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The pride of a great king

OVERVIEW

The Divine Comedy of Alfonso of Aragon



Londra, British Library, Ms. Yates Thompson 36



This splendid Divina Commedia manuscript includes more than 100 illumination works, with illuminated initials opening each part. The calligraphy and illumination work are Tuscan, dating back to approximately the mid-fifteenth century. The work was commissioned by a great patron –the King of Naples, Alfonso of Aragon, known as "il Magnanimo". An important quality of this manuscript consists in its being one of the few that fully illustrate all three parts of the Divine Comedy.






Two master illuminators



The marvellous illumination work is by two artists, both from Siena – Lorenzo di Pietro, known as il Vecchietta (responsible for all the initials and the Inferno and Purgatory scenes, produced between 1442 and 1450), and Giovanni di Paolo, who, in his representation of Paradise, conveys a sense of the fantastic and unreal, reflecting his own dreamily pensive spiritual being.






Conflicting atmospheres



In the 115 illuminated scenes at the foot of the pages we see that the two artists’ approaches are markedly different. While il Vecchietta’s is a world of drama and sudden apparitions of light, Giovanni di Paolo’s is one of clear blue skies and stunningly beautiful landscapes, inspired by the Tuscan countryside. We also note the unifying presence of the two figures of Dante and Beatrice in most of the latter’s illuminations.






The brightness of gold



Finely executed work in gold frames accompanies these extraordinarily evocative illuminations. This is most evident in the Paradise scenes, in which the frames seem to shed extra light upon the episodes recounted. Also noteworthy is the elegance of the script, arranged in a single column and accompanied by initials. This work can be easily read, and an appreciation of the poem itself enhances our enjoyment of the images.






Patronage



As an enlightened patron of the arts and humanist of considerable sensitivity – and in keeping with his desire to have his kingdom assert itself as one of the major States of Italy – Alfonso of Aragon transformed Naples into a lively venue for the arts and culture in general. As a refined bibliophile, who treasured manuscripts, he decided, following his extensive collecting activities in Spain, to enrich his library in Naples with Italian, Latin and Greek works. To this end, he procured valuable illuminated codices with aid of an erudite scholar, Guiniforte Bargigi.

Photographic atlas






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