Journey through the Dante Urbinate: birth of a manuscript

When and where did the splendid manuscript of the Dante Urbinate originate? That is the subject of this episode all about the priceless Renaissance masterpiece edition of Dante.

Once commissioned by Federico da Montefeltro, work began on the volume in Ferrara in 1478, when the copyist Matteo de’ Contugi joined the workshop of the miniaturist Guglielmo Giraldi, with whom he had already worked. To Giraldi we owe the plan for the illustrations made together with de’ Contugi, who had laid out the pages of the text with spaces for the miniature illustrations. Soon the work was transfered from Ferrara to Urbino. Unfortunately, work was interrupted upon the sudden death of Federico da Montefeltro in 1482.

At first, the work was done by Giraldi and some of his assistants, who completed the Inferno and had begun work on the illustrations of the Purgatorio. After the work was brought to Urbino, Franco dei Russi led the team of miniaturists from Ferrara, who nearly finished the Purgatorio. They only left a few illustrations drawn but not colored in.

The change in editorial leadership and the employment of many assistants do not deprive the work of a general uniformity, which is upheld by even those who completed the work a long time later, despite their work being done in a different style.

Source: Ambrogio M. Piazzoni, Una nuova lettura della Commedia, La Divina Commedia di Federico da Montefeltro. Il Dante Urbinate. Commentario. 

Illumination from Dante Alighieri’s Divina Commedia, Ms. Urb. lat. 365, f. 4r, 1478-1482, Biblioteca Apostolica Vaticana

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