15th-Century Illuminations for Dante’s Divine Comedy

Dante's epic 14th-century poem the Divine Comedy - with its dazzling descriptions of all manner of hellish and heavenly scenes - has proven fertile ground for many artists over the centuries, including the likes of William Blake, Gustave Doré, and Salvador Dali. One of the most impressive attempts to render the verse into visuals comes to us in the form of the illuminations found in an Italian manuscript produced only 125 years or so after Dante completed his poem in 1320. Dated to between 1444 and 1450, the illuminations vary in style due to the fact that two separate artists worked on them, with the first two sections of Inferno and Purgatorio being drawn by the lesser known Priamo della Quercia (active 1426-1467), while the Paradiso section was illustrated by Giovanni di Paolo di Grazia (ca. 1403-1482) who contributed 61 illuminations in all. The work has belonged to Alfonso V, king of Aragon, Naples, and Sicily (1396 – 1458) and his great grandson Ferdinand, Duke of Calabria (1488 – 1550), who donated the manuscript to the convent of San Miguel in Valencia in 1538. It was later bought in 1901 by Henry Yates Thompson, a collector of illuminated manuscripts, and was donated to the British Museum in 1941. Here below are a few choice selections.

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