The Divine Comedy by Sandro Botticelli is one of the most beautiful and intriguing renditions of Dante's Divine Comedy from the Renaissance. The manuscript, also known as Divina Commedia con illustrazioni di Sandro Botticelli, was created and illuminated in the last quarter of the fifteenth century. With its ninety-two silverpoint drawings, the manuscript is justly considered a Renaissance masterpiece.
Botticelli and the Innovations of the Iconographic Apparatus
Starting around the mid-1480s, Botticelli worked on these drawings for about a decade in Florence, leaving a testament to his artistry and innovative genius. Among his innovations is the arrangement both of the text and the images, for the text is placed along four vertical columns in order to avoid the spreading of a single canto over several pages.
Another striking and unprecedented feature of the drawings is the use of a single illustration per canto – rather than a sequence of several miniatures – structured in a vertical format matching the text from left to right. It has also been suggested that, potentially, the illustration would have been placed on top of the text thus creating a volume to be opened vertically. The drawings, unfortunately, were left unfinished with only four of them being fully and completely illuminated such as the Map of Hell.
A Powerful Commissioner
It can be stated with certainty that the commissioner of the Divine Comedy by Sandro Botticelli was a member of the de' Medici family, namely Lorenzo di Pierfrancesco de' Medici, cousin of the famous Lorenzo the Magnificent.
Troubled History of the Manuscript
The history of the drawings is certainly one of turmoil, for they were part of a manuscript of the Divine Comedy that disappeared for a few centuries only to reappear in the nineteenth century in the collection of the Duke of Hamilton. As the manuscript went missing so did the drawings, of which eighty-five were added to the collection of the Kupferstichkabinett Berlin in 1882.
The missing drawings were in the possession of Queen Christina of Sweden, and upon her death in 1686, Pope Alexander VIII bought them (including the famous Map of Hell), adding them to the collection of the Vatican Library. All of the drawings were reassembled in occasion of specific exhibitions, but they currently remain in their respective collections.
The script of the Divine Comedy by Sandro Botticelli belongs to the fifteenth century humanistic script (littera humanistica rotunda). Handsomely simple in its appearance, it was favored in contrast to the Gothic script. In an attempt to restore clarity, the littera humanistica antiqua or rotunda features less abbreviations, but several ligatures.
We have 2 facsimiles of the manuscript "Divine Comedy by Sandro Botticelli":
- Divina Commedia Illustrata da Sandro Botticelli facsimile edition published by Canesi, 1964
- Dantes Divina Commedia mit den Illustrationen von Sandro Botticelli facsimile edition published by Belser Verlag, 1986