The Divine Comedy


Almost from the time it was written, the Commedia by Dante Alighieri (1265–1321) enjoyed enormous popularity, being praised by Boccaccio as divina and copied in more than 600 manuscripts. The work has continued to be an undying source of artistic inspiration, from the earliest manuscript illustrations up to work by such modern artists as Salvador Dalí and Robert Rauschenberg. The movement towards a revaluation of vernacular Italian literature reawakened interest in Dante between 1440 and 1470 and led to efforts in the poet’s native town of Florence to publish its “own” representative edition of the Commedia to rival the editions previously printed in Foligno in 1472 and thereafter in Venice, Mantua, Naples, and Milan. The result was the Florentine edition of 1481, which was accompanied by a learned commentary that focused attention on the allegorical character of the work. The commentary was written by Christophorus Landinus (1424–98), a prominent member of the Platonic Academy of Florence and teacher of Lorenzo di Pierfrancesco de’ Medici, a cousin of Lorenzo the Magnificent. This commentary was to be included in all editions of the Commedia printed in the subsequent two decades. The different techniques required for printing the text (relief printing) and the copper engravings (an intaglio process) seem to have caused problems in this Florentine edition, printed in 1481 by Nicolaus Laurentii, who originally came from Wrocław (present-day Breslau), Poland. Only around 20 copies of the edition contain 19 copper engravings, most of which have been pasted in rather than printed onto the text pages, while others contain only two illustrations to the first two canti of the poem. The ambitiously planned edition thus seems not to have been properly realized. The number of textual errors and omissions suggest the work was printed with some haste. The copper engravings were probably the work of Baccio Baldini and seem to be related to the series of 92 illustrations made by Sandro Botticelli for Lorenzo di Pierfrancesco de’ Medici around the end of the 15th century. (These illustrations are held in the Museum of Prints and Drawings of the State Museum of Berlin and in the Vatican Library). The most plausible explanation for this relationship is that Baldini may have based his illustrations on a collection of Botticelli’s material for the Commedia comprised of incomplete studies and sketches.

Date Created

Subject Date

Publication Information

Nicolaus Laurentii, Florence


Title in Original Language

La Commedia

Type of Item

Physical Description

737 pages : illustrated ; 47 x 43 centimeters


  • BSB shelfmark: Rar. 290-1/3
  • This description of the work was written by Wiltrud Summer-Schindler of the Bavarian State Library.

Last updated: March 16, 2017