Italian Paleography


Chicago, Newberry VAULT Wing ZP 535 .A354
Dante Alighieri
Terze Rime by Dante Alighieri
Venice, 1502

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VAULT Wing ZP 535.A354 is a deluxe copy of the Terze Rime, a 1502 edition of Dante’s Commedia printed in Venice by Aldus Manutius and edited by Pietro Bembo.  It was probably commissioned by, or later belonged to, a cardinal given the coat of arms impressed on the cover.  This volume is printed on vellum and contains full-page illuminations at the beginning of each canticle (Color full-page illuminations are also present in the title page, on two facing leaves): 1) Dante encountering the three beasts in the dark wood with the Virgin in the background; 2) Kneeling Dante and the Virgin talking with Cato, the guardian of Purgatory; 3) Dante and Saint Bernard in Paradise with circles of angels and God.  The layout of this edition is the typical Aldine single column without commentary.  What makes this copy unique, apart from its deluxe features, is the unusual presence of a handwritten page: the last nineteen lines of Purgatorio, in fact, are transcribed by a scribe – probably a contemporary – that attempted to mimic Manutius’ Italic type.  The same scribe also added the letters “PVRG” in the top-center to make the handwritten page correspond with the rest of the volume.

The Aldine are books printed in Venice by humanist and printer Aldus Manutius between 1495 and 1515, year of Manutius’ death.  They introduced a number of typographical novelties, including the small portable format in ottavo, the italic type, the elegant simplicity of the page-layout, and ‘corrected’ texts.  Manutius often collaborated with intellectuals and humanists to prepare and edit the texts: among them, famously, Pietro Bembo.  The 1502 edition of the Terze Rime was the second Italian vernacular book printed by the Manutius enterprise (the first, in 1501, was Le cose volgari, a Bembo-curated edition of Petrarch’s songbook).  From 1495 to 1501, Manutius’ printing press only printed Greek and Latin “classics”.  The introduction of Italian vernacular texts was part of a humanistic “agenda” – also promoted by Bembo in his 1525 Prose della volgar lingua – of elevating certain vernacular literary productions to the level of prestige of classical texts.  The Bembo-Manutius’s edition of Dante’s masterpiece stands as a watershed in the transmission of the text and will serve as reference text for the following 300 years.