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