A wonderfully illustrated early copy of Dante Alighieri's Divine Comedy, this manuscript, named for its current repository in Budapest, contains an abridged copy of Dante's masterpiece along with excerpts of Albertanus of Brescia's Liber de Amore. The three historiated initials introducing each book along with ninety-four of the planned 177 illustrations were completed by Venetian artists working in the years around 1345. The unfinished panels retain sketches and notes that provide insight into the creation of this remarkable manuscript.
Its elegant illuminations are a fine example of Italian Trecento illumination. The refined compositions are balanced and theatrical with rich, earthy colors and finely detailed expressions.
The manuscript, although unfinished, has always had a place among lords and kings, first among the late medieval Italian nobility, then in the Royal Library of Hungary. It was taken to Istanbul as war spoils in the sixteenth century and returned to Hungary three centuries later. It is a remarkable work of art and literature and an unlikely participant in international politics.
An Abridged and Unfinished Divine Comedy
The text of Dante's Divine Comedy is presented in two columns in a round Gothic Textura. It is missing 2,643 verses, around eighteen percent of the total text, but these deletions are dispersed throughout the three books.
Of the 177 illustrations, ninety-four, those of Inferno and the first part of Purgatorio, were completed along with the three decorated pages marking the beginning of each book.
Fortunately, its incomplete state has provided a record of the process of its creation, preserving preliminary sketches and notes, these latter written in a Venetian vernacular that helps to place its creation in the same workshop as other manuscripts made for Doge Andrea Dandolo before 1350.
The Refined Elegance of the Venetian Trecento
Created in Venice around 1345, the manuscript's illumination is a beautiful example of the style of the Venetian Trecento. It is a transitional style from medieval Gothic to early Renaissance.
The simple compositions and backgrounds of flat color retain a medieval manner while the more realistic human proportions and delicately rendered facial features look ahead to the greater realism of the Renaissance.
Each of the three books is introduced with one historiated initial and vegetal tendrils spilling across the margins. This lush vegetation of earthy pigments creates an early trompe l'oeil effect that also anticipates the next century of manuscript illumination.
A Manuscript Fit for Royal Libraries
The Divine Comedy in Budapest has been held in three of the great libraries of Europe. Created under Venitian Doge Andrea Dandolo, it was owned by the Emo family of Venice, as evidenced by the coat of arms on fol. 1r.
It very likely was held in the Corvinian Library established by King Matthias Corvinus at the end of the fifteenth century but was certainly in the Royal Library in Buda by the sixteenth century.
When Hungary's capital fell to the Ottoman Empire in 1541, the manuscript was taken to Istanbul. It remained in the Ottoman grand library until, in 1877, Sultan Abdülhamid Han II returned it to Hungary as part of the repatriation of thirty-five manuscripts.
The nineteenth-century Ottonian full red leather binding is gilded with peripheral bands around a central medallion decorated with fine foliage around a crowned coat of arms. The back cover is identical save for the central sun in splendor motif surrounding a crescent in a green field. The four corners on both covers have gilded inward-facing crescent moons. The spine is unmarked aside from fine gilded braids on the bands.