Thursday, February 17, 2011

Ever try to figure out which level of Hell represents the day? Dante's Inferno, Sandro Botticelli illustrations

With over 1400 books in my private library I always feel that when writer's block hits, I can simply grab a cherished book off the shelf and write about it.  Today is one of those days and the book I settled on is Sandro Botticelli:  The Drawings for Dante's Divine Comedy, Royal Academy of Arts, London, 2000 (distributed in the US and North America by Henry N. Abrams Inc., New York, ISBN 0810966336).  Not a truly bad day in my life, but rather a day when, for personal reasons, I started wondering what level of Hell I seem to be experiencing.  Thinking about Dante's Inferno (the best current translation is the Robert Pinsky translation published in 1994, illustrated by Michael Masur)motivated me to browse through the book of Botticelli's drawings.

Botticelli's map of Dante's Inferno from the engraving in the 1481 edition
 Sandro Botticelli:  The Drawings for Dante's Divine Comedy is not a rare book but I believe it is collectible and regardless of future value, extraordinary, worth the price today and a fine addition to any private library. 

There is absolutely no way any, mere mortal, collector could acquire a copy of the original edition of Dante's Divine Comedy with Botticelli's illustrations.  That edition, published in 1481by Niccolo di Lorenzó della Magna, Florence, with commentary by Chistophoro Landino Fiorentino, and engravings attributed to Baccio Baldini, is simply priceless.  A copy can be found at the Kupferstichkabinett (Museum of Printing and Drawing), Berlin and seems to be the only copy I can find.

Facsimilie editions of the 1481 edition have been published and include reproductions of the 1481 Baldini engravings and reproductions of Botticelli's original drawings.  Notable here would be the edition published by Bruce Rogers & The Press of A. Colish, NY, 1955, the Nonesuch Press edition of 1928, (both include reproductions of the drawings) and Dantes Divina Commedia mit den illustrationen von Sandro Botticelli, Codex Reg. Lat. 1896.  Codex Ham. 201 (Cim. 33), 2 volumes, volume 1: facsimile, volume 2: commentary by Peter Dreyer, Zurich, 1986 ($7,500+).  Recently a reasonably priced edition, illustrated with the Botticelli illustrations, has appeared in the Everyman's Library Classics Series.

To simply marvel at Botticelli's masterful illustrations for the Divine Comedy, one need search no further than the Royal Academy of Arts edition.  Not only are all the engravings from the 1481 edition reproduced but it is a complete catalog and study of all existing drawings Botticelli created for the Divine Comedy.  Experiencing Botticelli's genius is memorable!

7th Circle, Third Round.  The desert of burning sands:  the souls of those who committed violence against the divine order, punishment of the usurers-Descent into the abyss on Heryon's back-drawing
Botticelli created the series of drawings for the Divine Comedy between 1480 and 1495 on sheep parchment.  He drew using a thin metal point, probably made of silver and a softer stylus of lead-tin alloy.  He then improved the original effort with pen and ink in colors ranging from yellow to brown and black.  He drew on the smooth, flesh side of the parchment with the associated text from the poem on the rough, hair side. Shortly after completing his drawings, they disappeared and today, 92 sheets with 92 images are known to exist.  85 may be found in the Kupferstichkabinnet in Berlin and 7 in the Biblioteca Apostolica Vaticana.

While searching for appropriate links for this posting I stumbled upon the Ohio University Libraries Italian Literature site and I plan on spending time exploring this fabulous resource on Dante. 

If all this information about Dante and Botticelli is too much to handle, do still give Dante a chance via the recently published graphical novel format edition of the Dante's Divine Comedy adapted by Seymour Chwast, Bloomsbury, New York, 2010, appropriate for all ages!

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