When Federico da Montefeltro, Duke of Urbino, commissioned this lavish manuscript of the Divine Comedy, he expressly asked that it become "the most splendid of all." Not only did it become splendid, especially thanks to the illuminations by Guglielmo Girardi, but it also unfolded into a salient testimony of the spirit and culture of the time, i.e. 1480s Italy.
A Leap into Humanist Italy
Art historians and experts of Dante's iconography agree in stating that the "Dante Urbinate 365" stands out for its complete faithfulness to the text of the Divine Comedy. At the same time, the volume was strictly consistent with the values of its time, above all, with the belief in human dignity and rational thought.
Everything in this manuscript—the landscapes, the architecture, the relationship among characters, and even Dante's clothing— points to a humanistic interpretation of Dante's masterpiece, which was meant to be read in the main courts of Renaissance Italy. The frightful imagery of the earlier, medieval versions of the Comedy gives way to a more measured and intellectual narration, in which Dante carries out a civil conversazione (civil conversation) with the souls of the underworld, caringly guided by the classical poet Virgil.
Thus, this representation of the poet's journey develops into a complex intellectual experience in which cultivated men share sophisticated thoughts with the aim of helping man wholly fulfill his destiny.
One Manuscript, Three Illuminators
The decoration of the Urbinate manuscript, which measures 40 x 26 cm, took place in three stages. From 1477 to 1480, Guglielmo Girardi and his workshop illustrated the frontispieces as well as the majority of the illuminations of the Inferno and Purgatorio; from 1480 to 1482, Franco de' Russi completed the unfinished illuminations in the first two canticas. Decoration stopped after the death of the patron, Federico da Montefeltro, to be resumed a century later, at the end of the sixteenth century. The Italian text was written in humanist script.
We have 2 facsimiles of the manuscript "Divine Comedy - Urbinate Manuscript":
- La Divina Commedia di Federico da Montefeltro facsimile edition published by Franco Cosimo Panini Editore, 2021
- Il Dante urbinate della Biblioteca Vaticana facsimile edition published by Biblioteca Apostolica Vaticana, 1965