Magdalene Old Library D.9.50 : La Diuina comedia / di Dante, con gli argomenti, & allegorie per ogni canto, e due indici, vno di tutti i vocaboli più importanti vsati dal Poeta, con la esposition loro, e l’altro delle cose più notabili. In Venetia : Appresso Nicolo Misserini, 1629.
This 1629 miniature copy of La Divina Comedìa, or ‘The Divine Comedy’ is the only work of Dante’s to appear in Magdalene’s special collections libraries. This particular edition, produced in Venice by Niccolò Misserini, is rare: only a handful libraries in the world hold a copy of this particular edition, with Magdalene’s being the only copy held in the Oxbridge colleges.
In addition to the main text by Dante, as a preface it includes the Vita di Dante, or ‘Life of Dante’ by Lodovico Dolce, the 16th century Venetian who wrote many histories of major literary figures. Dolce was also a prolific literary editor. His 1555 edition of La Divina Comedìa, published in Venice by Gabriele Giolito de Ferrari, provides the text for this later 1629 edition. The prefix Divina was added to the work’s title in this 1555 edition: before 1555, the work was known simply as the Comedìa. Dolce’s edition refreshed Dante’s work. Previous editors had provided an overwhelming amount of additional commentary to the text, whereas Dolce struck a balance between letting the text speak for itself and providing guidance for the reader. At the beginning of each Canto, Dolce added a brief summary of the text and noted the main allegorical features.
Not much is known about Niccolò Misserini, the publisher of the 1629 edition. Although surviving examples of his books are mostly Latin liturgical texts, chiefly missals, he did publish Italian poetry in the first quarter of the 17th century by Torquato Tasso, Giovanni Battista Guarini, and also by the 13th century Franciscan friar Jacopone da Todi.
The 1629 edition published in Venice has been described by one of Dante’s principal bibliographers as a rare example of microscopic italics. The use of the italic typeface was in its relative infancy, having been invented in Venice just over a century before.
La Divina Comedìa was regularly printed throughout the 15th and 16th centuries, primarily in Venice. However, the 1629 edition was the last one of three to be produced in Italy in the 17th century. Dante’s work was used selectively by Protestant Reformists, and there was an increasing suspicion of his writings during the Catholic Revival. In addition to religious influences, the Baroque era heralded a new aesthetic in all art forms, and Dante’s poetry was deemed primitive. Dante’s work underwent a revival in the 19th century and La Divina Comedìa is now considered a major work of world literature. 2015 marks the 750th anniversary of Dante Alighieri’s birth.
By Catherine Sutherland
Deputy Librarian, Pepys Library and Special Collections
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