Early Printed Editions (1491-1727)

Dante’s lyric poetry did not enjoy the success of Petrarch’s lyric collection, the Canzoniere, which was printed dozens of times between the fifteenth and the sixteenth centuries, becoming an early modern best-seller. Dante’s lyric poems were printed only five times between 1491 and 1532, as an appendix to the Commedia or in anthologies of early Italian lyric poetry. The Bodleian Libraries and the libraries of Oxford Colleges hold several copies of these editions, many of which are illustrated in this exhibition. However, in Oxford there is no copy of the 1518 edition of Dante's lyric poetry, first printed in Venice (Guglielmo da Fontaneto) and then reprinted in Milan (Agostino da Vimercate). After these decades of limited, but constant circulation, Dante’s lyric poems were printed just once in the second half of the sixteenth century (15 canzoni accompanied the 1576 Vita Nuova), and then his lyric production was not printed again for more than 150 years, until the 1727 reprint of the 1527 milestone anthology by the Giunti publishing house. Dante’s Vita Nuova (New Life), a prosimetrum gathering 31 of his poems, was printed in 1576 for the first time, while the Convivio was printed several times after the 1490 Florentine princeps (first printed edition). The exhibition encompasses one of the many editions of the Convivio, an unfinished encyclopaedic work structured as a commentary to Dante’s own canzoni (long lyric poems): a copy of a 1531 edition owned by John Donne.

Map of Italy around 1494