DANTE ALIGHIERI. La Divina Commedia

DANTE ALIGHIERI. La Divina Commedia or the Divine Vision of Dante Alighieri in Italian & English, translated by H.F.Cary, one of 1475 copies.

Nonesuch Press 1928.

£ 2,000


Folio; bright orange stained vellum, double gilt ruled, gilt centrepiece with fleurons encircling a ‘D’ to both boards, very light spotting to covers, gilt lettering and ornament to spine; edges untrimmed, light foxing to endpapers, internally clean and crisp copy. Limited print run number 420 0f 1475 copies printed on Van Gelder paper; includes 42 illustrations reproduced by Daniel Jacomet after the drawings by Sandro Botticelli, in sepia collotype.


A stunningly bound and beautifully fine exemplar of La Divina Commedia, a limited edition copy by the Nonesuch Press. This was their largest and most intricate volume published to date, of which 1,475 copies were printed. However, its production was plagued by misfortune, when the handmade paper from Italy that had been ordered was so defective that it was unusable, and the stained orange calfskin that was used for the binding, which naturally shrinks and extends in reaction to changes in temperature and humidity, made the boards warp. “The Francis Meynell, one of the founders of the Press, wrote that ‘it has been a book more full of anxieties than any I have ever tackled’. Nevertheless, the book became an unprecedented success for the Nonesuch Press and was the most oversubscribed of all their publications. Reviewers wrote “I am sure this book has caused more comment amongst the people interested in books of fine typography than any other book that has come into the United States in years. Everybody is crazy to see the book”, and another who hoped that the book would not be purchased by “those perverse bibliophiles who thwart the holy intention of books by locking them uncut upon their jealous shelves” (Dreyfus, p. 46).


The Nonesuch Press was a private press founded in 1922 in London by Francis Meynell (1891-1975), his second wife Vera Mendel, and their mutual friend David Garnett (1892-1981). Their aim was to produce high-quality and beautiful volumes printed by commercial printers, making their works available to a wider audience at lower prices. The volume presents a side-by-side narrative with Dante’s Italian text was edited by Mario Casella of the University of Florence, after corrections to its first version from 1925, while the English version was made by H.F. Cary, first published in 1814. The italic type and the use of roman capitals to mark the start of each line was inspired by the page design of Venetian books from the early sixteenth century. The choice of double column italic text was intentional not only on its aesthetic part, as a poetical and ornamental suggestiveness, but also as a way to make the reader slow down and savour each word of Dante’s opus.