La Divina Commedia (The Divine Comedy)

Dante’s masterpiece is a summa, or encyclopedia, of Western medieval science, philosophy and theology. Dante often admits his inability to capture in words the intensity of his vision and calls on his ingegno – his natural talent or wit – to aid him in his great task. As he ascends through the celestial spheres in the Paradiso, the strain on his linguistic and imaginative resources grows ever greater. In canto 22 (shown here) he reaches the firmament, or sphere of fixed stars. Looking down upon the planets he invokes Gemini, his birth sign and, as such, the source of his ingegno: ‘O glorious stars, O light pregnant with great power, from which I acknowledge that all my talent comes, whatever it may be’.

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Miniatures, initials

In Italian, on parchment; 154 pages (some leaves from Purgatorio and Paradiso missing), 355 x 235 mm

Nineteenth-century English binding for Thomas William Coke: green sheepskin with blind and gold tooling, and Coke’s gold-tooled centrepiece