Manuscript Study LIBR 280-12

Dante Alighieri, Divina Commedia, or, Divine Comedy
MS. Holkham misc. 48, Bodleian Library, University of Oxford

Virginia Siskavich-Bosley

San Jose State University, School of Library and Information Science Graduate Program

Courtesy of Bodeian Library, Oxford

Dante, Courtesy of Bodleian Library, Oxford.
from MS. Holkham misc. 48

Table of Contents

Introduction and Historical Overview

Manuscript Background and Context

Creators and Illustrators

Titles/Aliases/Incipit/Explicit

Colophon

Size

Binding

Material Written On

Collation

Ink and Rubrication

Decoration and Illumination

Summary

Works Cited

Introduction and Historical Overview

This paper studies a late 14th century manuscript of the Divine Comedy, fully illustrated, that is currently housed in the Bodleian Library at the University of Oxford. A digitized copy of this manuscript can be examined here:  MS. Holkham misc. 48.  Scholars place the date of this manuscript somewhere between 1350 and 1375, making it one of the oldest surviving copies of Dante’s Divine Comedy (Dante, Beatrice, and the Divine Comedy, Tomlinson, 1894, p.26). Tomlinson (1894) asserts that there are no more than twenty-nine copies of this poem that date from 1350-1400 (p.26). In all of Europe, there are approximately five-hundred codices; the Bodleian being fortunate enough to house fourteen of them (p.25). Professor of Italian Studies at the University of Oxford, Martin McLaughlin, calls this particular manuscript, Holkam misc. 48, especially rare and treasured for its age and quantity and quality of illustrations, one-hundred and forty-eight total (Treasures of the Bodleian, McLaughlin, 2011, http://youtu.be/PkUEs6gTXYs).

The Divine Comedy, or, Divina Commedia in Italian, was written by poet Dante Alighieri between 1308 and his death in 1321 (McLaughlin, 2011). This epic poem, arguably Dante’s greatest masterpiece, was executed while he was in political exile from his home city of Florence, and was born from his strained relationship with the papacy (MacAllister, 1961, Historical Introduction to The Purgatorio). Kirkpatrick, in Dante, The Divine Comedy (2004) writes that “while the poet was absent from [Florence] on an embassy, a coup d’etat took place, organized by [the black Guelph party] opposed to Dante’s White Party” (p.3). The coup resulted in Dante’s exile from Florence, where he was brought up on charges of corruption and sentenced to death (p.3).  About this incident, MacAllister, in his Historical Introduction to The Purgatorio (1961) adds that “the Blacks schemed to interest the pope in intervening in the dispute. Boniface VIII, ever alert for an opportunity to strengthen his political influence, ignored the protests of the Whites” (p.x). In this light, the Divine Comedy becomes a reaction to, and a solution for, the political and religious injustices of the day. MacAllister (1961) also offers this insight: “This experience [disillusionment with the papacy and exile from his native Florence], crushing and embittering to most of its victims…launched Dante’s mind on one of its greatest drives: to understand the problem of evil, and try to solve it” (p. x). According to MacAllister’s logic, Dante was driven to use his Commedia to explore the depths of sin and evil and to ask, “What hope was there that men in general might be persuaded to a just life in this world and salvation in the next when they saw their spiritual leaders behave in such a way?” (p. x).  Readers follow Dante and various tour guides (Virgil, Beatrice, Saint Bernard) through the depths of Hell, Purgatory and Paradise, where various levels of sin, sinners, and virtue are presented and explored.

Without his exile and subsequent disgust with Pope Boniface VIII, the Divine Comedy may never have come to fruition.  Scholars are also quick to point out, however, that his deep love and desire for Beatrice also drove his journey from Hell through Purgatory and finally into Paradise.  Tomlinson (1894) writes that “[s]he became his guide to Heaven, even to God himself, and when he thought on her, he beheld the realm of the blessed” (Dante, Beatrice and the Divine Comedy, p. 68).

Dante and Beatrice Ascend Toward Sun
Paradiso, Canto I

An epic poem broken into three parts, Inferno, Purgatory (Purgatorio) and Paradise (Paradiso), it is an immense feat of beauty and imagination – one hundred rhyming cantos. The following video from Professor Dan Roberts of the University of Richmond gives a concise look at the Divine Comedy and the man who made it a reality: (transcript below).

Transcript:

Lead: After Dante was banished from Florence in 1302, he wrote his great masterpiece, The Divine Comedy. By writing it in Italian, the language of the people, he helped drag readers out of their slavish devotion to Latin.

Intro.: A Moment in Time with Dan Roberts.

Content: Active in political and cultural life in Florence, Alighieri Dante was banished from his beloved city after a rival political faction achieved power. He spent the next twenty years in exile, moving from town to town in northern Italy, being honorably received by aristocrats, and working on his most important writings.

Dante shaped The Divine Comedy for years before he actually began the writing in 1308 and completed it shortly before his death in 1321 in the city-state of Ravenna. The work grew out of the poets frustration and deep disappointment with the struggle for supremacy between, in his view, a too overtly political papacy and the Holy Roman Emperors.

Dante was the first major poet to write in Italian rather than in Latin, which traditionally was the language of the Church. He hoped that Italians would take pride in such a work written in the vernacular and this would help bring an end to the factional strife on the peninsula.

The Divine Comedy is an epic poem of prodigious size, one hundred rhyming cantos. Dante himself is the main character and describes his journey through hell, purgatory, and finally, heaven. His guides are illustrious figures such as the Roman poet Virgil and the ever-inspiring Beatrice. On the journey, Dante meets both mythological and historic figures.

Dante created four levels of meaning in his poem literal, allegorical, moral and the anagogical or mystical. He hoped to probe into questions about mans place in the worldly, spiritual and religious order. Dante originally titled his epic poem Commedia or Comedy, which in classical literature describes a work with an orderly and happy ending. Later the Italian writer, Boccaccio added the adjective Divine in part referencing Dante’s religious themes but also to pay tribute to the epics poetic excellence and sheer beauty.
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Manuscript Overview

Italy
Courtesy of Travel Blog

Manuscript Background and Context

As was mentioned in the opening, scholars place this particular Divine Comedy manuscript into the late 14th Century.  Based upon similar-looking manuscripts from that era in Italy, it is also believed to have come from the Naples region, making it a text of the Neapolitan school of Manuscript Illumination.  In that time period, there were four main schools of illumination (Gillerman, 2000):  Florence, Bologna, Lombardy and Naples.  In her essay “Trecento Illustrators of the Divina Commedia,” Gillerman (2000) breaks down each of these schools and gives representative examples of Divine Comedy manuscripts from the region.

Of the Florence school, Gillerman writes, “Manuscript illumination, although second in importance to panel and fresco painting, was a flourishing art in Florence” (p. 133).  Specific to manuscripts of the Divine Comedy out of Florence, she adds that “only one [manuscript] could possibly compete with the best Commedias from other parts of Italy.  The text…is misunderstood or rendered in a completely perfunctory manner” and there is “relative poverty” as far as illuminations are concerned (p. 133).

p.78, Purgatorio, Canto XI.
Dante and Virgil with Oderisi and Provenzan Salvani among the proud.

The next school discussed is Bologna, a special region as far as Dante illuminated manuscript fans are concerned; one of the most famous manuscript illuminators from Bologna, Oderisi da Gubbio, was encountered by Dante in his journey through Purgatory (“Pride,” Canto, XI).  Oderisi was commissioned by Pope Boniface VIII to work in the Papal library in the late 13th Century (http://danteworlds.laits.utexas.edu/purgatory/03pride.html).   Specific Bolognese style, according to Gillerman (2000), “contains elements of Byzantine and Gothic forms with an almost classical love for the depiction of the nude.  It is also characterized by beautiful color and magnificent costume” (p. 141).  She adds that of this school, authoritatively, there belongs only one Divine Comedy manuscript.

In the Lombardy region, where Milan is the capital, “miniatures are distinguished by a rapid facile execution, ordered composition, and warm coloring.  The figures show a realistic treatment with a certain crudity of detail” (p. 155).  Gillerman points out that this region takes on life of its own and very clearly distinguishes itself from other schools around Italy (p. 155).

Finally, the manuscript with which this study is most concerned, hails from the Neapolitan school of Manuscript Illumination.  Gillerman points out that Neapolitan figures have a Gothic origin and while they are “rich and colorful,” they also “are less imaginative…uniformly tall and plastic but with monotonous faces and somewhat stiff gestures” (p. 147).  The image below is an example of the Gothic figures common to a Neapolitan text from MS. Holkham misc. 48.  The figures are quite one-dimensional and monotonous, as Gillerman’s description suggests.  While expressions can easily be seen on their faces, there isn’t much variety among the expressions of all the “jovial” friars.  (Inferno, Canto XXIII, p.35 , Bodleian).  Gillerman does not showcase MS. Holkham misc. 48 in her study but the concepts she introduces seem to apply.

p. 35 (detail)
Inferno, Canto XXIII.
Dante and Virgil talk to the two jovial friars

Gillerman notes that of Divine Comedy illuminators and illustrators, there seemed two main varieties:  those who imagine the allegorical and mythological meanings of Dante’s words and those who keep to the literal meaning of the poem (2000, p. 144).  MS. Holkham misc. 48 is of the latter design, its illustrations, all one-hundred and forty-eight of them, depict each canto as Dante wrote it.  Hassall (1969) offers MS. Holkham misc. 48 as a prime example of this, stating how “[t]hese pictures show scholars and children alike how the literal meaning of [Dante’s] vision was visualized by one fourteenth-century Italian” (p. 2).  Interestingly, this specific manuscript mirror’s Dante’s own mission:  to make the Commedia and its discussion of sin and virtue, understandable to the masses.  This is why the master himself wrote his Comedy in his native tongue as opposed to Latin, a language that commoners and the under-educated would not understand (“A Moment in Time,” Roberts, 2008).  Additionally, this specific manuscript is unique in that is shows the modern reader precisely how someone in Dante’s own time would have imagined his Comedy, as Dante died less than half a century before this manuscript was created.  Hassall writes that “these panels show the literal meaning of the various cantos as visualized by the first generation of Dante readers” (“Notes,” unknown year, p.53).  This particular manuscript is unique in that whomever the original owner, (this has not been uncovered in any research thus far), it could be read, enjoyed, and understood in two ways that many had not seen before:  by the nativity of Italian tongue and the literal miniatures at the bottom of each folio.

Gothic Style
As was briefly mentioned above, the Neapolitan manuscripts of the 14th Century relied heavily on the Gothic style in both illuminations and script.  The Encylopedia of Library and Information Sciences states that manuscripts illuminated in a Gothic fashion had these specific characteristics:

The main feature of this period was the production of smaller books intended for individual or family use in large numbers.  Large and bold characters were replaced by neat miniscules.  Historiated initials became more popular.  Full page pictures, common in the Romanesque period, became rare and were much reduced in size (doi:  http://dx.doi.org/10.1081/E-ELIS3-120008989).

Historiated Initial, Dante inside letter "N"

This particular manuscript has only one historiated initial:  at the very beginning of the text.  It is an image of Dante within the letter “N” (of the whole word “Nel” or, “In” in English), shown left.  The script is also a form of Gothic:  Italian Rounded Gothic or “rotunda” (Tomlinson, 1894, p. 26; Bodleian University Description, http://www.bodley.ox.ac.uk/dept/scwmss/wmss/medieval/mss/holkham/misc/048.a.htm).  According to Howard in The Book (2005), traditional Gothic script, which is sharp and angular, caused strain to the eyes and was tiring to read (p. 60).  Therefore, in 14th Century Italy, scribes moved toward a more rounded Gothic relative, which is easier to read.  The following images show examples of Rounded Italian Gothic from Letters and Lettering (Brown, 2007,) and an example of Rounded Italian Gothic as used in this manuscript.

Rounded Italian Gothic

MS. Holkham misc. 48:  From Italy to England

Holkham Hall
Image Courtesy of Wikipedia

In 1714, Thomas Coke, the Earl of Leicester and bibliophile extraordinaire, set out on his “Grand Tour” where he would acquire, among other things, the Divine Comedy manuscript that would become Holkham 514 and eventually MS. Holkham misc. 48 (Murray, 2000, p. xvii).  The library at Holkham Hall was started by Sir Edward Coke, in the late 15th or early 16th Century.  Skeat (Manuscripts and Printed Books from the Holkham Hall Library, 1952) writes that it was meant as a “family heirloom” although no one descendant took a particular interest in it until Sir Thomas Coke in the early 1700’s (p.23).  On his tour of the continent, a young Thomas Coke  “amassed a collection of books and manuscripts which would have been no mean achievement for one of far maturer years…several libraries were bought en bloc, and by 1721 he had acquired about 6oo of the 771 manuscripts in the Library today” (p.23). For this paper, a mystery remains as to exactly where the manuscript had been from its copying and illumination in the latter part of the 14th Century until Sir Thomas Coke purchased it in 1714.  Yet, because of the quality and condition of the manuscript, one can be certain that it was well cared for from its origination in the late 14th Century.

William Roscoe in Holkham Hall

Following Sir Thomas Coke’s rare book and manuscript-buying spree, the library at Holkham Hall endured another period of neglect (Skeat, 1952, p.24).  Henry Roscoe writes:  “after their arrival in England, the MSS. were never properly arranged.  Their value was little known, nor indeed were they in a fit state to be placed upon the shelves of a library” (1833, p. 64).  Yet, luckily for posterity, an avid reader and lover of books, Mr. William Roscoe, took special interest in the library and made it his personal mission to catalog the library in its entirety.  Although a lawyer by trade, Mr. Roscoe felt passionate about the written word, even studying the art of bibliography upon his retirement (Roscoe, 1833, p.39).  He was invited by the Cokes of Norfolk to Holkham Hall, where he would be given lodging and payment to catalog the library there.  The invitation letter to Mr. Roscoe plays very heavily into his deep affection for the rare book:  “I found a case of the earliest printed books which no one had examined since the time of his great uncle Lord Leicester. Such MSS. of Dante, drawings of the old Italian masters, treasures of European history, you have no idea. The house is one of the finest in Europe and its riches are inexhaustible” (p. 61).  Mr. Roscoe would eventually accept the invitation to arrange the vast collection of exceptional and valuable books and manuscripts.  Without his consideration and deep adoration for the written word, many of Holkham’s treasures — including this Dante manuscript — may very well be forgotten.

The Bodleian library amassed a large collection of Holkham Hall manuscripts in the early 1950’s.  From the Bodleian website:  “Purchased in 1953 from the family library of the Earl of Leicester at Holkham Hall, Norfolk, the Bodleian’s Holkham collection consists of more than 800 works, broadly representative of the Holkham Library as a whole” (http://www.bodley.ox.ac.uk/csb/rbdhj.htm).  The manuscript in this study however,  was not acquired by the Bodleian until 1981, arguably due to Lord Leicester’s desire to “retain the finest of the illuminated manuscripts” for his own personal use (Schofield, 1958, p.63).  The following video is Professor Martin McLaughlin, Angelli-Serena Professor of Italian Studies at the University of Oxford, giving a magnificent glimpse of the manuscript in its full form from the Bodleian Library at Oxford University.

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Manuscript Details
Creators and Illustrators
Scholars believe that the Dante manuscript in this study had multiple creators, scribes and illustrators.  According to the catalog description supplied by the Bodleian, this manuscript was “written in a rounded Italian gothic script by more than one scribe, below top line, apparently with a change of hand at the start of  Purgatorio.”  Further, “the miniatures of the three main textual sections appear to have been decorated by different artists.”   Upon examination, though samples are close, they do not appear to be drawn or written by the same individual.  Examples of the differences in script can be seen below.  Examination of rubrication and red initials give solid evidence of differing scribes.

Differences Between Scribes

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Titles/Aliases/Incipit/Explicit
As was noted previously, MS. Holkham misc. 48 was once known as Holkham 514, but was also referred to by no. 511 in Colomb de Batines’ Bibliografia Dantesca (Hassall, 1969, p.1).  This made research of this manuscript a tad tricky at times, as most research prior to its arrival at the Bodleian in 1981 refers to it by “MS. Holkham 514” and “MS. Holkham misc. 48” in the years after.  This author did not find scholarly research where this manuscript was studied as no. 511 and referred to solely in that manner.

An official title of the manuscript as described by Moore (1889, p.605) is:  “Qui comincia la prima Cantica dela Comedia di dante chiamata Inferno lo quale se divide per canti.  E nel primo canto fa prohemio sopra tutta l’opra” which translates loosely to “Here begins the first Cantica of the Comedy of Dante called Hell which if divided by the songs, and the first song is over all prohemio the deed” (Translation courtesy of Google Translate, translate.google.com).  It is possible however, that this phrase could be considered incipit, as the start of each section (Inferno, Paradiso, Purgatorio) has a new “title” marking the beginning of the text (http://www.bodley.ox.ac.uk/dept/scwmss/wmss/medieval/mss/holkham/misc/048.htm).  The following are the suspected incipits from Purgatorio and Paradiso with very loose translations provided by Google Translate:

Purgatorio:  “Qui comincia il primo capitolo de la seconda Canticha dela comedia. Doue tracta del suo prohemio. E doue introduce Cato. E tracta dela prima spetie de negligentia” (Here begins the first chapter of the second Canticha of the comedy. Doue tracta of its prohemio. And Doue introduces Cato. And the first spices tracta dela de negligentia ‘)
Paradiso:  “Qui comincia il primo Capitolo dela terça Canticha dela comedia. Nelquale sitracta lo suo prohemio Come omni cosa naturalmente tende a buonfine. Loquale fine sic forma          delordine mondano” (Here begins the first chapter dela Terca Canticha comedy. Nelquale sitracta it’s omni prohemio How do naturally tends to buonfine. Sic Loquale order form delordine mundane).
The explicit, in a mixture of Italian and Latin, reads:  “lamor che moue il sole & laltre stelle. Explicit     liber dantis deparadiso. Qui scripsit scribat semper cum domino uiuat.”  This translates loosely to:  “Love that moves the sun and the stars. Deparadiso of the Book of the lender. Who would write he wrote always with the Lord live.”
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Colophon
Moore (1889) lists the colophon as “Explicit liber dantis de paradiso qui scripsit scribat semper cum domino vivai,” (p.605) translating loosely to “End of the Book of the lender, who wrote from the garden of the Lord that I may live always with the write” (translate.google.com).
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Size

Moore (1889, p.305) lists the folio size in inches as 14 x 9 ¼; The Bodleian cataloglists in millimeters as c. 355-60 x 235.   The size of the book may be seen in context from this still-shot of Professor McLaughlin, discussing MS. Holkham misc. 48 at the Bodleian Library:

Professor McLaughlin with MS. Holkham misc. 48
Courtesy of YouTube Video

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Binding

Holkham Crest

This manuscript does not boast original 14th Century bindings.  Its bindings are “typical Holkham binding of green straight-grained morocco over pasteboards, with the Holkham crest in gilt in the centre of the upper cover;  the spine lettered in gilt ‘COMMEDIA | DI | DANTE || MS. | DEL.SEC. | XIV.’,  and, at the bottom, ’51[4]’”  (http://www.bodley.ox.ac.uk/dept/scwmss/wmss/medieval/mss/holkham/misc/048.htm). According to Professor McLaughlin’s YouTube commentary, the bindings are from the 18th Century.  The figure below shows a close-up of the gilding on this particular manuscript, from an enlargement of a screen shot from Professor McLaughlin’s YouTube commentary.

Close-up of Gilded Edging
Holkham Binding, 18th Century

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Material Written On
The Bodleian catalog has this to say about the folio material:  “Parchment of variable quality, the hair-and flesh sides often very  different; the lower edges at the start of the book very ragged, and patched  with other pieces of parchment before being decorated; the parchment of the  Inferno section is generally inferior to that which follows.”

Moore, however, writes that the manuscript is on vellum (1889, p. 605).  It is unknown which description is correct.  Parchment, according to Avrin (Scribes, Script and Books, 1991), Parchment is made from the “skin of the newly slaughtered animal, whether sheep, calf, or goat” (p.210).  The skin was stretched and scraped time and time again until it reached desired thickness and all hair was removed (p. 210-211).  As for the difference between parchment and vellum, Avrin writes that “[t]here is still no agreement on the proper terminology and the exact distinction [of the two],” but says that literally, “’vellum’” means “veal skin” or calf skin” (p.212).  Therefore, because it is difficult to make a definitive distinction between the two materials, uniformity between catalog descriptions should not be expected (p.212).
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Lead Point Rulings

Collation

From the Bodleian catalog:  “I8 (pp. 1-16), II-III10 (pp. 17-56) |  IV-VI8 (pp. 57-104), VII-VIII2 (pp. 105-112) |  IX8 (pp. 113-128), X10 (pp. 129-148); quire signatures at  the top gutter corner of the first rectos, [‘a1’]-‘k1’; quires arranged with a  flesh-side outermost.”
The manuscript is ruled in lead point, around thirty lines per page, in two columns above the miniatures.  The Bodleian catalog describes the rulings and noticeable prickings: “the ruled space 210-50 x 180-200 mm.; prickings (sometimes double) often survive in the outer margin.”  The figure above left shows an enlarged image of the faint lines.   The “Materials and Techniques of Manuscript Production” manual from the Central European University of Budapest asserts that the more elaborate and well-made a manuscript, the more visible lines it had.  Further, manuscripts made for home use, that were less attractive, were not lined at all (http://web.ceu.hu/medstud/manual/MMM/ruling.html).
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Ink and Rubrication
As was discussed earlier in this study, a change of hand is suspected between the first section, Inferno, with the second and third sections, Purgatorio and Paradiso.  Red-ink rubrics start each canto.  The following image shows rubrication:

Labels in Red and Rubrication
Inferno, Canto XXVIII. Dante and Virgil with Mohamed

According to the Bodleian catalog, the majority of the text was written in black ink but “[t]here is a large ‘puzzle’ initial in red and blue with red and purple penwork at the start of Purgatorio and Paradiso (pp. 57, 113).”  The Bodleian, however, does not supply pictures of these puzzles.  The images supplied on their website, though numerous, fail to show pages in their entirety.  The concentration of imaging is on the miniatures, located on the bottom half of each page with only slight images of the text and scribe work included.

Inferno -- Dark Colors
Inferno, Canto XVIII.
Dante and Virgil look at the concentric circles

One can easily notice the transition of color from Inferno to Purgatorio to Paradiso.  As Dante makes his way to Paradise, colors become less harsh, less black, and more luminous.  Where readers see very dark colors throughout Inferno’s entirety (see Figure left), in Purgatorio, a transition to lighter browns and even some lilac-purples is evident  Then, when Dante makes his way to Paradiso, true illumination occurs in the literal and figurative sense:  blues, golds and bright colors radiate from the pages (Figure below right).

Paradiso -- Illumination
Paradiso, Canto VIII.
Venus with Taurus and Libra; Dante and Beatrice conversing.

Common colors throughout the text are black, brown, red, lilac, dark blue and gold (the last two more prevalent in Paradiso; they are mostly absent from the rest of the text).  The reds used may have come from a naturally-wild plant in Italy called madder (http://web.ceu.hu/medstud/manual/MMM/pigments.html), but based upon the richness of the hue in this manuscript, it is likely that the red came from “red lead” (http://www.webexhibits.org/pigments/indiv/overview/redlead.html).  The blues seen in the closing of the Divina Commedia may have come from ultramarine, a widely-used pigment:  “the pigment found its most extensive use in 14th and 15th century illuminated manuscripts and Italian panel paintings” (http://www.webexhibits.org/pigments/indiv/history/ultramarine.html).  Middleton (Illuminated Manuscripts, 1892) remarks that ultramarine was also “the most durable” of the blues and would have been highly sought after (p.240).   Blacks used heavily in Inferno, and widely used in outlining throughout the manuscript, could either have come from bone or carbon, as either was prevalent in 14th century Italy. (http://www.webexhibits.org/pigments/intro/pigments.html).  It was not uncommon for illuminators and scribes to use a mixture of the two black sources (MIddleton, p. 248-249).
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Decoration and Illumination

Labels in Red
Inferno, Canto XIII.
Dante and Virgil watch the profligate torn by hounds.

MS. Holkham misc. 48 is a gem of a manuscript, rare in the sheer volume of miniatures and decoration.  Hassall writes that “Dante is the most illustrated writer and twenty-five editions [of the Divine Comedy] appeared before 1596” (1969, p.2).  He also writes, in a separate note, that this particular manuscript is especially “interesting because of its early date” (unknown year, p. 54).  Each page of the manuscript is decorated with an illustration depicting the literal meaning of Dante’s poem.  One-hundred and forty-eight illustrations grace the manuscript, oftentimes labeled (in red) with the names of those depicted (see image left).  It has been previously mentioned that the colors lighten from Inferno to Paradiso.  Of this, Hassall (1969) notes:  “The heavy backgrounds framing the earlier pictures contrast with the unconfined open compositions of the Paradiso sequence and help to dispel the claustrophobia of Hell with the spacious atmosphere of the Heavens” (p.1).  Clearly, Hassall holds an optimistic and light-hearted view of this manuscript’s illustrations.  Others, however, have not been so kind.  Moore (1889), for instance, calls the illustrations “rude” (p. 605).  Similarly, Hassall remarks that Sir Frederick Madden also thought the miniatures “very rude” (1969, p.2) but goes on to say that indeed, compared to other famous Dante illustrators such as Blake and Botticelli, they are.  However, he cautions that we must “appreciate crude medieval misconceptions of antiquity” (p.2).

Inferno Canto XVIII detail by Sandro Botticelli, 1480
Courtesy backtoclassics.com

As for strict illuminations, very few in Inferno actually fit the actual theoretic definition:  “the embellishment of a manuscript with luminous colors (especially gold and silver)” (Understanding Illuminated Manuscripts, Brown, 1994, p.69).  However, throughout Purgatory and Paradise, several miniatures are embellished with luminous colors, including gold (image below).

Purgatorio -- Purples, Light Browns
Purgatorio, Canto IX.
Dante and Virgil before the angel seated in the Gate of Purgatory

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Summary
Although not the aesthetic beauty of some Divine Comedy manuscripts, MS. Holkham misc. 48 has a richness and allure unrivaled in history. One of the earliest known complete manuscripts, its illustrations, though at times austere, reveal much about the poet, the poem, and the people who would have read and appreciated the Comedy in Dante’s own time.  The illuminators painstakingly interpreted each of Dante’s cantos, bringing to life the poet’s vision.  It is the good fortune of every successive generation that these illustrations are available, giving a 14th century perspective to the 21st century mind.
The deep love of books and an eye for the exceptional brought this Dante from Italy to England, by way of Sir Thomas Leicester of Norfolk.  A team of bibliophiles and appreciators, from Mr. William Roscoe to curators at The Bodleian Library, have worked to keep MS. Holkham misc. 48 in shining condition.  It is with great hope that this author may someday have the good fortune of seeing this treasure in person.
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Works Cited

Alighieri, D. (1308-1320). In unknown (Ed.), Divine comedy [Divina Commedia] University of Oxford. Retrieved from http://www.bodley.ox.ac.uk/dept/scwmss/wmss/medieval/mss/holkham/misc/048.htm

Alighieri, D., & Ciardi, J. (1961). The purgatorio: A verse translation for the modern reader New American Library. Retrieved from http://books.google.com/books?id=i1PZqURV128C

Bradley, J. W. (2006). Illuminated manuscripts Kessinger Publishing.

Brown, F. C. (1921). Gothic letters. In Letters & lettering: A treatise with 200 examples
(pp. 127-131). Boston: doi:http://www.gutenberg.org/files/20590/20590-h/20590-h.htm#Fig141

Brown, M. P. (1994). Understanding illuminated manuscripts: A guide to technical terms J. Paul Getty Museum in association with the British Library. Retrieved from http://books.google.com/books?id=h-NFPVTseskC

Gillerman, D. H. (2000). Trecento illustrators of the” divine commedia”. Dante Studies, with the Annual Report of the Dante Society, (118), 129-165.

Hassall, W. O. (1969). Dante, divinia commedia
holkham ms. 514, late 14th century.
(Notes No. C00516). United Kingdom: Microform Academic Publishers. doi:http://www.microform.co.uk/guides/C00516.pdf

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