The Polonsky Dante Project:
An Illustrated Copy-census of Dante, Comedia, Florence, 1481 with engravings by Botticelli
The 1481 edition of La Comedia was printed in Florence by Nicolaus Laurentii, Alamanus (GW 7966; ISTC id00029000). It contains 19 copper engravings attributed to Baccio Baldini from designs by Sandro Botticelli, to accompany the first 19 Cantos of the Inferno. Some 166 copies survive around the world, known to contain variants in number and setting of the illustrations.
Funded by The Polonsky Foundation, CERL will be producing will be producing an illustrated copy-census of this edition with the objective of creating a webpage and a video-story illustrating the edition and setting the history of the copies in the wider context of the reception of Dante’s works, to explain how this seminal work was actually read and commented on throughout the centuries, and by whom.
With the collaboration of the libraries holding the surviving copies, the story of each copy will be captured in the international database Material Evidence in Incunabula (MEI). Images of provenance and use (inscriptions, coat of arms, decoration, binding, bookplates, manuscript annotations, etc.) will be gathered in CERL’s Provenance Digital Archive (PDA). The innovative way books are catalogued in MEI, whereby every former owner is tagged geographically (with geo-references) and chronologically, will allow us to present the circulation of these copies of Dante, on a map, from Florence to wherever they are today.
This curated display will convey to academic and non-academic audiences the fact that each book, even of the same edition, has its own distinctive and unique story to tell. It will also highlight the challenges involved in the production of early illustrated printed books. It will touch upon issues of literacy and the affordability of the new form of books in the Renaissance, and of the relationship between text and image. Finally, it will be the collaborative project of many libraries worldwide, coordinated by CERL, to enhance the understanding of an iconic work of literature in their collections by setting it in its historical context, and explain its impact and reception with the support of a clear and effective narrative and compelling digital resources.