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Treasures of the Rare Books and Special Collections Library: Early printed books

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Dante. La Commedia. [With commentary and Life of Dante by] Christophorus Landinus.
Venice : Petrus de Quarengius, 1497.
La Commedia. Click to enlarge.

In 1481, in Florence, there was an attempt to print an edition of Dante by Nicholas Laurentius with copperplate engravings by Baccio Baldini based on drawings by Botticelli. This is one of the earliest attempts at using a medium which was not to become really common until the very late sixteenth century. This work was commissioned by Lorenzo d'Medici, and one hundred engravings were planned - one for each canto. The first nineteen engravings were made, but the difficulty of printing them in position - a process which required two separate impressions through the press - was apparently too great. Only the first two or three plates were printed on the text page; sixteen or seventeen others were printed separately and pasted in. The results were poorly executed and grey and the rest were never engraved.

Botticelli evidently completed 92 of the drawings however over a number of years; these were published in full in 1887. Nevertheless, the work had great influence on other editions of Dante in that the style of the illustrations were widely copied. A notable example is this 1497 edition. The woodcuts in this work being based on the engravings for the 1481 edition. The text includes a commentary by Landinus, but also included here is a life of Dante by the same writer which is the origin of much of our knowledge of the poet. The book was edited by Piero Figino.

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