Dante Title Pages

Title pages from editions of what we now know as the Divine Comedy display not only surprising variations in the title of the poem, but also trace the development of the title page itself as an innovative feature of early modern print culture. Like manuscript books which preceded them, the earliest printed books during the incunable period (until 1501) were without title pages. In the last decade of the 15th century, the most primitive of title pages began to appear, like the one from Pietro Quarengi's 1497 edition which featured simply the author's name and nationality: Dante Alighieri Florentine."

Editions of the poem during the first decade of the century continued to be simple and relatively unobtrusive. Bernardo Stagnino's 1512 edition on the other hand shows the kind of fairly elaborate title page which will characterize printed books during the rest of the century and beyond. Stagnino's title page also illustrates the use of the title page as a marketing tool: the publisher advertises the book as The Works of the Divine Poet Dante when in reality the book contains only the Comedy. The claims that the text had been diligently corrected was also a commonplace. Stagnino in fact simply lifted his text and commentary from previous editions. Exaggerated claims like these characterize title pages of the poem which also feature increasingly elaborate iconographical elements including various portraits of the poet as well as printers devices and mottos.

The title of Dante's poem also undergoes interesting permutations during the entire Renaissance period. Dante himself referred to the poem simply as his Comedy (cf. Inferno XVI) but publishers, editors and printers did not feel obligated to respect the author's own title. For example, the title invented by the Venetian humanist Pietro Bembo for Aldus Manutius 1502, edition The Tercet Rhymes of Dante, not so subtly tended to undermine the work's prestige and was never again adapted thereafter.

The attribute Divine was applied to the poem for the first time by Lodovico Dolce who edited the poem for Giovanni Giolito in 1555. As is apparent from several of the title pages discussed and presented here, the poem was also known simply by the name of its author "Dante" or "Il Dante" as Jean de Tournes has it in his 1547 edition. The title Divine Comedy was however given special authority by its use in the first attempt at a modern critical edition of the poem prepared by the Crusca Academy in 1595. But that there was as yet some doubt over the appropriateness of the title after that date is evidenced by early 17th century imprints which, consistent with the baroque perspective of the times, styled Dante's poem The Vision (1613, 1629).

Additional Title Pages