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La comedia di Dante Aligieri con la nova espositione di Alessandro Vellutello

Venice: Francesco Marcolini, 1544. SSS.56.5

The fourth circle of Hell. Click for
full page.
The souls ascend to the Empyrean.
Dante looks down
to see how far he has travelled.
Paradiso XXVII
Dante and Beatrice with the wise
and the learned
in the sphere of the sun. Paradiso
X. Click for larger image.

Dante's Commedia was first printed in Foligno in 1472. The fifteenth century saw a total of
fifteen editions, most of them with a commentary on the text; Alessandro Vellutello's
commentary of 1544 was the first new one to be written in the sixteenth century. Vellutello
was particularly interested in clarifying the poem's historical allusions, and aimed to correct
the famous commentary of the Florentine humanist Cristoforo Landino (first printed in
1481) on a number of points, as well as criticizing the edition of Dante by Pietro Bembo,
printed by Aldus Manutius (Venice, 1502). The commentary was reprinted alongside that
of Landino in the editions of 1564, 1578, and 1596 printed by the Sessa family in Venice. It
was also reissued in 1564 by Francesco Rampazetto, who presented unsold copies of the
1544 edition as if they were new.
The edition contains a remarkable sequence of illustrations - the first entirely new cycle for
a number of years. The woodcuts for the Inferno are highly original, showing the circles of
Hell as seen from above. As well as appearing throughout the poem, they are used in the
preface alongside Vellutello's dicussion of the geography of Hell, with the depths and
dimensions of the various circles indicated. The vogue for measuring and mapping out Hell
began with the Florentine mathematician and architect Antonio Manetti (1423-1497).
Manetti's calculations were never published; they were discussed in the preface to
Landino's commentary of 1481, and here Vellutello takes issue with some of Manetti's
claims. The woodcuts for Vellutello's edition contrast with earlier attempts to convey the
whole action and narrative of each canto in a single illustration. In the ones from the
Paradiso shown here, for example, only Dante, Beatrice, and the souls in Paradise are
depicted in strikingly simple designs, against an intensely realised background of light or
stars. The illustrations, like the commentary, were printed again in the Sessa editions of
1564, 1578, and 1596.
Our copy is from is from the library of Samuel Sandars
(1837-1894), bequeathed to the Library in 1894, and is in
an Italian binding, with the edges gauffered and painted. It
was rebacked and inlaid in the nineteenth century by
Morotti of Bologna. Sandars, a member of Trinity College,
had donated a number of printed books and manuscripts
during his lifetime and was one of the Library's greatest
benefactors. He made his first gift in 1870, and used to
send Francis Jenkinson, the University Librarian, a cheque
for 50 on the first day of the year. His bequest numbered
nearly 1600 books, including nearly one hundred
manuscripts and over one hundred incunables. His
collection is strong in liturgies, incunables, early English
printing, books printed on vellum (of which he compiled a
list of those in Cambridge collections), and fine bindings
(such as this book and the Dante printed in Lyons by Jean
de Tournes, 1547, in a contemporary Lyonnese binding). The bequest also included the
edition of Dante printed in Venice in 1491 by Petrus de Plasiis, and the one printed in 1487
at Brescia, with beautiful full page woodcuts for each canto of the Inferno and the
Purgatorio, but only one for the Paradiso. The Sandars Readership in Bibliography, begun
in 1895, continues today as the annual Sandars Lectures.
In addition to the numerous editions of Dante scattered throughout its holdings, the Library
has a special Dante collection at classmark CCA-CCE.1, formed primarily from the books
of Arthur John Butler (1844-1910), Dante scholar and mountaineer, which were presented
by Butler's widow in 1910.
This book was displayed in the exhibition Visible language: Dante in text & image,
Cambridge University Library, 17 January-1 July 2006.

References and further reading:
Brian Richardson, 'Editing Dante's Commedia: 1472-1629', in Theodore J. Cachey
(Ed.), Dante now: current trends in Dante studies (pp. 237-262) (Notre Dame &
London: University of Notre Dame Press, 1995). 742:2.c.95.168
Renaissance Dante in print (1472-1629),
John Kleiner, Mismapping the Underworld: daring and error in Dante's 'Comedy'
(Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1994). 742:45.c.95.134
Samuel Sandars, An annotated list of books printed on vellum to be found in the
university and college libraries at Cambridge: with an appendix containing a list of
works referring to the bibliography of Cambridge libraries, Cambridge Antiquarian
Society Octavo Publications, 15 (Cambridge: Printed for the Cambridge
Antiquarian Society, sold by Deighton, Bell and Co., 1878). SSS.49.11; A460.3.10;
B171.1; Cam.c.21.3.1
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