The Divine Comedy by Dante Alighieri

The masterpiece of the Florentine poet Dante Alighieri (1265-1321), The Divine Comedy was the most widely illuminated book of medieval literature, embraced as a subject for manuscript illumination within a decade of the author’s death. Conceived as an epic poem in three parts – Inferno (Hell), Purgatorio (Purgatory), and Paradiso (Paradise) – which are in turn subdivided into short sections called cantos, the Comedy is Dante’s personal account of a vision that he had during Holy Week in the year 1300.
The codex in New Haven is one of the finest examples of early Divine Comedy manuscripts to have survived, its remarkable state of preservation allowing full appreciation of the brilliant decoration and regular, harmonious writing. Conforming to an early type of Divine Comedy illustration, the illuminations are confined to the first page of each book, rather than to the whole text, as in later.
On folio 11, within an orange initial N (“Nel mezzo del cammin di nostra vita” [In the middle of the journey of our life]), marking the beginning of the first canto of the Inferno, appears an enthroned figure of Divine Justice. Winged, with a polygonal nimbus framing her head, and wearing a white and pink gown lined with green, she is seated on a lion, bearing a raised sword in her right hand and scales in her left. The brilliant palette, large, simplified forms and schematic rendering of the features are clear indicators of Don Simone’s authorship.

The second illuminated leaf is folio 27v, on which a large initial P in the middle left of the page, containing a second nimbed female figure with pink wings and an orange robe over a gilt tunic, illustrates the first canto of the Purgatorio (“Per correr migliore acqua alza le vele” [To course over better waters (now) lifts her sails]). Seated on a bank of clouds against a blue background, the figure cradles in her lap a nest in which perches a pelican feeding her young with blood from her own breast; an image known as the Pelican in Her Piety, it was a popular medieval symbol for the sacrifice of Christ and emblematic of Charity.

The last illuminated page is folio 54r, containing a large letter L to illustrate the beginning of the first canto of the Paradiso (“La gloria di colui che tutto muove” [The glory of him who moves all things]). Within the initial stands a third nimbed figure with green wings, wearing a white cape lined with green and orange and a blue dress, on which is emblazoned a head surrounded by golden rays. She is holding burning flames in both hands, while above her head floats a blue disk studded with stars, among which is visible a small crescent-shaped moon. The identity of this figure is less easily ascertained than in the previous two initials in the codex. It can be identified most probably as Divine Love.

Iluminator: Don Simone Camaldolese (active 1378-1405 in Florence)
Italian illuminator. He was a Camaldolese monk of Santa Maria degli Angeli, Florence, the scriptorium of which was an important centre of manuscript production. Documented there between 1378 and 1389, he was a slightly younger contemporary of Don Silvestro dei Gherarducci, and he was probably the teacher of Lorenzo Monaco. His signature Simon de Senis in an Antiphonary completed in 1381 (Florence, Biblioteca Medicea-Laurenziana) indicates that he was from Siena, although his work shows both Florentine and Sienese stylistic traits. His sweet, lyrical colour range of pale straw-yellows and lively turquoise shades shows knowledge of such Sienese artists as Lippo Vanni, while the ponderous forms are typical of the prevalent style practiced by such artists as Andrea and Jacopo di Cione Orcagna and Giovanni del Biondo in mid-14th-century Florence. Source.
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