Aldus and Dante: prodigal and counterfeit parchments

One of the highlights of the last week in New York has been the opportunity to renew acquaintance with Spencer’s parchment copy of the 1502 Aldine editio princeps of Dante’s Divine Comedy which was published under the title Le terze rime di Dante. IMG_7199Sold at the infamous sale of Rylands volumes in 1988, the volume is now part of the Livio Ambrogio collection, the most significant collection of Danteana in private hands. A selection of the collection is on show at PRPH Rare Books on 26 E 34th Street with a handsome catalogue put together by Margherita Palumbo, formerly of the Biblioteca Casanatense in Rome. Thanks to the help of Stephen Parkin from the British Library and the generosity of Filippo Rotundo and the team at PRPH, we were able to collect samples from the edition under Margherita’s supervision. As one of only six known copies, it constitutes an important addition to our parchment Aldine dataset. As if this was not enough, the richness of the collection afforded the opportunity to add important additional data, as the display includes an exceptionally rare parchment Lyon counterfeit of the same text produced by Balthazar de Gabiano almost immediately after the Aldine edition in 1502-1503.IMG_7235 (1) The only other know copy is held at the Houghton Library at Harvard. This particular copy was bound for Cardinal Carlo Borromeo as a prize book to be awarded to a student of rhetoric. And there was more: a unique parchment copy of Dante unknown even to Van Praet and published by Alessandro Paganini in Venice c. 1516 and purchased at the Libri sale for 1110 francs in 1847. Measuring just 99x47mm, this minuscule printing, the smallest produced in the Renaissance, was known as the Dantino.IMG_7238To complete the set, we ended our unexpectedly rich session taking a sample from the 1925 Bodoni edition of the Vita Nuova, also printed on parchment. BodoniBefore leaving NY there was time to drop into the New York Book Fair at the Park Avenue Armoury where a host of Aldines were on display by antiquarian booksellers from around the world, testifying to the enduring interest in editions produced in Venice some 500 years ago. And amongst the volumes on sale, the recently published exhibition catalogue from the 2014 Aldine show at the Grolier Club edited by G. Scott Clemons and H. George Fletcher.IMG_7231

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