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  • Dante Alighieri, Commedia. Biblioteca Universitaria di Budapest codex italicus 1: riproduzione fotografica (vol. 1); Studi e ricerche (vol. 2)
Marchi, Gian Paolo, and József Pál, eds. 2006. Dante Alighieri, Commedia. Biblioteca Universitaria di Budapest codex italicus 1: riproduzione fotografica (vol. 1); Studi e ricerche (vol. 2). Verona: Grafiche SiZ. ISBN: none noted. Pp. i + 84 chartae + i (vol. 1); iii + 287 + ii (vol. 2).

Produced for the Emo family in the Veneto probably late in the first half of the fourteenth century, then spirited out of Italy possibly as part of a ransom, gifted in 1877 with thirty-four other manuscripts by the Turkish Sultan Abdülhamid Han II to pay homage to Hungarian loyalty after the Crimean War to conclude its unusual itinerary in the University Library of Hungary in Budapest, unusual also in its editorial redaction unfortunately likened to a "Readers Digest" version of Dante's Commedia, the codex mostly known to dantisti simply as "Bud" has long deserved greater attention. Consequently this photographic edition of the codex Budapest, Eötvös Loránd Tudomány Egyetemi Könyvtár [University Library], Ms. Italicus 1 (previously Latinus 33), and the studies which accompany it in the volume of essays invite philologists, codicologists, and art and literary historians not only to re-examine the minimalia of these unique materials left virtually unstudied or underevaluated, for example, in Petrocchi's and Sanguineti's editions of the Commedia (respectively 1966-1967 and 2001) and in Boschi Rotiroti's 2004 Codicologia trecentesca della Commedia and reevaluated for its variants by Trovato (2007a and 2007b), but also to consider the cultural mechanisms which constitute the codex, its production, its reception, and its critical trajectory and applications. Such a unique invitation will lead, no doubt, to further and more precise investigations of the production and circulation of Dante's work in the Veneto of the Trecento and—perhaps even more important—to the study of the diverse textual cultures in operation in different cultural centers in the Veneto from the end of the thirteenth century through the beginning of the fifteenth. Of course, thanks to the work of—among others—Folena (1961, 1969, and 1976), Stussi (1965 and 1997), Avalle ([1961]1993), Tomasin (2004), Pomaro (1994a and 1994b), Careri (1986), [End Page 85] Castellani (2000), and Alexander (1992), we already have at our disposal important tools for beginning these investigations. And certainly the contributions in the companion volume Studi e ricerche by Árpád Berta (on the Turkish-Ottoman rubrics), Guglielmo Bottari (on fourteenth-century Verona), György Domokos (on the vernacularization of Albertano da Brescia's Liber de amore which concludes the codex), Fabio Forner (description of the codex), Giorgio Fossaluzza (on the provenance, critical history, and style of illuminations), Gian Paolo Marchi (Dante in Hungary), Árpád Mikò (on early modern Hungarian book culture), József Pál (on Dante in Hungary), Paolo Pellegrini (on the instructions to the illuminator and their linguistic patina), Mária Prokopp (on the history and critical reception of the codex in Hungary), and Michelangelo Zaccarello (on the version of the Commedia edited by the compiler of the codex), not to mention the careful transcription and notes to the text by Forner and Pellegrini, will illuminate an extensive phase of the history of the book and of the dynamics of cultural-material transmission whose systematic study has only recently been begun.

In the spirit of this edition's invitation, two additional considerations come immediately to mind which reflect the different textual cultures that inform our readings, reception, and use of this important codex. Both address Folena's early call years ago for more careful investigations of the production of vernacular literary manuscripts in the Veneto as well as ongoing research in the fields of codicology, paleography, and material philology, demonstrating the attention to macro- and microscopic cultural mechanisms that is essential for informing our study and understanding of such artifacts.

For some years now the topic of the photography of manuscripts, as well as the advantages and disadvantages presented by microfilm and various kinds of photography of the document, has lingered in the background of our discipline. There are, of course, the stories that many of us know: Leonard Boyle's discovery of text in the crease of a principle manuscript of Aquinas's Opuscula omnia nec non opera minora, which a notable editor had deemed a corrupted lacuna because he had used microfilm to prepare the edition, microfilm which had been shot without noticing the fold in the parchment (Storey 2007, 67-68). My own involvement in the 2003 facsimile edition and commentary of Petrarca's Rerum vulgarium fragmenta allows me, as I did in 2004 (135-36, n13), to warn against the use of the facsimile's appended photographs that contain the "virtual restoration" of illegible text in the original.1 Many of the results of those "restored" chartae, truly beautiful to look at, are textually erroneous. The "photographic authenticity" of the those virtual reconstructions and the [End Page 86] "legibility", albeit incorrect in many places, they provide lend their texts an unfortunate legitimacy that only careful scrutiny of the original can unmask. Nevertheless, they are in circulation and will no doubt appear in the work of a scholar who will not have read the cautionary note tucked into my essay on poetica grafico-visiva in the volume of technical studies.

In spite of these negative lessons, photography is an extraordinary tool and its correct use can provide an important, additional access to materials. My own work on the Petrarchan ideograph, Vaticano Latino 3195, was greatly enhanced by the procedure of unbinding the codex to photograph it and then having those photos of the manuscript in its original Petrarchan state (unbound) at my disposal. There are editorial markings in the gutters of several chartae that I would not have found if a rigorous process of photography had not been followed to avoid the curve of the parchment and thus the distortion of certain letters in the text. Moreover, all scholars who work with microfilm know that erasures are more clearly delineated in black and white photographic microfilm, a tool in assessing erasures on the flesh side of parchment. And I have no doubt that one of the reasons it is now harder to find a seat in the reading rooms of the Bibliothèque Nationale in Paris and the Laurenziana is, perhaps ironically, because we are making better facsimiles (print and digital) that allow for greater consultation of materials ancient and modern. And those photographic and facsimile editions are leading more and more scholars to look at the originals.

Accurate color reproductions are particularly important for assessing the color palettes of illuminated codices, such as Italicus 1. The particular kind of red hue used consistently in Italicus 1 to portray the condemned souls of Hell (but not the devils) confirms ongoing research, for example, by Amy Hollywood of a pan-European motif in the depiction of "evil doers". This is the same hue that is used to represent the flames that speak in Inferno 26 and 27. The Marchi–Pál edition's photography allows access to important cultural and mechanical details in the construction of the book: instructions in a clear, commercial hand (bella mercantesca) to the illuminator and the illuminator's outline sketches on cc. 37 recto and verso and 38 recto and verso allow us to trace clearly in Fascicle 6 the working method by quires of the collaboration between the compiler and the illustrator. The absence of such sketches on the conjunct chartae of these two bifolia (38-44 and 39-43) suggests that the illuminator worked not on individual folia, that is opened and unbound bifolia (as in the case of the famous unfinished Book of Hours—M. 358—at the Morgan Library, but systematically through established quires. We should also note that the final step in the completion of the manuscript would have been inserting the lead initials of each canto, [End Page 87] except the opening illustration of every canticle, a task that would have been performed by yet another hand in what we will see is in fact a professional and articulated process.

Thus it is important to point out the accurate and essential distinction on the title page of the edition as a photographic reproduction ("riproduzione fotografica") rather than a facsimile edition. This fundamental difference should caution the user that distortions in the copyist's script are due to curvature of the leaves because the codex was not unbound for photographing. This condition makes, for example, the sampling of the hands that produce the codex less reliable, a paleographic activity that should ideally be undertaken solely on the original. But the realities of the limited access to materials and the tendencies of some scholars to rely in their assessments too heavily on reproductions makes the simple distinction between a photographic and a facsimile edition an extremely important disclaimer. On the other hand, in the same codicological light, the edition replicates well the overall dimensions of the manuscript.

The second textual-cultural mechanism to consider is much more immediate to the cultural center(s) of the manuscript's production: the Veneto. While we recognize immediately—especially after the work of scholars such as Horatio Brown (1891), Paolo Trovato (1991), Brian Richardson (1994), and Tiziana Plebani (2004)—the extraordinary role of book production in fifteenth- and sixteenth-century Venice, we should realize that the city's early dominance in the print industry actually had its roots much earlier in the manuscript production of cultural centers of the Veneto. Already by the mid-thirteenth century, courts in the Veneto are responsible for the production not only of deluxe books of Occitan verse, such as Modena, Estense α.R.4.4—in which we find an active and erudite editor culling variants from an earlier editio variorum to edit the poems he includes in the anthology, but also then-current repertories of Italians' compositions in Occitan as we would have found in the now lost exemplar of the sixteenth-century Modena, Càmpori γ.N.8.4. This level of editorial activity in the thirteenth- and early fourteenth-century Veneto was supported by a well-developed class of professional copyists. This is significant for our understanding of the environment in which the codex Italicus 1 would have been planned and executed, precisely—as we learn in Giorgio Fossaluzza's essay—for the Emo family late in the first half of the fourteenth century, an important date—to which we shall return—since its albeit redacted form of the poem would have entered easily in the timeframe of the codices of Petrocchi's stemma codicum. But to see Italicus 1 as anything other than part of an already robust tradition in the vernacular well established in the Veneto by the early [End Page 88] part of the century would ignore much of the evidence supplied by Italicus 1 itself. A manuscript such as Escorial e.III.23, executed probably in the first or second decade of the fourteenth century in the Veneto, demonstrates the professional organization of what we think of as a secular scriptorium, producing a model copy of collections by Guido Cavalcanti, Cino da Pistoia, Guittone d'Arezzo, and even an editorially revised corona of sonnets by Dante Alighieri on the topic of eyes and vision (Storey 2003, 22-25). The presence of Escorial e.III.23 should not surprise us, but the level of its intricate editorial mechanisms and compilational features for a workshop copy, including a precocious thematic reordering of selected Dante rhymes, does provide additionally detailed evidence of a lively and sophisticated environment of scribal activity in the Veneto (Storey 1993).

Michelangelo Zaccarello's "Nota sulla redazione della Commedia tràdita da Bud" demonstrates that the compiler of Italicus 1 applies clear criteria of a patron's taste and textual requirements in the redacting of Dante's three canticles. The compiler's revised conclusion to Paradiso 23, a single verse (148: "E tuti sete omi si dimostraro") fished from numerous expunged terzine and added to v. 135 ("tal chio sorisi del suo vil senbiante"), exhibits a highly selective application of editorial principles in the preparation of medieval vernacular manuscripts. And the compiler's understanding of the Commedia in his instructions to the illustrator, not always the case in other examples from—for instance—Occitan verse, reveals a highly professional environment of production in operation possibly, as Fossaluzza suggests, in a workshop, but more probably in an even more articulated division of labor that would have engaged professionals in different locations rather than in the same workshop, calling additionally into question what constituted a scribal workshop—as opposed to a monastic scriptorium—in the thirteenth and even fourteenth centuries. The "professional nature" of the production of Italicus 1 and its regular and paced littera gothica textualis italiana formata can easily be contrasted with the slightly later collaborative copy of the Convivio, BNCF II iii 47 (previously Magliabechiano Cl. VI 142) the oldest extant copy of the work, produced—however—in the very different scribal environment of Tuscany before 1361 and executed by nine separate hands in an uneven script (recently described as varying between a poor mercantesca and a late gothic cursive with three other hands in a barely legible "notarial cursive" [Arduini 2006]). Italicus 1 also substantiates a growing trend in the intellectually fertile Veneto which will come to fruition in the fifteenth century: the increasing role of the editor in the preparation of manuscripts and early books and in the arrangement and ordering of a work's texts (Richardson 1994).

This question of the highly developed professionalization of certain [End Page 89] scribal centers is crucial to what we hope will be the opening of a discussion on a thorny topic that also involves Italicus 1: the dating of paleographic forms. Italicus 1 has been something of a victim of misdiagnoses of its gothic hand, assessed by Petrocchi for example from late in the second part of the fourteenth century. As many know, the recent trend among paleographers has been to date hands to a five- or six-year range of production. I myself recently dated a Petrarch manuscript produced in the Veneto, Morgan M. 502, to a similarly slender range of years. In some cases, paleographic tools and skills have certainly improved dramatically since the days of general assessments such as "an Italian hand from the XIV century". But in perhaps too many cases paleographers rely on comparisons with other hands of a conjecturable date, creating a kind of paleographic house of cards not unlike Petrocchi's dating of manuscript Cortona 88 to the 1340s, when indeed additional research demonstrated that the codex was produced no earlier than the 1370s (Pomaro 1994b), thus removing the codex from Petrocchi's fragile stemma codicum. Or worse yet are those manuscript descriptions which rely on and thus simply transmit previous conjectures.

One of the factors certainly involved in the assessment of scribal hands is literally "environmental". In more highly professionalized scribal settings, the regularity and standardization of professional hands tend to blurr historical trends useful in dating a codex. In order to study this phenomenon of the development of single hands over a documentable period of time, long-term studies are already underway to examine manuscript hands in controlled and professionalized environments, such as the "Memoriali bolognesi" of the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries. Early results of analyses of the development of and changes in individual hands over a number of years of scribal activity in professionalized scribal conditions seem to suggest that some copyists after years of activity demonstrate essentially the same ductus they had learned and/or employed, say, twenty-five years earlier. Scribal hands, like other cultural arts, are subject to tastes and trends and even institutional norms. However, in a number of samples, it seems clear that education and training have a lasting presence in more professionalized hands. One of the implications of these results for Italicus 1, as well as for the similar, equally straight if not rigid littera textualis in Firenze, Biblioteca Nazionale Centrale Palatino 319 (also from the mid-fourteenth century) is precisely what we might call the "timeless elegance", uniformity, and legibility of its text. Deluxe books produced by professionals were designed to stand the test of time and in some cases stand outside of time. Testimony to the endurance of just such a professional littera textualis is found in deluxe manuscripts of the Commedia irrefutably copied in the second half of the fourteenth [End Page 90] century in a similar littera textualis, such as Siena, Biblioteca Comunale degli Intronati I VI 29 and the famous codex from the end of the third quarter of the same century Perugia, Biblioteca Comunale Augusta B 25 (81), all penned by professional hands. By the same token, other northern manuscripts—if not strictly from the Veneto—in the vernacular in a similar straight-back littera textualis formata that can be dated to the 1330s if not the early 1340s. Consequently the identification of the principal hand of Italicus 1 as being from the 1340s or '50s is—under the codex's historical circumstances—absolutely plausible. Other codicological features—the very regular two-column ruling with a colonnina for initials, the regular quiring, and the planned use of the binion (cc. 25-28) to conclude the transcription of the Inferno before beginning the Purgatorio on a new quire and the trinion (cc. 45-50) to finish the Purgatorio, leaving always a blank verso (28, 50) before the new canticle—are all signs of the kind of professional preparation that marks a professional, if not deluxe, codex long before the application of the elements that today make these manuscripts "deluxe" and "precious treasures": illumination and rubrication. The one truly regrettable feature of Italicus 1 is that in the colophon on c. 78v the copyist left us information, in terza rima no less!, about his soul but not about his name:

Al nome sia conpiute di choluste chantiche che nostro redenptoreche in su la croçe fu posto per nuE chi l'à scrite senpre sia in amoreso e de la biata intercedentee se distante el faça servidore. amen

A professional copyist connected to, perhaps even contracted with, the Emo family to produce a carefully redacted and handsome copy of the Commedia in the Veneto in the 1340-1350s would more than likely also have been involved in the copying of other works, even in the vernacular. The fine start given us by the editors and contributing scholars to these volumes will—in the next years—yield an even better documentation and understanding of this important area of literary and cultural studies, production practices, and book history. [End Page 91]

H. Wayne Storey
Indiana University

Footnotes

1. The 'restored' chartae are contained in a separate folder package with the 2003 facsimile.

Additional Information

ISSN
1933-7418
Print ISSN
1559-2936
Pages
85-91
Launched on MUSE
2008-07-15
Open Access
No
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