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«... Our Poet was a middle size stature, long faced, aquiline nosed, large jawed man, the lower lip helding out so that the upper one was quite protruding, and shoulders somewhat so bent, and dark eyes somewhat rather big than small, with hair and beard crisp and blcak, constantly bearing a kind of gloomy and meditative look».
Along with the celebrated fresco by Giotto, this description made by Giovanni Boccaccio is perhaps the most well-known portrait of Dante to reach us.
Countless "rivers of ink" have been used by annotators and literary critics who have been discussing Dante, as a Poet, as a letterary figure and a man, as well; but almost certainly the closest definition to an immost truth, about an intense life, marked by human passions, dreamt of, lived and lost, is the one which is to be discovered on Boccaccio's note.
Unquestionably the other great "portrait" is represented by the Divine Comedy, the most celebrated poem of the Italian language. Already widely known, at least in its two first cantica after the Poet's death in 1321, the Comedy spread with encreasing fortune, and many were the manuscripted copies and the several recalls which are found in the works of that period, along with numerous comments.
The first pattern seems to have been seen through by the poet's sons themselves, Jacopo and Pietro, and then sent to Guido Novello da Polenta in 1322. Among the ancient manuscripts, the most authoritative is the Laurenziano (after the name of the Florentine library where it is treasured) drawn up by F. Villani in 1343. The oldest printed edition is the one printed at Foligno, in 1472.
The 1555 Venetian edition, by Gabriele Giolito de' Ferrari, is the first to bear the title of "DIVINE COMEDY".
Among the comments cronologically closest to the writing out of the poem, we have to point out the one by Jacopo, one of the poet's sons, and the latin version by Graziuolo de Bambagliuoli, which were just limited to the Inferno, and the complete version by Jacopo della Lana, composed before 1330, extremely interesting for information and historical recalls; the one, so calied "The Excellent" (by the fourteenth century writer Andrea Lancia?); the ones by Benvenuto da Imola and by Francesco Buti, erudite learned men, "expositors" of the poem, belonging respectively to Bologna and Pisa Universities. Moreover we ought to remind that Boccaccio was entrusted the public exposition of the Poem in St. Stefano della Badia Church by the Town Council of Florence: he only could sponsor the first 17 cantica of the Inferno, «due to his poor health and because of the unpreparedness of the audience».
The Institute of Studies for Graphic Art of Bornato in Franciacorta is re-proposing one of the most suggestive editions of the poem; the one issued in Brescia in 1487, completed with a comment by Cristoforo Landino, edited by the printer Bonino de' Boninis.
CRISTOFORO LANDINO - 1424-1504 (?) - a Florentine humanist, among the most renowed of his time, was entrusted the reading of poetry and rhetoric in the Studio of Florence in 1458.
He very probably had to meet some hostility on the course of his didactic activity, and was contested by groups of his disciples, who would have rather preferred a «more up to date» tutor, whose teaching methods «had to be inspired to that severe rigorous philologic way, already prevailing on the empiricism of the old humanistic school» to which nostalgic Landino seemed to be excessively bound at.
He enjoyed however quite important honourary appointments, being Tutor at de' Medicis', Chancellor on the Guelph behalf, writer of Public Letters for the Governing Council.
Author of a Latin elegy collection, he particularly devoted himself to some «commentaries» dealing with the works of Virgil, Horace and Dante.
With Lorenzo de' Medici, he was a defender of the vulgar tongue dignity, and from his professorial chair he read Dante and Petrarca, being him the strongest upholder of the value of the Poet, in the Florence of the second 15th century. The «commentary» about the Comedy, which he exhibited as a manuscript to the Governing Council in 1481, with illustrations by Sandro Botticelli, (comprehensive of etchings, copper-plate engraving) mostly drawn up on previous comment schemes, is not esteemed as a work of primary weight by critics, for the rendering of the poem itself, but it represents a valid document on the refined culture of that time.
BONINO DE' BONINIS (Dobrica Dobric), of Dalmatian extraction, reached Brescia in 1483. A fairly good reputation preceeded him, thanks to his previous activity in Venice and Verona as well, where he had worked for a considerable time.
In 1481, while in Verona, he had publisched an illustrated "BOOK OF THE HOURS" and shortly after the "DE RE MILITARI" by Roberto Vanturio, Counsellor of Sigismondo Malatesta, completed with 96 illustrations. These works are not to be considered of great inventiveness and originality; as for "THE BOOK OF THE HOURS" former patterns are retraced and with regard to "DE RE MILITARI" the illustrations could have been considered a «pocket edition» of the previous extremely beautiful ones, already used in a Veronese edition in 1472 by the printer Giovanni da Verona.
The printing of texts, a tradition which was to become among the most distinguished in Brescia with the passing of the years, had already began there when Bonino de' Boninis came to the town.
The first dated publication, a collection of works by Virgil, was issued in 1473. We refer to the printer as «Printer for Pietro Villa» and we have reasons to believe that his name was Georg Butzback, who moved from Mantova to Brescia and, at that time, co-operating with Villa, a Brescian priest who became famous thanks to his vaste interests in erudite publishing. An edition by Giovenale, appeared in the same year, belongs to the same publishing house. The «Statuta Communis Brixiae» by Tommaso Ferrando came out in 1473. The most ancient vernacular texts printed in Brescia date back to 1482: they deal about «A Confessio, useful and concise, dedicated to the pious people of Brescia, initiating them into preparation and confession», and an «Oration to the Community of Brescia followed by a S. Rocco's life». The author is Paolo Fiorentino (in the world Francesco Attavanti) a well-known preacher, who came to Brescia on the wake of those great preachments, connected with Bernardino da Siena, Alberto da Sarteano, Giovanni da Capestrano, Roberto Caracciolo, Mchele da Carcano, Giacomo della Marca. The printer is Bartolomeo da Vercelli.
The first Brescian fatigue of Bonino de' Boninis is the «Expositio in somnium Scipionis» by Macrobio, dated 6th June 1485, which appears to be the oldest Brescian illustrated book. Forty more works followed, most of which are classics (Virgiho, Catullo, Tibullo, Properzio, Plutarco) and liturgical books, as the «Breviarium S. Justinae» and the «Missale Carmelitarum».
However the most outstanding work by Bonino de' Boninis is "THE DIVINE COMEDY by the Divine Florentine Poet DANTHE ALEGHIERI", accompanied by a commentary by Cristoforo Landino issued on May 31st 1487. The text is the one previously printed in Florence on August 30th 1481 by NicoIò di Lorenzo di Lamagna. The original and quite interesting note is given by the illustrations, the first ones of xylographic type for the poem. They belong to different authors, as many as 60, restricted to the Inferno, the Purgatory and to the first cantica of the Paradise.
Some of them are repeated, being 68 altogether. The first cantica illustrations are particularly remarkable for their cut incisiveness and their descriptive realism.
An additional peculiarity of de' Boninis' work is offered by the use of extremely beautiful, elegant frames.
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