The Divine Comedy Egerton 943 is one of the most lavish texts of Dante Alighieri's Divine Comedy, and one of the earliest fully illustrated examples to survive. Featuring a Gothic illumination from northeast Italy, the manuscript was written and illuminated in the first half of the 14th century and features 253 miniatures, 3 large historiated initials, 3 circular diagrams of Hell, Heaven, and the continents, and several decorated initials. With its shimmering and silver illumination, the manuscript is a rare example of Italian superb production.
Written in Latin, the manuscript contains the texts of the Inferno, Purgatorio and Paradiso, with a Latin commentary. Moreover, added verses by Jacopo Alighieri are provided in the last pages, as an introduction to his father’s work.
Programmatic Iconography of the Divine Comedy Egerton 943
The iconography of the manuscript has been attributed to the Master of the Antiphonar of Padua, who due to specific programmatic stylistic choices, leads the reader toward a determined interpretation of the text. This manuscript, along many others that bear the Divine Comedy, is part of a tradition defined as Dante Illustrato, which means that the texts are provided of illustrations aiming at a better comprehension and reading of the text.
Even the mis-en-page is programmatic as every page features 16 continuous tercets or 12/13 tercets and a miniature. The illustrations are placed either in red colored frames or arched aediculae, occupied by figures, which, the chiaroscuro technique renders volumetric.
The formal language of the the artist illumination stresses a most developed and rich expressivity. Decorated grounds appear more often, and the iconographic representations tend to go beyond the limits of the frames, using the natural margins of the page as limits; these features seem to betray an influence of the Bolognese School and the Trecento style.
In the small dimensions of the miniature, the artist wants to challenge the great depictions of wall painting. He often depicts figures with their back turned to the onlooker/reader, or only partly visible, leading the public to imagine that the story continues beyond the limits of the framed image. Another feature is the attempt to create a three-dimensional space, aiming to a narrative realism.
It is still unknown who the commissioner of the work was, however, the lavish elaboration betrays a commission on behalf of a wealthy patron.
Beautiful Example of Gothic Script
The Divine Comedy Egerton 943 features a beautiful example of Gothic script, specifically littera textualis. Two hands have been identified: hand A, who writes the whole of the text, is characterized by a smaller module and, at times, the use of a brown ink; hand B is featured in the commentary.
As many medieval manuscripts, unfortunately the Divine Comedy Egerton 943 lost its original binding. The current one – dated to after the 17th century – features gold-tooled red leather over wooden boards, and gilt edges.
We have 1 facsimile edition of the manuscript "Divine Comedy Egerton 943": La Divina Commedia. Il codice Egerton facsimile edition, published by Istituto dell'Enciclopedia Italiana - Treccani, 2015