London, British Library, Yates Thompson MS 36

Divine Comedy of Alfonso of Aragon Facsimile Edition

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This deluxe illuminated manuscript of Dante Alighieri’s Divine Comedy was created between 1444 and 1450 in northern Italy, one of the finest medieval copies of the work. It is illustrated throughout with 110 framed miniatures in the lower margins, three major historiated initials with floral frames, numerous foliate initials, and all minor stanza initials demarcated in rich colors and shimmering gilding. Two master illuminators contributed to the manuscript: Priamo della Quercia and Giovanni de Paolo.

The poetic Italian text is arranged in a single column of around forty lines with every third line beginning with a colorful ornamented initial and is written in the tidy Gothic Textura variant Rotunda Italiana. Overall the manuscript can be seen as a bridge between the medieval and Renaissance styles. The elaborate and extensive illuminations showcase the growing importance of popular vernacular literature in the late medieval period.

A Lavishly Illuminated Work of Medieval Literature

One of the most important works of European literature, Dante Alighieri’s Divine Comedy is composed of three books: Inferno, Purgatory, and Paradise. Written between 1308 and 1320, it tells of the author’s travels through the afterlife in pursuit of ideal love.

The story became immensely popular and his descriptions of the afterlife shaped popular understanding of Christian doctrine. This copy dates to over a century later, demonstrating the lasting admiration of and demand for Dante’s work.

The Work of Two Italian Masters

The first two books, Inferno and Purgatory, as well as the illuminated initials were painted by Priamo della Quercia, and the final book, Paradise, was painted by Giovanni di Paolo.

Priamo della Quercia created the first forty-eight illustrations as well as the major initials. His style is generally more forward-looking, though the gloomy subject matter resulted in muted tones.

Giovanni di Paolo, despite illustrating only one book, completed the majority of pictures. His style is more conservative and medieval. His sixty-two illustrations of Paradise are resplendent in glittering gold and vibrant ultramarine and his glorious landscapes are a snapshot of sunny Tuscany.

Alfonso the Magnanimous, King and Collector

The first known owner of the manuscript was Alfonso V, King of Aragon, who ruled from 1416 until his death in 1458. It’s uncertain if he was the original patron, however he was a known collector of literature and the lavishness of the manuscript suggests it was made as a commission for a wealthy member of the elite. His arms are painted in the bottom margin of the first folio.

The book was eventually donated to the convent of San Miguel in 1538 by Ferdinando of Aragon. In 1901 Henry Yates Thompson purchased it from Señor Luis Mayans in Madrid. It was bequeathed to the British Museum in 1941.

Binding description

The cover is a pale brown leather tooled in a post-1600 Italianate style. Inset panels alternate between plain and those containing a floral twist interlace around a small central vegetal motif with double symmetry. The trimmed pages are gilt with marbled endpapers.

We have 1 facsimile edition of the manuscript "Divine Comedy of Alfonso of Aragon": La Divina Commedia di Alfonso d'Aragona facsimile edition, published by Franco Cosimo Panini Editore, 2006

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Manuscript book description compiled by Amy R. Miller.
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La Divina Commedia di Alfonso d'Aragona

Modena: Franco Cosimo Panini Editore, 2006

  • Commentary (Italian) by Azzetta, Luca; Bollati, Milvia; Kidd, Peter; Petoletti, Marco; Toscano, Gennaro
  • Limited Edition: 750 copies
  • Full-size color reproduction of the entire original document, Divine Comedy of Alfonso of Aragon: the facsimile attempts to replicate the look-and-feel and physical features of the original document; pages are trimmed according to the original format; the binding might not be consistent with the current document binding.

Binding

Pure-silk velvet adorned with gilded silver and enamel work.

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