This manuscript of Dante's Divine Comedy, known as the Estense manuscript or Dante Estense, has established itself throughout the world as one of the most important existing and classified manuscripts of this great work. In fact, both because of the period in which it was produced (certainly the 14th century, and most probably around 1380-90, which means it came out no more than 60-70 years after Dante's death, thus offering the sensation of being almost contemporaneous with his great poem) and because of the completeness of the entire text which makes it an extremely important integral document compared to the many fragments of the Divine Comedy, it is one of the few existing editions of this work offering philological novelties.
Illuminations of Great Aesthetic Value
Other interesting features of this codex are its aesthetic value, with the three exquisite illuminations that decorate the beginning of the three sections of the Divine Comedy, the large illuminated initial letters at the beginning of the poem, and the coloured ones in all the Cantos, and above all, the fact that it is one of the very few existing codices that is completely illuminated.
A Beautiful Example of Gothic Script
The Dante Estense, measuring 35x25.5 cm, has 140 folios (280 pages) and it is written in Gothic characters on a central column of 51-46 lines. Each page has illuminated scenes in the upper margin that accompany and illustrate the text. The initial pages of the three Cantos have illuminated ornamentation in the margin; in particular, the first two have, in the middle of the lower margin, a large red stemma with a light blue band that belonged to an unknown owner, while the last page has the Christian monogram of the Sun.
The Journey of the Estense Manuscript
Because of its great importance, this codex was taken to Paris by Napoleon's commissars on 11 October 1796 and became part of the Bibliothèque Nationale de France (whose seal, a c.1, it still bears); after many interesting vicissitudes it was restored and brought back to Modena in 1816 by the head librarian of the Biblioteca Estense, Antonio Lombardi, at the behest of the Duke of Modena.