The Egerton 943 copy of Dante Alighieri's Divine Comedy was produced in northeastern Italy in the middle years of the fourteenth century. It features over two hundred brightly colored miniatures illustrating the author's journey through the realms of the afterlife as well as two circular diagrams of the Circles of Hell. The main text is written in a central column of Italian Gothic textura with alternating red and blue initials for each verse. A Latin commentary on the poem fills the margins on either side and includes additional verses by Dante's son, Jacopo.
While hundreds of manuscript copies of Dante's Commedia exist, this one is remarkable for its numerous detailed illustrations and extensive additional commentary. Its large size and deluxe additions suggest a wealthy Italian patron. The style of the artwork, with its greater naturalism and shading, is transitional between the Medieval and Southern Renaissance. Its generally good condition and high quality make it an exceptional late medieval literary manuscript.
The Rise of Secular Literature
The Divine Comedy was written by Dante Alighieri in the first decades of the fourteenth century. Originally titled simply Commedia, it was written in vernacular Italian as opposed to more formal Latin, making it more accessible to the general public. This deluxe illustrated copy was created within a few years of the author's death in 1321.
Over eight hundred manuscript editions from the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries survive indicating the immediate popularity of the text. The expense reflected in the ornate script, hundreds of illustrations, and the addition of an extensive commentary suggest a wealthy patron.
Hundreds of Colorful Illustrations
The poetic verse itself is written in a single column flanked by irregular blocks of commentary text with often one and sometimes two illustrative miniatures embedded within—a total of 261 in all. Rectangular compositions are framed in red, following the classical tradition, however, the illustrations often break free of this restriction with architectural towers and leafy landscapes bursting forth onto the page.
Most images include the author in a pink-red gown being escorted by either Virgil, in blue, or Beatrice, in red, as he tours the other-worldly realms of the Inferno, Purgatory, and Paradise. They have been attributed to the Master of the Antiphonar of Padua on stylistic grounds.
Italian Manuscript Tradition
The Egerton 943 copy of the Divine Comedy was created in northeastern Italy for an unknown patron. Its whereabouts between the fourteenth and nineteenth centuries are unclear, but it likely remained in northern Italy because it was held in the Biblioteca di Parma by 1815, as attested by D. Pietro Zani. Of the hundreds of manuscript copies of the work, a large number of them remain in Italy.
This copy was acquired by Baron August von Koller and purchased from him by the British Museum in 1842 from the Bridgewater Fund donated by Frances Henry Egerton established upon his death in 1829.
The original sixteenth-century binding is in remarkably good condition. The red velvet is worn and one clasp is missing, but it retains its silver-gilt corner bosses. The inside cover is tooled and gilded with royal crowns and laurels in each corner. The spine was replaced in the nineteenth century in brown leather by the British Museum and gilded with the title "Psalterium" and shelfmarks.
We have 1 facsimile edition of the manuscript "Divine Comedy - Egerton Manuscript": La Divina Commedia. Il codice Egerton facsimile edition, published by Istituto dell'Enciclopedia Italiana - Treccani, 2015Request Info / Price