Tag Archives: Dante

Seeing Dante’s Commedia in Print from the Renaissance to Today: The Taylorian Collections

Together with the artist and printmaker Wuon Gean-Ho, two researchers from the sub-faculty of Italian, Rebecca Bowen and Simon Gilson, have been exploring the Taylorian collections of Renaissance print editions of Dante’s ‘Divine Comedy’. This blog post highlights key aspects of those collections ahead of an exhibition of new artworks created by Wuon-Gean which will be displayed alongside these historical editions. The exhibition will run in the Voltaire Room from 14th June – 11th July 2024. A catalogue will be available through Taylor Editions.

The Taylor holds an astonishing collection of early print editions of Dante’s Commedia, published before 1600. These books, both beautiful and rare, represent an experimental and exciting era in the development of print as a medium and as a technology. With at least 27 different editions of or about the poem, studying the Taylor’s historical collections of Dante amounts to studying the history of the Commedia in early modern print more broadly. As well as striking illustrations and interesting paratexts, these volumes hold the histories of their former owners and readers, offering a journey that moves from Dante’s Florence, to sixteenth-century Venice, and on to Oxford in the nineteenth-century, as the examples examined in the following paragraphs show.

Title Pages. (Aldus, 1515: MOORE.1.G.1; Giolito, 1555: Moore 1.A.3)

Almost all of the early printed Dante’s in the Taylorian collections were published in Venice. This reflects a very real phenomenon in the early print history of the Commedia as the Venetian city state dominated production. The earliest printed copy of the Commedia in the Taylorian collections was produced by the German craftsman Windelin von Speyer, whose brother, although not himself born a Venetian, was the first printer to be granted a licence to print in the city (ARCH.FOL.IT.1477). This book was produced in 1477 and reflects the fact that print technology was still very experimental at that time. As scholars have noted, the body of the text is interrupted by several blank spaces. Looking back at older manuscripts we can see that, where this printed edition has blank spaces, earlier copies have hand-drawn diagrams. These scientific images did not accompany Dante’s poem but were part of the commentary by Iacomo della Lana, which is printed for the first time in this edition. These blanks remind us of the technological difficulty of reproducing images alongside text in the early era of printing.

Blank space. (Speyer, 1477: ARCH.FOL.IT.1477)

The first fully illustrated edition of the Commedia was also printed in Venice, nearly fifteenth years after the last edition, in 1491. The Taylorian has a copy of this book, published by Bernardo Benali and Matteo Capcasa di Parma (or Codecà), which contains an illustration for every canto of the poem (ARCH.FOL.IT.1491(1)). The Taylorian also has copies of several of the books that were produced after this edition, using the same or similar images and even replicating its setting of the text, including an edition printed by Pietro Quarengi in 1497 also in Venice. Quarengi’s edition uses some of same woodcuts made for Codecà’s earlier book, but also uses another set of blocks made for a rival edition, printed by Pietro di Piasi months after Codecà’s book in 1491 (ARCH.FOL.IT.1497(1)).

 

Inferno 1. (Codecà, 1491: ARCH.FOL.IT.1491(1))

 

Inferno 1. (Quarengi, 1497: ARCH.FOL.IT.1497(1))

Of the 25 editions of the Commedia published before 1600 and held in the Taylorian collections, only 7 were not printed in Venice. Two of these editions were printed in Florence, Dante’s hometown. They both reflect a strand of interest in Dante’s poem that was particularly popular in Florence in the 16th century when publishers and readers of Dante were increasingly excited about exploring the poem as a source of inspiration for scientific and mathematical hypotheses on locating and measuring hell. The earliest of these editions was printed by Filippo Giunta in 1506 and presents Dante’s poem along with a new treatise on the ‘Site, Shape, and Size of Hell’ (101.C.15).

The Taylor’s copy of this edition is interesting for a number of reasons. Firstly, it is missing Dante’s poem and only contains the treatise. Secondly, the final 8 leaves of the treatise are also missing and they have been replaced with very careful handwritten replicas, including a diagram that accurately reproduces the image in the print edition on a deliberately yellowed surface. Although this approach to conversation clashes with contemporary practices—now we would understand pages as an important part of the life of the object and not a deficit to be filled—it is common to find very accurate, hand-drawn inclusions of missing parts of text in manuscripts and early printed books.

Hand drawn replacement of missing pages. (Giunta, 1506: 101.C.15)

The second Florentine edition in the Taylorian collections was released by the Manzani printshop in 1595 and edited by the newly founded Accademia della Crusca, a scholarly society still operating today that opened its doors in 1593 (MOORE.1.B1). As well as a detailed map of the Inferno printed with the expensive technique of engraving, this edition offers specialized linguistic notes for readers interested in the poem’s textual variants. The edition is plagued with typographical errors, partly because many Academicians were invited to contribute to its creation.

As well as books printed in Venice and Florence, the Taylorian holds four editions of the Commedia printed in the French city of Lyon. These are evidence of the prolific trade between Northern Italy and South-Eastern France in the early modern period (101.C.2; VET.ITAL.I.A.158; 51.E.6.B; MOORE.1.A.7). These editions present Dante’s text in Italian and include new paratextual materials to help the reader navigate the text. They also experiment with small format publication, beginning with an octavo edition printed in 1502 that is an exact copy of a book first produced by the very popular Venetian printshop of Aldus Manutius (101.C.2); a smaller edition in 12mo which was printed by Jean de Tournes in 1547 (VET.ITAL.I.A.158); and an even smaller 16mo edition printed four different times by Guglielmo Rouillio (the Taylorian edition is from 1552: 51.E.6.B).

Title page, ‘La Divina Comedia di Dante’. (Giolito, 1555: MOORE.1.A.3)

Despite their small size, these editions offer the reader a detailed visual experience that includes woodcut illustrations and the use of ‘page ornaments’ to signal the start of different sections of text. Rather than staying in France, this aesthetic crossed back into Italy and influenced the page design in publications like Gabriele Giolito’s edition printed in Venice in 1555 (Moore 1.A.3). Instead of using the same paratextual materials as the ones printed in Lyon, Giolito’s book presents new summaries and interpretations alongside a new edition of the text produced by the scholar Ludovico Dolce. Dolce was engaged in deeply politicised discussions about Dante’s poem that raged between Venice, Florence, and Rome in the mid sixteenth-century and went so far as to implicate Dante in debates about the religious orthodoxy of his text. Defending Dante in this context, Dolce’s edition is the first to refer to the Commedia as ‘divina’ (divine), highlighting the word through prominent placing and framing at the top of the title page.

Title page. (Aldus, 1515: MOORE.1.G.1)

These small books were very much inspired by an edition esteemed for its elegance and simplicity, produced by the Venetian printer Aldus Manutius. Although the Taylorian does not hold a copy of the first edition printed by Aldus in 1502, it does hold a copy of the second edition printed by Aldus in 1515 and claimed by the printer with his recognisable dolphin motif.

These collections are available for consultation and for study. As well as being of interest to students of Book History and Italian Studies, they present an opportunity for creative reflection on the history of poetry in print. For further information on the collections related to Dante and, in particular, more modern materials, consult the existing blog posts on images of the poet and audio files as well as the handbook for the 2021 exhibition ‘Illustrating Dante’s Divine Comedy’, curated by Gervase Rosser and Claire Hills-Nova.

Far from forgotten fragments in the long print history of Dante’s Commedia, these rare books are testaments to the duration of interest in this medieval poem as an object of study and as a story that transcends national and regional boundaries, offering a poetic geography that to this day invites readers to imagine ‘otherworldly’ spaces in relation to their own worldly experiences.

Some of these books will be on display from 14th June – 11th July 2024 in the Voltaire Room alongside new artworks by Wuon Gean-Ho. This is the result of a TORCH Knowledge Exchange Innovation Fund. You can read more about the project at this link.

The Image of Dante, the Divine Comedy and the Visual Arts: Part II

The Image of Dante, the Divine Comedy and the Visual Arts
in the Ashmolean Museum and the Taylor Institution

II: The Divine Comedy Illustrated

This is the second of two short articles concerning the iconography of Dante as represented in the collections of the Ashmolean Museum and the Taylor Institution in Oxford. The first concerned the image of Dante himself. This one is focused on Ashmolean and Taylorian illustrations to Dante’s Divine Comedy.

It has often been said that the Divine Comedy is impossible to render in another medium – and that those who have tried to depict the Comedy have all, more-or-less hopelessly, failed. Some have been criticised for being too literal, failing to engage with the higher purpose of the poem; others for sacrificing Dante to their personal artistic ambitions. Underlying these criticisms is an idea of Dante’s text as a pure and independent work of art. Anything added to this is suspect. Such arguments are equally by-products of a misguided cult of authenticity, reinforced in this context by an enduring academic tendency to privilege the word over the image.

Rather than making a fetish of some imagined original and ideal reader of the poem, and consequently lamenting the supposed corruption of interpreters, it makes more sense historically to consider with an open mind the various ways in which the Comedy has been experienced across the seven centuries since its composition. Reception has always entailed visualisation – whether in the material frame of the text or in the mind of the reader. The reception history of the Comedy, seen through the material evidence of the book in its many editions, is a constant reminder of the ever-changing variety of Dante’s readers. In fact, the evidence of imagery associated with Dante, which can be sampled from the holdings of the Ashmolean Museum and the Taylor Institution Library, indicates what we know ourselves as readers: that text and visual images are constantly in mutual dialogue.

The Comedy began to be illustrated almost as soon as it was written down: the earliest manuscript copies containing pictures date from the second quarter of the fourteenth century. More than five hundred codices of the poem from this and the following century have some form of pictures, although half of these cases include only minimal imagery, while some 150 are extensively illustrated. The arrival of printing, therefore, did not inaugurate the illustrated Comedy. The Bodleian Library possesses important examples of this early manuscript tradition, whilst the illustrated texts in the Taylor Institution Library are printed versions from the late fifteenth century onwards.

Sandro Botticelli, Illustration to Inferno Canto XV, facsimile Zeichnungen von Sandro Botticelli zu Dantes Goettlicher Komoedie: nach den Originalen im K. Kupferstichkabinett zu Berlin (Berlin: G. Grote’sche Verlagsbuchhandlung, 1887) Taylor Institution Library: REP.X.55 (plates)

Botticelli’s enormous project to illustrate the Comedy was, in a sense, the culmination of the medieval tradition of illustrated manuscript copies of the poem. Botticelli’s drawings themselves are now divided between Rome and (for the greater part) Berlin. The acquisition of these sheets in 1884 by the Kupferstichkabinett zu Berlin (Museum of Prints and Drawings) was followed by the publication of facsimiles of the complete series, made to the highest standards of the day and disseminated, as an act of cultural diplomacy, to the major collections of Europe. The Taylor Institution Library owns a copy of the portfolio of loose plates.

Botticelli’s patron must have been a wealthy Florentine patrician, who was content for his artist to work on a grand scale, and to allow his imagination, responding to the poem, to build creatively on the pre-existing repertoire of illustrations to the Comedy. The moment was an important one in the process of Tuscan re-adoption of the exiled Florentine: in 1481, a decade after the appearance of the first, north Italian, printed edition, the Comedy was published in the city of Dante’s birth. This version was accompanied by an extensive commentary and a patriotic introduction by Cristoforo Landino, who boasted that the new edition effectively repatriated the author: ‘…Firenze lungo tempo dolente ma finalmente lieta sommamente si congratula col suo poeta Dante nel fine di due secoli risuscitato et restituto nella patria sua’ (‘After a long period of grief, Florence can finally and happily celebrate to the utmost with her poet, Dante, who after two centuries has been restored to life and to his homeland’). The book was also illustrated with woodblock prints, which for the first half of Inferno were based on the drawings on which Botticelli was evidently simultaneously at work. For the rest, Botticelli’s progress was evidently too slow to be of use, and other designs were deployed. These woodblocks would be re-used in diverse editions over several years.

Commento di Christophoro Landino fiorentino sopra la comedia di Dante Alighieri poeta fiorentino (Venice, 1491) Taylor Institution Library: ARCH.Fol.It.1491(1)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Ashmolean Print Room possesses a number of detached woodcuts from this series, painstakingly cut out from copies of the book by early collectors of printed images. In some cases, previous owners of the books had enhanced the pictures with the addition of colour.

Woodcuts from the Comedy published in Venice in 1491(?) Ashmolean Museum: Douce Collection WA.2003 (Italian sequence, unmounted)

Landino’s extensive commentary made a visual announcement that the text was quasi-biblical in its need of authoritative exposition. By the same token, however, the annotations threatened to overwhelm the text, which, like the Bible, was also known in less intellectualised forms. In an evident reaction against the perceived clutter of the Tuscan layout, the great Venetian publisher Aldus Manutius produced a simple text edition, with the collaboration of Pietro Bembo. The latter owned a copy of the Comedy once given by Boccaccio to Petrarch, which encouraged the editors to think their version superior to others. Their claim was that modern Tuscan versions had corrupted the text with changes in vernacular usage, whereas they were presenting the ‘authentic’ Dante. Once again, an idea of authenticity is contrasted with the supposed inadequacy of anything which might betray the process of reception and the passage of time. Aldus’s end-note authoritatively declares: ‘Venetiis in aedibus Aldi accuratissime men’. The title page bears the simple legend: ‘Le terze rime di Dante’. The text appears unencumbered.

Lo’nferno e’l Purgatorio e’l Paradiso di Dante Alaghieri (Venice: Aldus Manutius, 1502) Taylor Institution Library: ARCH.12°.It.1502

But although the prestige of the Bembo-Aldus text meant that it was frequently copied thereafter, it was in fact far from perfect, giving the opportunity for the Tuscan Alessandro Vellutello to condemn its failings and so to reclaim the book for Florence. Vellutello’s extra-annotated edition of 1544 (ironically published in Venice) would in turn provide the initial basis for the official Florentine imprint of the Accademia della Crusca in the 1590s. The 1544 printing also introduced a number of diagrams of Hell, based partly on the work on this subject written in Florence in the fifteenth century by Antonio Manetti. Sixteenth-century readers were interested to apply the latest techniques of geographical measurement to their reading of the poem. It is often pointed out that many more editions of Petrarch than of Dante appeared in print before 1600; yet the latter was not seen as outdated.

La comedia di Dante Aligieri con la noua espositione di Alessandro Vellutello (Venice, 1544) Taylor Institution Library: ARCH.8°.It.1544(2)

In 1564, for the first time, the author appeared on the title page both in the largest lettering and in a portrait (apparently derived from those by Raphael, or otherwise from those fifteenth-century Florentine depictions on which Raphael himself had drawn).

Dante con l’espositione di Christoforo Landino et di Alessandro Vellutello sopra la sua comedia dell’Inferno, del Purgatorio, & del Paradiso (Venice, 1564)
Taylor Institution Library: ARCH.Fol.It.1564(1)

The Ashmolean Museum possesses an extraordinary testament to the status of Dante in mid-sixteenth-century Tuscany, in the form of a wax relief, probably made in the late eighteenth century as a cast copy of its Renaissance original. That work was made by the young virtuoso sculptor Pierino da Vinci, on commission from the prominent Dante scholar, engineer, and Medicean governor of Pisa, Luca Martini. The subject is the shocking scene, described in Cantos 32 and 33 of Inferno, of the imprisonment and starvation by Archbishop Ruggiero of Pisa of his enemy, Ugolino, together with the latter’s sons and grandsons. Both the patron’s deep knowledge of the poem and his official posting to Pisa explain the appearance of this, the first Dantean subject to be rendered as an independent work of art.

Pierino da Vinci (after), Ugolino and His Sons and Grandsons in the Tower of Famine. Wax relief. Probably late 18th-century Ashmolean Museum: WA1897.190 © Ashmolean Museum, University of Oxford

Only months before this commission, in the late 1540s, a famous discussion had been conducted in Florence concerning the status of the various arts. Benedetto Varchi, who orchestrated that debate together with Luca Martini, proposed that in order to render Dante’s Inferno or Pugatorio in visual art, the better medium would be, not painting, but relief sculpture. Giorgio Vasari, who saw the relief which ensued, commented that ‘In this work Vinci displayed the excellence of design no less than did Dante the perfection of poetry in his verses, for no less compassion is stirred by the attitudes shaped in wax by the sculptor in him who beholds them, than is roused in him who listens to the words and accents imprinted on the living page by the poet.’ Bearing in mind this reference to a wax version, it is not altogether impossible, on the available evidence, that the Ashmolean relief was made by Pierino da Vinci – even if the arrival of the bronze in Britain creates a plausible context for the manufacture of a wax version (together with several terracotta casts which are known, and of which the Ashmolean possesses an example: WA1888.CDEF.S28) for an eighteenth-century collector. (The bronze version, which for more than two centuries resided in the house of the Dukes of Devonshire at Chatsworth, was in 2010 sold to the Prince of Liechtenstein; it is now in that family’s palace in Vienna.)

The afterlife of Pierino da Vinci’s bronze Ugolino had momentous consequences for the imagery of the Comedy in the nineteenth century. By the seventeenth century it had been attributed to Michelangelo: not a foolish idea, given Pierino’s admiration and emulation of the master which is so evident in the figures. Acquired and brought home by a travelling English artist around 1700, it was seen by the painter and critic Jonathan Richardson, who in an influential essay on art criticism praised the sculptor’s ability to lift the communication of great ideas even beyond the power of words.

Joshua Reynolds, himself a passionate admirer of Michelangelo, responded to Richardson’s challenge with a painting of the same subject, exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1773 (now at Knole, Kent). Once John Dixon had in 1774 made an engraving after Reynolds’s picture, the tragic subject was launched as an ideal point of reference for the Romantic imagination, as Dante’s poem came back into favour around 1800. Along with the episode of Paolo and Francesca, that of Ugolino’s imprisonment dominated the selection of scenes from the Comedy chosen for depiction by numerous nineteenth-century artists.

At the same period a number of artists rose to the challenge of illustrating the entire poem. By the time that Gustave Doré embarked on his Dante series in the 1850s, the poet was thoroughly established in French and European culture, which helps to explain the enormous impact of those particular designs. It was, by contrast, at a relatively early moment in the nineteenth-century boom in Dante’s critical fortune that William Blake, in the 1820s, undertook a similar project. Blake’s response to Dante was so personal, that it has often been assumed to have sacrificed the poem to Blake’s idiosyncratic visual mythologies. This does injustice to the work, on which Blake was exclusively and passionately engaged in the final, illness-ridden years of his life. Blake had enormous respect for Dante, despite disagreeing with aspects of his theology; but the strength of his imagery stems from the fact that he regarded himself as equal to the medieval poet as both poet and visionary. A century ago Blake’s watercolour drawings, which he made as steps towards a never completed series of engravings, were distributed to various museums by the Art Fund. One given to the Ashmolean is amongst the most beautiful of the set. It relates to Paradiso Canto 24, and represents Dante and Beatrice in the Constellation of Gemini.

William Blake, Beatrice and Dante in Gemini, 1824-7. Watercolour over graphite with some pen and ink and black chalk Ashmolean Museum: WA1918.5 © Ashmolean Museum, University of Oxford

The Print Room also holds a set of the seven partially completed prints by Blake, which his friend and publisher John Linnell had solicited from him.

William Blake, The Six-footed Serpent Attacking Buoso de’ Donati (Inferno Canto 25). Engraving Ashmolean Museum: WA1941.27.5

In the next generation and in his own fashion, Dante Gabriel Rossetti also brought into focus aspects of the Comedy which had previously been less noticed.  He contributed to a new fascination with the youthful Dante of the lyric poetry and the Vita Nuova. The poet, in Rossetti’s imagery, shifts from the role of hero to that of lover. This is exemplified in the Ashmolean’s Beatrice at a Marriage Feast Denying Her Salutation to Dante.

Dante Gabriel Rossetti, Beatrice at a Marriage Feast Denying Her Salutation to Dante. Watercolour and bodycolour with some pen Ashmolean Museum: WA1942.156 © Ashmolean Museum, University of Oxford

Rossetti was prompted in particular directions by John Ruskin, who proposed several subjects for the artist to take from Purgatorio. One of these was the character of Matelda (or Matilda), seen by Dante in the Earthly Paradise. Rossetti’s painting of this subject is lost, but the Ashmolean holds a detailed preparatory drawing.

Dante Gabriel Rossetti, Dante’s Vision of Matilda Gathering Flowers (Purgatorio Canto 28). Pen and brown ink. Ashmolean Museum: WA1942.157 © Ashmolean Museum, University of Oxford

Dante describes Matelda as ‘una donna soletta’ who picks flowers and sings by herself. Rossetti, ever drawn to ideas of friendship and evidently eager, perhaps under the influence of Ruskin, to emphasise a feminine principle, multiplied the female presence in his image.

Other artists in Oxford collections have engaged in diverse ways with Dante’s Comedy. Rodin’s work for his never completed Dantesque scheme, The Gates of Hell, is represented in the Ashmolean Print Room by a small engraving of Souls in Purgatory (WA1946.263). A few drawings for Tom Phillips’s Inferno (1985; WA2009.94 and WA2009.96–99) are held in the Print Room, while several boxes of related materials are catalogued in the Bodleian Library Special Collections. Also in the Print Room are sets of Geoff MacEwan’s Inferno (1990) and Purgatory (2008) engravings. In the latter the Earthly Paradise, an oasis of green ringed by purificatory flames, bursts into colour and into an abstract simplification of form. The poem continues to find imaginative responses which themselves generate new readings and new readers.

Geoff MacEwan, ‘The Garden’ 2008 © Geoff MacEwan Reproduced with the Artist’s permission

Note:

In June 2017 seminars on Dante and the visual arts were held, on two occasions for different audiences, in the Western Art Print Room of the Ashmolean Museum. The project was the result of my experience as Faculty Fellow in the Department of Western Art at the Ashmolean. I am very grateful to the following who contributed generously and enthusiastically to the collaboration: the Keeper of Western Art, Dr Catherine Whistler; the Leverhulme Research Assistant (Raphael Project), Angelamaria Aceto; the Print Room Supervisors, Dr Caroline Palmer and Katherine Wodehouse; the Bodleian Libraries’ Librarian for Art & Architecture, and for Italian Literature & Language, Clare Hills-Nova; the Picture Library Curator of the Ashmolean Museum, Amy Taylor; and Jim Harris, the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation Teaching Curator at the Ashmolean, together with Unity Coombes and Ben Skarratt, UEP Museum Assistants.

Professor Gervase Rosser
History of Art Department & Faculty of History
University of Oxford

Society for Italian Studies’ Biennial Conference

2015-09-SIS_logo_large_printSociety for Italian Studies Biennial Conference

Oxford, Taylor Institution,
25-28 September 2015

Before the rush of new students and returning students, the Taylor Institution opened its doors to 200-plus delegates, over three days, for the Biennial Conference of the Society for Italian Studies, 2015. (Link here to the SIS-Biennial-Conference-Programme.)

2015 has been an auspicious year for big anniversaries in Italian culture, including: 750 years since the birth of Dante Alighieri, 500 since the death of  Venetian printer Aldus Manutius, 30 since Italo Calvino’s death, and 100 since Italy revoked the Triple Alliance (with Germany and Austria-Hungary) and entered World War I on the side of the Triple Entente (France, Great Britain and Russia). We also lie on the eve of the anniversary of the first edition of Ariosto’s epochal epic, the Orlando Furioso. The conference programme, together with the display of items from the Taylor Institution Library’s Special Collections as well as the Sackler Library’s Wind Room, reflected the ongoing cultural impact of these figures and events. (Link here to the SIS-2015-Display-List.)

Throughout 2015, Dante’s 750th birthday has been celebrated by popes and politicians, with readings, concerts and conferences and, thanks in part to the 1939 deposit of the Moore Collection by The Queen’s College with the Taylorian, a number of early print editions of Dante’s Commedia were on view.

Each item shown was intriguing for different reasons, not least for allowing us to focus on the material culture and circulation of Dante’s texts during the transition from manuscript to print. An interest in these questions, the so-called ‘material turn’ in some branches of research, was also evident in a number of SIS conference panels considering the content and afterlives of Dante’s texts.

Striking images from various editions of Dante’s Commedia were on display, such as in a 1507 Venetian edition, which included illustrations based on Botticelli’s treatment of the poem. One Commedia shown (Venice, 1529), bore images of classical poets in parallel with Italy’s Tre Corone, Dante, Petrarch, and Boccaccio.

The display of this 1529 edition, with its Tre Corone array, of was of broader relevance in a year which, as well as marking a significant anniversary of Dante’s birth, saw the publication of the new Cambridge Companion to Boccaccio, presented in a special ‘unroundtable’ conference session by its editors, Rhiannon Daniels and Guyda Armstrong. This session served not only to present a complex and fascinating author, but also to consider the role of medieval and early modern specialists in the wider scope of Italian and modern language departments, in the humanities, and in the public sphere, picking up discussions in other venues such as the recent International Medieval Congresses at Leeds and Kalamazoo.

Petrarch, Trionfi (Milan: Ioanne Angelo Scinzenzeler, 1512)

Petrarch, Trionfi (Milan: Ioanne Angelo Scinzenzeler, 1512)

Not to be left out, Petrarch will also shortly be receiving his own Companion volume in the Cambridge series, so that the three big guns of the medieval canon will, at last, be equally well-served in terms of introductory criticism. Students of medieval Italian (Oxford Italianists taking Paper VI) have never had it so good!

During his sadly curtailed life-time, Italo Calvino (1923-1985) produced a body of work that remains a staple of undergraduate curricula, of graduate and professional research agendas (turning up in a SIS conference panel on experimental narratives), and (in the original Italian and in translations into numerous languages) of bookshop shelves around the world. In Calvino’s fiction, non-fiction, lectures, screen-plays, essays, and articles exist strands with always at least half an eye on Italian literary and narrative traditions, from fairytales to ‘classics’ of literature. This interest is reflected in Calvino’s edition of his oft-proclaimed favourite text, Ariosto’s Orlando Furioso, of which a 1555 and 1570 edition were shown. In addition, a vinyl recording curated by Calvino was displayed alongside the first critical edition of the 1516 edition of the text (by Oxford scholar Marco Dorigatti).

The Furioso, its editions and afterlives also had a marked presence in a variety of panels over the course of the SIS conference. The 1570 edition of Ariosto’s text on dislay was of particular interest not so much for what had been included, but for what one reader had attempted to delete.

Lines describing discordant and unseemly behaviour among friars (Canto 27.37) have been struck through in an act of censorious literary disagreement. This somewhat drastic intervention again brings the material fates of the texts we study into sharp relief.

As well as celebrating the lives and works of figures like Dante, Calvino, and Ariosto, recent years have also marked more sombre recollections relating to the beginning of the Great War, declared on 28 July 1914, and joined by Italy, after the collapse of its Triple Alliance with Germany and Austro-Hungary, on 23 May 1915.

While these remembrances have largely focused on loss and sacrifice, the Italian Futurists thought World War I was great in a rather different sense, celebrating warfare as ‘the world’s only hygiene’, to use F.T. Marinetti’s phrase in his Founding and Manifesto of Futurism (1909). A copy of this text was included among a visually striking display of his works, along with texts by his contemporaries and co-conspirators. (See also the Taylorian’s blog posting Futurism, Fascism and the Art of War.)

Fondazione e Manifesto del Futurismo (1909)

Fondazione e Manifesto del Futurismo (1909)

This Manifesto was one of several texts featuring in the final SIS keynote, by Robert Gordon, exploring the developing role of chance and luck in ‘modernist’ Italian works.

Indeed, the exhibition provided a visual counterpart to all three keynotes. Zygmnut Barański’s address ‘On Dante’s Trail’, was very concerned with the use of archival materials in relation to ‘historically inflected research’ on Dante; Lina Bolzoni’s talk focused on the perils and pleasures of reading and the importance of texts by great authors to the construction of the self in early modern Italy; and the aforementioned Futurist and modern publications on show reflected the heart of Robert Gordon’s discussion.

David Bowe, Victoria Maltby Junior Research Fellow, Somerville College,
Faculty of Medieval and Modern Languages
Further reading
For items on view, link here to the SIS-2015-Display-List.

See also:

Guyda Armstrong, Rhiannon Daniels and Stephen J. Milner, eds. The Cambridge companion to Boccaccio (Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 2015)

Zygmunt G. Barański and Martin McLaughlin, eds. Italy’s three crowns: reading Dante, Petrarch and Boccaccio (Oxford: Bodleian Library, 2007)

Rachel Jacoff, ed. The Cambridge companion to Dante (Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1993)

M. McLaughlin Italo Calvino (Edinburgh: Edinburgh UP, 1998)