Dante Alighieri

Dante col sito, et forma dell’Inferno tratta dalla istessa descrittione del Poeta.

Venice, Heirs of Aldus Manutius and Andrea Torresani, 1515.

8° (159x95 mm). Collation: [*]2, a-z8, A-H8. [2], 244, [4] leaves (the leaf 142 misnumbered 128). Complete, including the blank l2, often lacking; in this copy fol. H8 is bound before the blank H7. Italic and roman type. Blank spaces for capitals, with printed guide letters, at the beginning of each cantica. The Aldine device on fols. [*]1r, a1r, and H8v. One double-page woodcut depicting the Sito et forma della valle inferna (fols. H4v-H5r), two full-page woodcut diagrams showing the categories of sins punished in Hell (fols. H5v-H6r), and in Purgatory (fol. H6v). Milanese binding dating from the second half of the sixteenth century, hazel morocco over pasteboards, made for cardinal Carlo Borromeo. Covers with frame of blind fillets enclosing an elaborate gilt roll and floral tools at the corners. At the centre small Aldine-style tools, fleuron and inscriptions in gold: on the front cover ‘liberalitate' lettered above and ‘card.borrh.' below; on the rear cover ‘praemivm' lettered above and ‘solv.orat.' below. Traces of straps. Spine with four raised bands, underlined by gilt diagonal fillets and decorated with small floral tools. Edges mottled red. Small repairs to the spine. A fine copy, some foxing in places, the erasure of an early ownership inscription on the title-page has caused the loss of a few letters on the verso.

Provenance: cardinal Carlo Borromeo (1538-1584); ‘Dom. Prof. Soc. J.' (erased ownership inscription on the title-page, only partly readable under UV lamp); ‘MB' (twentieth-century ex-libris designed by Giulio Cisari, on the recto of the front flyleaf); Livio Ambrogio collection.

An exceptional copy of the second Aldine Dante, the first to be illustrated, bound for the cardinal and archbishop of Milan Carlo Borromeo (later San Carlo), and presented by him as a prize to a student in the Collegium Braidense, an educational establishment founded in 1564 on the model of the Collegium Romanum, and from 1572 run by the Jesuits. Borromeo paid frequent visits and on these occasions dramatic, rhetorical and poetic performances or competitions were organized. The most meritworthy chiericiwere awarded with books given personally by the future Saint (Borromeo was canonised in 1610); the present copy of the 1515 Aldine Dante is an example of a prize book awarded to a student of rhetoric, probably a pupil of Lelio Bisciola.
The custom of ‘prize bindings' – i.e. special bindings commissioned by colleges and schools for books awarded to students for winning academic competitions – began to spread in the late sixteenth century, and was still common in the nineteenth century. The books, in general literary editions, were usually bound modestly, in plain vellum or bazzana leather, and the name of the binders employed by the institutions are generally unknown. The bindings commissioned by Borromeo, on the contrary, are – as here – finely executed, and are also distinguished for being produced with good-quality materials and attractive decorations.
The present binding is very similar to other ones preserved in the Biblioteca Braidense and in the Trivulziana in Milan; the Roman-style decorative patterns and the tools bear a resemblance to those used by Pietro Martire Locarno, a renowned bookseller and binder active in Milan until 1610. On the title-page there is a contemporary and today only partly readable ownership inscription, probably relating to the Brera student who received the volume as a praemium for winning the contest.