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The first fully illustrated Commedia, annotated by a Rosacrucian

Alighieri, Dante (1265-1321).

Comento di Christophoro Landino fiorentino sopra la Comedia di Dante Alighieri Poeta fiorentino.

Alighieri, Dante (1265-1321). Comento di Christophoro Landino fiorentino sopra la Comedia di Dante Alighieri Poeta fiorentino. Venice, Bernardinus Benalius and Matteo Capcasa (from Codeca), 3 March 1491.

Folio (310x218 mm). Collation: [I]8, a-z8, &8, cum8, rum8, A8, B6, C-I8, K6, L8. [10], cclxxxxi, [1] leaves. Text in one column, surrounded by commentary on 61 lines. Type: 108R (text), 80R (commentary). Woodcut printer's device on fol. L8r. Four full-page woodcuts set within richly historiated borders (fols. a1v, s1v, C1r; one repeat on fol. s2v of the woodcut opening the Purgatorio). Ninety-seven woodcut vignettes. Six nine-line decorated initials; numerous smaller initials on black ground. Old vellum with running stitches, recased. A good copy, slightly browned in places. Fols. [I]1 and a2 probably from another copy, the lower blank margin remargined. Early seventeenth-century marginal notes and drawings on fols. c4v, r8r-v, and H1r taken from, or inspired to the Amphitheatrum sapientiae aeternae by Heinrich Khunrath (Hamburg 1595.).

Provenance: unidentified coat of arms on fol. a1v, set within a laurel wreath and held by two putti.

$ 58,000

One of the finest examples from the golden age of Venetian book illustration: the rare first fully illustrated Commedia, the first to contain a complete cycle of images for each cantica, and the first edition to include Landino's commentary as revised by Pietro da Figino, recently identified as the Tuscan theologian Pietro Mazzanti da Figline. What makes this edition particularly appealing is its illustrative apparatus, which far exceeds all previous illustrated editions: there are one hundred woodcuts, one for each of the poem's cantos, including three fullpage illustrations at the beginning of each cantica. For the images the Venetian printers employed the ‘popular artist' who illustrated the 1490 Malermi Bible, identified by Lilian Armstrong as the Master of the Pliny of Pico della Mirandola. For the first two canticheInferno and Purgatorio – the illustrator used earlier cycles, when available, as models. For the Paradiso there were no previous woodcut illustrations and the Pico Master created an entirely new sequence of images, rooting himself not in the manuscript tradition (the Paradiso is less frequently illustrated in the illuminated codices of the Commedia), but essentially in Landino's commentary. Another feature of interest lies in the early seventeenth-century notes and Rosacrucian symbolism, as with the Cross inscribed within a triangle, visible on some leaves, which are linked to the Amphitheatrum sapientiae aeternae, first published in 1595 by the mystic Heinrich Khunrath, a disciple of Paracelsus. For example, this unknown reader added the notes ‘procul hinc adeste Profani' on fol. c4v, referring to the Door to Hell, and ‘E Millibus vix uni' on fol. r8v, relating to the woodcut depiction of Lucifer; both quotations are taken from the Amphitheatrum. Over the centuries, several of Dante's readers, including John Starkey (1627-1665), Gabriele Rossetti (1783-1854) and, later, René Guénon (1886-1951), tried to unveil the hidden meaning of the Comedy, showing Dante's influence on esoteric societies. It is therefore possible that the as-yet unknown early owner of this copy had been a Rosicrucian, or a member of another suspected fraternity.

HC 5949; GW 7969; BMC v, 373; IGI 363; Goff D-32; Essling 531; Sander 2313; De Batines I, p. 52; Mambelli 13.