Following the publication in 1501 of works by Virgil and Petrarch, Aldus Manutius undertook a print run of Dante’s Commedia in 1502. Print editions of Dante’s great theological poem had been in circulation for almost thirty years (the editio princeps was printed in Foligno in 1472), and in this time numerous grand editions had been published. Yet with the 1502 Aldine Dante we see for the first time an octavo edition of the poem, which eschews the extensive commentary, glosses, and paratextual features common within earlier editions of the Commedia in favour of an affordable, easily portable, and very basic version of the text.
Aldus collaborated with his friend, Pietro Bembo, in the preparation of this edition. Bembo used an early manuscript of the Commedia, taken from his father’s library, as the basis for his version of the text, and focused his attention on the production of an easily accessible version of the poem, rather than providing lengthy glosses or commentaries. This text became the standard version used for editions of Dante for the subsequent 300 years.
The Library is in possession of five copies of the 1502 Aldine Dante, which are printed on paper and which occur in two printing states: in the first issue, the verso side of the final leaf is blank; the second issue has the Aldine anchor and dolphin printer’s mark here. This is one of the first ever occurrences of this device which Aldus began to use in 1502; four of the Rylands’ five copies of the 1502 Aldine Dante contain this feature.
A digital copy of one of our 1502 Dantes is currently available online, and is particularly interesting thanks to its copious annotations throughout, in both Italian and Latin.
This copy – R213786 – is bound in brown goat skin, with the Aldine dolphin and anchor stamped onto the front cover in gold tooling. It contains the bookplate of Professor Richard Copley Christie, alongside an inscription on the verso of the title page, which reads ‘Ex dono D. Nicolai Gallii’.