LAURENT FERRI: What a pleasure, what a relief to be with you here today. I know it's more elegant to sound effortless. This is the famous Italian [ITALIAN]. But it's been a lot of work, a lot of stress, and frankly, there were moments when we thought that we wouldn't make it.
But we're here. And we have this physical exhibition at the Johnson with five galleries filled with art, and books, and video loop. But also a comprehensive website that, for the first time at Cornell, includes a full virtual tour of the show. So you don't even have to come to Ithaca to see our exhibition, though it's obviously more enjoyable if you can. And we even have this symposium.
So we made it. We are a little bit tired. And I hope you will forgive me and possibly others. Yesterday, I gave a tour of the show. And I could hear myself saying silly things sometimes. I said after his death, Fisker stopped being in charge of the collection. What am I saying?
One might say that this Dante exhibition has been in the making for quite a while and was long overdue. In 1900, the first curator of the Dante collection at Cornell, Theodore W. Koch, who would later become the first University Librarian at the University of Northwestern from 1919 to 1941 gave an interview to the student produced Cornell magazine.
And he said it might be well for Cornellians and Ithacans similarly interested in Dante to petition the University trustees to provide for some public expositions of Dante's life and work. Well, here we are, 121 years later. We're having this exhibition. And the seventh anniversary of Daunte Alighieri's death is the ideal opportunity to exhibit the largest Dante collection in North America.
Exhibitions in University museums and libraries are not just a display of treasures, an occasion to celebrate household names. Ideally, they are an opportunity to make discoveries and advance scholarship. This is what Andy, and I, and all the people involved in the making of the exhibition were trying to do. Obviously, we were not able to cover everything with our own approach, [FRENCH]
The exhibition centers around this issue of the vision and the different meanings attached to it, the visions and prophecies of Dante, the visual nature of his poetry, his art as a source of inspiration for visual artists and the way his life and work have been envisioned throughout the ages. So yes, we didn't cover everything.
But precisely this symposium today, we're having it, because we'd like to add something to the exhibition. And we know that our distinguished guests and speakers will bring different perspectives and different viewpoints. So we welcome that dialogue, as always, on our campus. Thank you.
ANDREW C WEISLOGEL: Good morning, I'm Andy Weislogel, the Askin Curator of Earlier European and American Art here at the museum. Welcome to you all. I'd like to add my welcome to Jessica's and to Laurent's. We're very excited about today. And it's so good to have you all here to think about Dante in new ways and encounter such a wealth of artistic inspiration along the way.
Thanks to all of our speakers and our respondents who will be working with us today, who've prepared thoughtful and relevant perspectives on Dante, the visual poet. Although as Laurent mentioned, this exhibition occurs more than a century after Theodore Koch's original wish, the intervening time has brought some important benefits. First of all, there was no art museum at Cornell in 1900. Now we have one.
The placement of an exhibition like this at this moment and in this space allows us to show the many further decades of collecting Dante materials by both the library and the museum. But it also allows us to surround and amplify these materials with a wealth of art and other media and a diversity of artistic voices and viewpoints, generously lent by participating museums and art galleries. These works are meaningful for students, who are learning that not only was Dante an important voice in his own time, but that his ideas retain contemporary relevance around issues of relationships, gender and self, political ideology, and cultural change.
Furthermore, and not only because of pandemic limitations-- excuse me-- an exhibition like this gets to operate extensively outside its physical manifestation. It has a different presence and will live on indefinitely in wonderful website created by RMC web designer Ken Williams and in these programs livestreamed today and recorded by our terrific eCornell colleagues, content which is also headed, of course, for the exhibition website.
As Jessica mentioned, the exhibition project and today's symposium constitute the work of many minds and hands. A group of-- in this particular case, a group of collaborators that grew as the project gained momentum. I'd like to offer thanks specifically to the Visualizing Dante Working Group, with colleagues at the University of Rochester and Syracuse University, who have been a constant source of support and encouragement to Alessandra Baroni, whose visit to Cornell in fall of 2019 struck the spark of a Dante exhibition here at Cornell, and to the other members of the working group, including Donatella Stocchi-Perucchio, who is with us here today, Anna Siebach-Larsen, Jessica Lacher-Feldman, Anne Leone, Laurent and I offer our gratitude.
The professionalism and diverse skills of Cornell University Library staff have helped tremendously in the development of the exhibition, in the conservation and preparation of library materials, mats and mounts, extensive digital photography and video editing assistance, and of course, the development of the website. Likewise, our own team at the Johnson has worked tirelessly from fundraising, to lender relations, art shipping, image permissions, research, writing, and editing, you get the picture.
For venue setup and in-house audio visual support today, I want to especially mention our security and events assistant Luke Andrews. And also for her extensive time spent on the logistics of today's program, arranging all the speaker's travel and lodging and anticipating obstacles at every step, Thanks so much to our wonderful Education Department administrative assistant, Elizabeth Sageese.
And since our key mission here is learning, I'd like to mention four Johnson Museum interns, both former and current, who were instrumental in helping us in early stages, middle stages, and finishing stages of the exhibition. And some of them are with us here today. That's Isabella Dobson, Hannah Master, Reina Klugherz, and David Ni. Lastly, I'd like to add a personal note of thanks to my friend and colleague Laurent. With whom this journey [ITALIAN], midway through the journey of life, maybe a little more than midway, I don't know, as Dante so famously put it, has been a rewarding experience of discovery.
So it's now I'm going to be my pleasure to introduce our first speaker. But before we begin, I have to go over a couple of housekeeping details, as is common in these situations. Our eCornell team has packaged and promoted the four talks and the tour today as disparate packaged programs. And so we ask your indulgence in hewing to the time schedule that we've set out for you in today's program. So that they can keep to their schedule.
We will also leave time for questions and discussion following each talk. Those will initially be led by a chosen respondent and then opened up to the broader group here in the room, and of course, online. So if you're here in the room and you have a question after a talk, please put up your hand in one of our interns will bring you a microphone. If you're joining us online, you can simply type your question into the chat box in the interface through which you're viewing this program. And the eCornell team will relay questions to us and to our speakers.
And now it's my pleasure to introduce Dr. Rhoda Eitel Porter for our first talk this morning. She's coming to us today via Zoom from London. Editor of the journal Print Quarterly, and an expert on Italian 16th century drawings and prints, Rhoda Eitel Porter has held key print and drawing curator ships and leadership positions at both the Morgan Library, and Museum New York, and the British Museum in London.
Her PhD on Roman Mannerist Artist Cesare Nebbia was published in 2009. Among many other publications, she has co-authored Private Treasures Four Centuries of European Master Drawings and Italian Renaissance Drawings at Morgan Library and Museum. Her recent work considers a series of drawings in the Morgan Library illustrating Dante's Divine Comedy and will be the subject of a forthcoming article.
Her talk today, entitled Visualizing Dante in the 16th Century, an Amateur's Art, will engage three of these drawings, which are also on loan to the exhibition and that we will see in person later on today. Following the talk, Dr. Alessandra Baroni, who is joining us from Arezzo, will respond with the first questions. And then for those of you joining us online, to join the next talk, simply scroll down on the registration page that you're currently viewing. And you can click the link for the next talk which will start after that. So without any further ado, let me get out of the way. And please join me in welcoming Dr. Rhoda Eitel Porter.
ROHDA EITEL PORTER: I will be speaking today about visualizing Dante in the 16th century, an amateur's art. I recently posed that a series of drawings at the Morgan Library and Museum in New York was made by a 16th century literary scholar called Alessandro Vellutello. Vellutello published his interpretation of Dante's Divine Comedy along with the original text in 1544. And the drawings seem to represent his early conceptualizations. I understand that three of these drawings are on view in the current exhibition.
Today, I will attempt to set these drawings and their related woodcuts within the context of other 16th century printed and drawn Dante illustrations. With one exception, and that is a series of drawings on vellum by Botticelli, the book illustrations and drawings considered today were not luxury objects commissioned by a prominent patron, as would be the case for most illuminated manuscripts, but tools of intellectual enlightenment aimed at a wider public.
Originally simply titled Commedia, it was not until the 16th century, in other words, long after the poet's death, that the poem was published under the title of Divina Commedia. The poem describes the author's imagined travels through the three realms of the afterlife, Hell, or inferno in Italian, Purgatory, and Paradise. These three major sections are subdivided into canti, literally, I believe, songs, but may be comparable to chapters of a book.
On his voyage through Hell, Dante is accompanied by Virgil, a pagan author. And together, they later ascend the mountain of Purgatory. They encounter various monsters from classical mythology and contemporary and historical personages among the group of sinners. In Paradise, the poet is accompanied by [INAUDIBLE] whom one writer called the world's most famous schoolboy crush. I note that Dr. [INAUDIBLE] will be speaking about the 1472 edition of the Divine Comedy. My story starts about 10 years later, in 1481, which is the date of the first illustrated printed edition.
A total of 28 illustrated printed editions of Dante's Commedia from the 15th and 16th centuries alone have come down to us. The first edition was printed in Florence in 1481. And they show you here on screen an overview of today's talk. And I will be starting with the illustrated edition of 1481, moving on to the Vellutello of 1544, and then looking at a series of drawings.
The first illustrated edition was printed in Florence in 1481 by Niccolo di Lorenzo della Manga. Born in Wroclaw, Poland, he, like many printers at this time, was an immigrant from Northern Europe. This addition was accompanied by a learned commentary by the Florentine Humanist Christoforo Landino, a prominent member of the Platonic Academy and teacher of Lorenzo di Pierfranceso de Medici, a cousin of Lorenzo the Magnificent.
I should briefly mention that from its first effusion, the Commedia was considered a somewhat inaccessible poem that required exposition and clarification, because of its many references to historical, theological, and ancient matters. Thereby creating an unprecedented demand for commentary from learned interpreters. I think no poem has ever drawn the attention of so many executes as has the Divine Comedy.
The contract of 23rd Dec 1480 for the 1481 book has recently been discovered. It was between the printer della Manga, the commentator Landino, and Bernardo Alberti, who financed the project. It promised an astonishing 1,125 copies of the book, but makes no mention of who designed the illustrations or who engraved them.
In the 1568 edition of his lives of the Painters, Sculptors, and Architects, the biographer and artist, Giorgio Vasari, noted the print inferior style, because the plates were badly engraved. Indeed, the number of errors and omissions suggests that the work was printed with some haste. For instance, the typesetter seemingly forgot to leave space for the illustration of Inferno, canto 1, meaning that it had to be placed beneath the text. Where it was subsequently truncated by the bookbinder.
You see here one example where it's just about being squeezed on. And not too much of the print has been cut off. But there are some bindings, some books, where literally a third of the illustration at the bottom is gone. What is more, in one copy of the book, the engraving for Inferno 2 was accidentally printed a second time where the illustration Inferno 3 was supposed to be. And some engravings were upside down. Like that one there, that was printed.
The different techniques required for printing the text and the images necessitated two distinct work phases, letterpress, which is relief printing for the former, and copper engraving, an italio process for the latter. Although this combination has already-- had already been used by della Magna a few years earlier for another book. It may, nonetheless, have caused problems.
Only some 20 copies of the book, containing a total of 19 engravings, all of them for Inferno, are known. And most of the engravings have been pasted in, rather than printed onto the text. So here, you see an example on the left, where it's actually printed on the page. And another page, I think from the same-- yes, from the same copy, where it actually has to be pasted on. Most copies of the book contain only two or three illustrations to the first two canti of the poem.
Previous scholars have noticed many shared visual extratextual details between these engravings and a series of 92 illustrations by Sandro Botticelli, of which are shown one here, 85 of which are in Berlin, and the remaining seven in the Vatican Library. However, Botticelli's large, oblong compositions, drawn on vellum, are unlikely to have been intended as preparatory drawings.
Instead, they may have been for a manuscript commissioned by Lorenzo di Pierfrancesco de Medici, but left unfinished. Only four of the surviving leaves are entirely or partially hand colored. This one's an example here, one of the few that's entirely colored with gouache. And you see Dante and Virgil numerous times walking through the bolge.
And this is an example of a partially colored one. Dante is in red, Virgil in blue. Clearly, whoever colored this, either Botticelli himself, or possibly a professional manuscript illuminator, here started with the figures of Dante and Virgil. In other sheets, strong linear pen drawings appear alongside faint outlines and metal point. Or we see lone figures devoid of context.
So here you can see at the upper right, very faintly, something done in metal point. And Beatrice and Dante on the stream of light are done in pen and ink. Botticelli's unbound drawings must once have constituted a unique manuscript design. The back of the sheets of vellum are inscribed, each page with a complete canto, and would have been accompanied by one full page illustration. And it's imagined that the illustration would be at the top and the text would be below. And you would sort of fold it horizontally up. You thus have one page of illustration above the accompanying leaf of text below, giving equal weight to both.
Perhaps the most plausible explanation for the relationship between Botticelli and the 1481 book illustrations is that the engraver based his illustrations on a lost group of incomplete studies and sketches by Botticelli, but not these. It has been speculated that part of the reason why the printing Enterprise was a bit of a disaster may have been Botticelli's departure for Rome.
The question of the engraver the illustrations is a topic recently elucidated in an essay by Alessandra Baroni, who is with us today. Although the 1480 contract does not name the engraver. The prints have long been attributed to the still nebulous figure of Baccio Baldini on the basis of another passage from Vasari, who wrote, and I quote, Baccio Baldini, goldsmith of Florence, who, not having much design, copied the drawings of Sandro Botticelli.
Indeed, a goldsmith by the name of Baccio was buried in Florence in 1487. Yet it is far from certain that he is identical with Baldini. In any event, there are a group of quite similar engravings. And it remains helpful to assemble a stylistically uniform corpus of 15th century Florentine book illustrations and other engravings under this name. One possible scenario for the creation of the prints is that Baldini, or the master engraver of another name, had made only the first two or three prints by the time the edition was printed with a minute on 30th of August 1481, leaving his workshop to execute the other 17 later, which therefore had to be inserted.
There followed numerous other illustrated Dante editions. The one most noted for its illustrations and their influence, however, is the one published by Francesco Marcolini in Venice in 1544. As mentioned, it was accompanied by a commentary and a preface by Alessandro Vellutello, a patrician and literary scholar from Luca who resided in Venice from at least 1525. The book features 87 unsigned woodcuts interspersed throughout the poem and its preface.
They represent one of the earliest instances in the exegesis of the Divine Comedy in which the illustrations are closely related to the commentary, rather than Dante's poem, thus providing a visual extension of the glosses. In his preface and commentary, Vellutello writes of his ambition to overcome the limitations of previous interpretations. And that whatever his written explanations might lack would be made up for in the illustrations, repeatedly referring to the drawings he had made.
Furthermore, an acquaintance a Renaissance man of letters, Anton Francesco Doni notes that Vellutello expended considerable time and money in order to have woodcuts made from preparatory drawings, providing further evidence that Vellutello himself made the drawings. The 20 schematic drawings in the Morgan Library and Museum were probably sketched by Vellutello himself in the course of his studies, or maybe right at the very beginning of his studies.
They served him as repositories of his knowledge and broader intellectual concerns, initially serving mnemonic and didactic functions. Once Vellutello had finished his text, they were probably passed on to an artist, print maker, or gifted block cutter, such as Giovanni Britto as the starting point from which to develop the extensive series of woodcuts for which the 1544 edition is justly famous.
I and others have suggested Britto as the block cutter, because it is known that he worked for Marcolini, who published Vellutello's edition. And he was also very skilled. And so one could imagine that he would have had the talent to take these drawings and make them into something more appropriate for a woodcut illustration in the book. But there were no documents. And we certainly don't know that.
The originality and design of the illustrations has long been recognized. Comparison of drawings and wood cuts show how striking-- show striking similarities, such as the staging of the action within a rounded shape, seen from a bird's eye perspective for the Inferno scenes, which differs from earlier Dante illustrations. Some may argue that the drawings are copies of the prints.
I think this is highly unlikely, because for one, there are several drawings for which there are no corresponding woodcuts. Furthermore, the drawings are far more elaborate than the woodcuts, which would be unusual for copies. The artist who produced the final woodcut designs often reduced the number of figures and pared down the compositions to single, rather than multiple, scenes in order to achieve maximum impact. In addition, there are instances of reversal between the prints and drawings, which again would be unusual for copies.
For instance, in the drawing-- in the drawing of the forest of those who have committed suicide, where harpies sit atop barren trees, the centaur Nessus, who has just dropped off Virgil and Dante, exits left. The dotted line indicates the path taken by the protagonists. And this is here, that. In the print, the centaur moves to the right with only his hindquarters visible within the circle. And here's a detail where I hope you can recognize at the right in the print, the horse's hindquarters.
You may remember from your childhood potato stamps. Or maybe you were even lucky enough to do linocuts at school. That the printed picture is a mirror image of the one carved. A print designer would typically make a drawing, then the image would be transferred onto the matrix, in this case, the wood block. The wood block would be carved. And the raised lines would form the image. When the wood block is inked and printed, the original drawn image was reversed.
The drawings are no doubt the remainder of a more extensive circle. The first three show an empty landscape, diminutive figures-- so here, you are-- sorry, let me show you the two more comparisons from Purgatory. And here, diminutive figures of Dante and Virgil on a path in the foreground approaching the entrance to Hell appear in two of them. That's the other one where you can see them.
The third sheet, devoid of human evidence, consists of a hilly landscape, a bay at left, and a star studded sky and fumaroles. There follows six scenes dedicated to Virgil guiding Dante through Hell, and 11 dedicated to Purgatory. None survive illustrating Paradise. Some canti are very richly illustrated, while others do not feature at all. Such variation is not uncommon for Dante illustrations. Paradise is often represented in less detail than the other books, perhaps because of the difficulty of visualizing the associated abstract concepts.
The terrain you've just seen in the first three drawings is not at all the dark forest that Dante describes at the beginning of the poem or that we know from other Dante illustrations. Instead, as already recognized by Lamberto Donati, and perhaps some of you in the audience, Donati, who identified the individual scenes depicted in the drawings in a seminal article of 1963, the active fumaroles dotted around the barren volcanic landscape suggest the Pozzuoli region around Naples, known as the Phlegraean Fields.
Comparing Vellutello's visualizations with a slightly later print of 1587 after Giovanni Stradano, reveals them to be surprisingly similar, almost as if the scholar were familiar with good illustrations or had himself seen these emissions of noxious fumes. By the way, we know very little about Vellutello, certainly nothing biographical. At the time when Vellutello was probably working on his commentary, a volcanic eruption lasting from 29th of September to 6th of October 1538 inundated the Phlegraean Fields, creating the Monte Nuovo.
A large number of eyewitnesses produced firsthand accounts of this momentous event, which rapidly found their way into print, such as this image here, where you can see the eruption and the creation of Monte Nuovo. It does seem that for the first three drawings, unprecedented in Dante illustrations, Vellutello was inspired by an actual topography, which featured prominently among contemporary events.
It's worth recalling that since Roman times, an ancient tradition cited the entrance to the underworld in the Phlegraean Fields. Also in a lecture on Dante's Commedia, published in 1506, Antonio Manetti identified the forest near the entrance to hell as being near Pozzuoli.
The following six drawn scenes, sited in Hell, are also unusual. Many illustrators show Hell as an inverted conical mountain. Vellutello however, while maximizing the use of the oblong sheets of paper and with only an imperfect command of foreshortening, stages each circle of hell viewed from a steep bird's eye perspective on a single sheet. I show here another example of Charon shipping the damned across the Acheron.
Both the drawings and the prints show Mount Purgatory as an artificially terraced mountain with stone steps or a shaft connecting the levels. Botticelli's drew a similarly tiered Mount Purgatory, rising like some vision in the distance. And here I show the Botticelli drawing. Vellutello's creation, however, is of the here and now, quintessentially manmade and within reach.
Virgil and Dante's ascent is via comfortable staircases or neat vertical shafts. The pair pass on the gateways, or perfectly built arches, or along neatly surfaced ledges. And even the mountain itself appears to be built from finely shaped rusticated masonry. In comparison, the block cutter responsible for the woodcuts practiced a bit of rewilding, making at least the rocks that constitute the mountain jut out a bit. Essentially, though, Mount Purgatory in Vellutello's conception remains a manmade construct. And a person's path from Purgatory to Paradise is closely related to lived experience. It can be comprehensively viewed, logically understood, and physically ascended via a rigid, codified path.
There are no drawings of Paradise. But I show here one of the last ones from Purgatory, where the group has reached the top of the mountain. Dante, Statius, Matelda, and Beatrice look at the Garden, look at the tree in the Garden of Eden, which was bare but has reflowered. Dante writes of an eagle that alighted on the tree and broke off a branch, visible in the drawing between the cart and tree. The eagle plummeted into the cart and left its feathers there, as appears in the drawing.
Whereas the woodcut shows the cart harboring the eagle and the fox. The cart suddenly sprouts three heads and two horns, with two horns on the shaft. And one with a single horn on each corner. The misaligned perspective of the cart is corrected for the woodcut. The interpretation of Dante divided Florentines and non-Florentines. When Michelangelo wrote to his nephew Leonardo, quote, the new commentary on Dante by someone from Luca has not been very well received by people who know anything, so there's no need to pay any attention to it, he is probably revealing his personal hometown bias.
Even if maybe Vellutello's ideas enjoyed only modest success, the woodcuts were arguably among the most influential Dante illustrations of the Renaissance. They were republished at least four times in the next 50 years. Anton Francesco Doni reprised some 20 of them for his book, [ITALIAN] of 1553. Francesco Sansovino's Dante of 1564 included them. And this was republished by Cesar in 1578 and 1596. They spawned numerous other visual adaptations, shaping how people conceived of their path to salvation for generations to come.
I'm now going to turn to the comparisons, the other series of drawings from the 16th century, Federico Zuccaro and contemporaries. The year's 1587 to 1588 represent a third high point of illustration. There was a surge of drawings, quite a few of them inscribed with the date of their creation by a group of prominent Florentine artists. Among them, Jacopo Ligozzi, Locovido Cardi, known as Cigoli, the above mentioned Giovanni Stradano, and Federico Zuccaro.
At least seven pen and ink drawings by Ligozzi, heightened with white on paper tinted brown are recorded. Three are in the collection of Christchurch picture gallery in Oxford, of which I show here now, also a second one. One each is in the Albertina in Vienna and the Louvre in Paris. One is known for a print by [INAUDIBLE] and one now lost was sold at auction in 1858.
Of approximately equal dimensions, all illustrate events from the first three cantos of the Inferno with the exception of one, the second dream of Dante, which is from Purgatory. Several are dated 1587 or 1588 and are signed Jacopo Ligozzi, inventor, suggesting that they were intended for prints. I think it's here on the lower left of this print, that inscription.
A native of Verona, Ligozzi was court painter to four successive Dukes of Tuscany and worked primarily in Florence. His interest in Dante is also evidenced by the citation of the famous opening lines of the Commedia, [ITALIAN], the middle of the journey of our life. Seen here below the figures of two children in his later drawing of 1597, Allegory of Death in the Morgan Library in New York.
Two drawings, both undated, by Cigoli for the first and second canto of Inferno are known. And I'm showing one of them. One of these shows Dante in the forest, the same subject as one of the sheets by Ligozzi dated 1587. And it is likely that they were created as alternatives for a larger commission. In addition, there exists 27 illustrations by Stradano to Dante, which are part of an album in the Biblioteca Medicea Larenziana in Florence.
None of these series of drawings was unstudied. But it is Michael Brunner's achievement to have considered them as a group and to have convincingly outlined the likely scenario for their creation in his PhD published in 1999, primarily putting together various strands of circumstantial evidence and a few documents. Brunner argues for the close involvement of the two prominent Florentine literary circles, the Accademia Fiorentina and the Accademia degli Alterati.
Dante had become a key figure for the creation of a Florentine identity since the 15th century. And although interest never really subsided, the 1580s was a period of unusually heated debate about the merits of the Divine Comedy. The Accademia della Crusca, for instance, the world's first language academy, founded in 1583, was responsible for the important initiative of producing a new critical edition of the Divine Comedy, which was eventually published in 1595.
Pointing to several public lectures by intellectuals, among them Galileo in the years 1587 and 1588, Brunner notes an intensification of engagement with Dante's work. Much time was devoted to serious study and interpretation. This leads him to suggest that in spring 1587, the Accademia Fiorentina and the Accademia degli Alterati together commissioned sample designs for engraved illustrations of the Divine Comedy from Ligozzi, Stradano, and Cigoli to accompany such lectures and to publicize their views on hotly debated topics.
The academics may have wished to produce individual prints or a large atlas of Dante illustrations to mount a defense of the work. Either this was a competition between artists and the plan was to select among them, which might explain why some of the scenes were assigned twice, I show here another example with Stradano and Ligozzi, or the academy may have intended to assign different parts to different artists to speed up the process. For unknown reasons, the project seems to have been shelved by the winter of 1588 after the completion of only a few drawings.
Luigi Alemanni, a member of the Alterati with a keen interest in the work of Dante and a correspondent of sundry luminaries of the age, then personally commissioned Stradano with a continuation of the drawings. This latter point is proven by a draft contract, or a record of one, dated 1587 between Stradano and Alemanni on the back of a Stradano drawing in the Cooper Hewitt Museum in New York. Left is the drawing. On the right hand side is the back of it.
And you might just be able to make out the Luigi Alemanni [ITALIAN] and so on. The commission was for 25 drawings, illustrating Dante's Inferno, which were to be the same in size and quality as those already made. Intriguingly, as Brunner quite convincingly suggests, Alemanni, like Vellutello was an amateur artist himself, producing drawings of the Divine Comedy now in the same album in the Biblioteca Medicea Laurenziana
Presumably, Alemanni was intending to have the Stradano drawings engraved. He was similarly involved with other suites of drawings, such as the ones for the 20 engravings that constitute the [ITALIAN], or the new invention of modern times series. Some of you may have seen the exhibition at the Newberry Library in Chicago. I think it was on last year. They also did quite a lot of online presentations around their exhibition.
Brunner's scenario of an aborted commission by the Accademia Fiorentina and the Accademia degli Alterati seems plausible, especially in light of the later involvement of some of these artists with the academies. Ligozzi he was accepted as a member of the Alterati in 1590, the only painter to receive this honor in its entire history. Cigoli became a member of the Accademia Fiorentina in 1897.
As mentioned, the Morgan drawings attributed to Vellutello were probably not intended as models for book illustrations at the time of their creation. Similarly, one of the most extensive cycles of Dante illustrations, the series of 88 drawings accompanied by extracts of Dante's text and labels by Federico Zuccaro were surely not conceived as designed for prints. 28 drawings, which are predominantly in red and black chalk, are dedicated to Inferno.
Zuccaro had already treated the subject in 1576 to '79 in the course of his designs for frescoes in the cupola of Florence Cathedral. Purgatory is represented by 44 drawings in pen with some crosshatching and increasing amounts of the text itself infiltrating each page. Whereas, Paradise is illustrated with 11 sheets with heavenly visions depicted in circles and cones of mystical light. So here we have Purgatory in pen and ink and a bit more text. And here, Paradise with this rather mystical light.
Here, red chalk is almost exclusively used, achieving some of the otherworldly luminosity described by Dante. The drawings were created, at least in great part, during Federico's work in the Escorial in Madrid, as indicated by the inscription [ITALIAN], so in Spain and 1587 on the verso of one of them. The drawings were mounted down. But that inscription can still be-- is still legible with strong light.
At the Escorial, Federico would have had available to him a copy of the 1564 Dante edition by Francesco san Savino that included the Landino and Vellutello commentaries and reused the woodcuts from the 1544 edition. So he was also, in some instances, looking at the Vellutello edition and reprising a few of the motifs. Even if the drawings had didactic potential, Federico may have let his own pupils or students of the Accademia de San Luca in Rome work from these large [INAUDIBLE] sheets as part of their artistic education.
There is every indication that he made have kept them for his own erudite studies. And that they were the fruit of personal motivation, rather than an outside commission. We know that they were part of his belongings when he died, because they feature in his debt inventory of 1609. And his son, Ottaviano Zuccaro offered them for sale to the Duke della Rovere.
In the end, they entered the Medici collection. And in the early 18th century, were bound together into a volume entitled [ITALIAN], so Dante illustrated by Federico Zuccaro. Like Vellutello's drawings, Federico's cycle is a manifestation of broader intellectual pursuits and demonstrates how artists and scholars in 16th century Italy made a visual exegesis of the long and profound poem.
Most accompanied their visualizations with abridged extracts of Dante's text, as well as explanations in the form of text boxes or copious inscriptions. Such pursuits often went hand in hand with membership in literary academies and serve as a clear indication of the flourishing intellectual status achieved by painters and craftsmen in the late 16th century. Thank you very much for your attention.
And I show some bibliography for any who are interested to read more. Let me know if I can stop the stop share. I hope Alessandra will give us her take on this, because she knows at least as much about this subject as I do.
ALESSANDRA BARONI: I don't know if you can hear me?
ROHDA EITEL PORTER: I can hear you.
ALESSANDRA BARONI: But maybe Andy likes to say something before, I don't know?
ROHDA EITEL PORTER: Nope, I see a message--
ALESSANDRA BARONI: Thank you so much, Rhoda for your wonderful research. This a wonderful group of drawings supposed by Vellutello. They're really interesting. And thank you also to remind us all the festival drawings related to Dante of the 16th century. So and I would like just to, before the question, just to make your attention about the technical not problem, but issues of the related prints in the Botticelli set of drawings.
So they are very, very gigantic size. So they're very large. And probably one of them the most important thing is that this is the work of was so important for Botticelli himself that he didn't stop to work on this set of drawings. [INAUDIBLE] It's so-- and also Vasari told us about the crazy situation, the craziness that this important work of personal research was so important for him.
So this is just to say that there is a gap, in my opinion, between this set of wonderful drawings in parchment and the prints in the first illustrated Landino's commento with a supposed painting by-- engraving by Baccio Baldini or other master, unknown his name. This is a really important, because I think Botticelli was absolutely the first source recommended to the printer, and in particular, to the staff for illustrations in this first edition. Because this is a first edition, should be a very, very important first edition.
So one of the most important for many different aspects of the language, for example, that was the first-- [INAUDIBLE] comments, and surely also for further research for the illustration. So I think that Botticelli was absolutely the first inspiration source. But probably, I hard to believe that these drawings were made by Botticelli just for prints. So I think very hardly, because they are gigantic size and the [? engraves. ?] And the engravings are very, very different. So this is the first comment.
But any case, of course, another point is the function of these illustrations made during the 16th century. So for example, in my opinion, Cigoli, Ligozzi, and Zuccaro, as you, in a very good way, explain it right now, were made initially for different functions. So probably to illustrate, to accompany the talks, the papers presented by, particularly, Luigi Alemanni at the Accademia Fiorentina.
So I think the different function implies that there is a gap in terms of the timing, of chronology, the same for Stradano's and also the presence of Luigi Alemanni as the collector of the bound book in which, not now, but until a few years ago, the drawings were set, with some inscription, probably handwritten by Luigi Alemanni himself made also quite sure that he was the person who probably committed this group of artists, including Stradano's, these illustrations. So in debate on Dante's in that moment in Florence was really full of energy, with lots of different discussion from many different scholars.
So probably artists were really, really busy in crossing, probably, the two-- or the three academis acting in Florence in that moment to work together. I don't know if there was a real competition for that-- to illustrate a new edition of the Commedia. This is a good hypothesis. But I'm not quite sure. OK, this is just some very few clarification. But thank you so much.
I'm very curious about the authorship of the group of drawings in the Morgan Library. So they are wonderful. And yes, I'm completely convinced that they were made closely to Vellutello, because his idea to send or to write some instruction in the drawing is absolutely all-- makes us that the authorship was-- that the inventor of the commento was absolutely involved in making or helping someone else to make these drawings.
Of course, you mentioned that no comparison, unfortunately, we have for Vellutello's drawings, or Vellutello's autograph. So we don't know exactly-- or we can't recognize nothing about them is a whole new style, or in drawing, or also in the written. But something different also came to me, looking at these drawings. For example, many of them, like the first one, the fumarola, you rightly mentioned that the landscape from Naples, from Pozzuoli.
Yes, I think this point of view is absolutely quite typical of a cartographer. And so my question is did you-- or had you never thought about a possible other order of these drawings? For example, among the group of engravers in Venice employed to make maps, like I don't know, for, example Bernardo Rosselli, for example. So did you-- or have you ever thought something different? Because that-- there are several different points of view. But this fly view, birds fly view is so typical of these cartographer.
And then another element is the frame. One pen and ink line of frame, so that composition, or even that those representing landscapes, are clearly thought from the beginning as an illustration, quite different from the other, like Inferno, maybe 10 or something like that. And another and a mental about the frame is that somewhat-- that sort of architectural or sculptural frame. So sometimes, in one of the larger size complete composition, the frame is also made at the-- with an imitation of a sculpture, [ITALIAN], or something like that.
So a piece of stone covered like an edifice or something like that. So this is my question. So did make any research also on the field of cartography in Venice, because probably, I don't know-- the way, the style of these drawings are calling me exactly that. Thank you so much.
ROHDA EITEL PORTER: Thank you, thank you very much, Alessandra for your thoughts on this, which I just I find it fascinating that you think that Botticelli made those drawings for himself. That's very good to know your view on that. The other thing I wanted to point out is that the landscape drawings and the connection to Pozzuoli was not my idea. That was first proposed in 1963 by Lamberto Donati, who studied-- who was the first person who wrote about these drawings and identify their subject matter.
But the question about who made them. My starting point was not actually to look for a cartographer, which I think is a very interesting idea. Because I know what you mean about the little flourishes on some of the outside. My starting point was actually looking at the drawings and thinking, oh dear, they're really not very good. This cannot have been a professional artist, or can this have been a professional artist?
Because they are very-- if you look at other amateurs, for instance, I call it the amateur's art, I should have said question mark. Are they by Vellutello, who I don't think had any proper artistic training. But if you think of the drawings by Galileo, if you try to think of the drawings attributed to Alemanni, interesting to note, if you believe they're by Alemanni or not, the ones in the Biblioteca Laurenziana, they seem really much, much more competent as works of art than do these drawings. And I guess a cartographer's, again, someone else. It's not a professional artist. It's a cartographer.
But [AUDIO OUT] And so I thought well it's someone very close to Vellutello. And there never is a mention of who made them. And yet if you read Vellutello's comments in his own preface and commentary, he talks about drawings as if-- and the implication is they were his drawings. So I think others who studied Vellutello, like Pirovani and Massimiliano Rossi postulated that Vellutello made some drawings. May not have been these ones exactly, but he definitely made some drawings.
And I thought these were not that good. So I thought he could have made them. But no, of course, he could have well have made another set of drawings, given those to the cartographer, who worked them up a little bit more. And there are certain similarities with the cartography, I fully agree. But I thought that was more something that Vellutello just picked up, because he had maps around.
But it's something interesting to pursue. It's just so difficult with this quality of drawing, because it's so schematic. It's so diagrammatic. He's not trying to do something incredibly artistic, whoever did them. He's trying to communicate information. But very, very interesting point. Thank you.
ALESSANDRA BARONI: Yeah, I think that any case, like in probably also in the case of Niccolo della Magna, and probably also in the future, if the edition of the late 16th century in Florence was really, realized and accomplished, probably we have to think about an intermediary drawings used exactly for the preparation of prints. So like in this case, so this, I agree, that could be exactly the first idea, the first hypothesis made by Vellutello, maybe help advise someone more professional than him.
But of course, between this idea and the woodcuts, of course, there was another stadium, yes, another very professional itnermediate. So its is exactly what I tried also to explain for the Baccio Baldini. So of course, he was absolutely inspired by Botticelli, but not only. But surely, the printer organized a sort of a staff, professional staff to translate these wonderful ideas made firstly by Botticelli into a print. So in particular, engraving. And this is the reason I think that we have always think to something different in the process to accomplish a set of illustrating a print, the prints after these drawings. In any case, thank you so much. Thank you so much.
ANDREW C WEISLOGEL: Rhoda and Alessandra, can you hear me?
ROHDA EITEL PORTER: One comment on that, because you make the really valid point that typically at this time, of course, it was the printer who put everything together for the 1481 edition. Whoever-- it's usually the printer who goes and finds the engraver and the artist for the illustrations.
For Vellutello's edition, we have two sources of information, two documents. One, Doni, who says oh, Vellutello spent a lot of his own money and a lot of his own effort in putting this together, which kind of suggests that it was very Vellutello's initiative, rather than Marcolin saying, oh, let's do an edition. And also in the own preface about him talking about it. But it's true it's very likely that it probably was Marcolini who then said, well, let's go and find a woodcutter who can make sense of this.
ANDREW C WEISLOGEL: Rhoda and Alessandra, can you both hear me?
ALESSANDRA BARONI: Sorry, I just want to clarify that the word [ITALIAN] had not the same meaning that we are today used to give them. So [ITALIAN] is also employed in Vasari, for example, also for prints, also for engravings. And this is the problem because sometimes the judgment made by Vasari is not so happy with prints, because he probably didn't appreciate a lot of the quality, the characteristic style of prints, because [INAUDIBLE] is a thought of what's the word that the drawing styles, so and with different [INAUDIBLE] lines of a contrast between the dark and light, et cetera, et cetera. So but these word was usually employed also in other sources to define prints. So it is not always meaning to provide. OK, thank you so much. I'm sorry.
ANDREW C WEISLOGEL: Thank you both so much, Rhoda for a wonderful talk that is going to drive us all into the galleries to look very closely at the Vellutello drawings which are on display here and the accompanying editions printed in relation to them. And Alessandra, for your wonderful and helpful comments, helping us think more broadly about other possibilities and the very complex procedure of how drawing came about and became woodcut, et cetera.
We do have just a few minutes before we need to wrap up this session. And so I'd like to open to questions from people here in the room attending the symposium here in person. And we also have a couple of questions from people participating online. So our interns in the room here will bring you a microphone if you have a question. Let's have the first question from--
AUDIENCE: Thank you. Just more of an observation about the [ITALIAN]. I was thinking that maybe in addition to the idea of the wasteland that Dante gives us, in addition to the actual dark wood, [ITALIAN], the [ITALIAN] is also the place near the cave of the [ITALIAN]. So just the cultural association, I think, that the thought was of connecting Dante and Virgil and, yes, journey in the beyond. This is just a possibility.
And the other thing, I know that Alessandra, you have worked a lot on the Florentine climate around Vasari, Stradano, and Zuccaro and the culture of the moment. And that would be very interesting to know a little more about that particular historical cultural situation that brought about these two artists very close to one another, close to Vasari and the Medician circle.
ROHDA EITEL PORTER: If you can hear me, there was one thing I wanted to say, there's also that [ITALIAN] is a very, very interesting point because there is also a woodcut, a very early one, predating Vellutello. I think it's from 1506 or something, which has Dante and Virgil, I think, entering the underworld. And there's also a reference to Cuma, C-U-M-A, on it. So thank you very, very much for referring to that.
ANDREW C WEISLOGEL: I think we have, perhaps, time for just one online question which has come in from an SP who congratulates you on a fabulous talk, Rhoda. This person is wondering why some of the illustrations , specifically Virgil and Dante in the forest Inferno 13 also have a circular frame when there's no reason for the circular frame. This seems appropriate for the cosmological illustration, but why here, do you think?
ROHDA EITEL PORTER: Oh, I don't know. So which scenes again? Which scenes was this, sorry?
ANDREW C WEISLOGEL: I think it was the one that you showed in the wood of the suicides, where you can imagine the circles of hell being round, but the woodcut illustration for both the drawing and the wood cut for the wood of the suicides are also round. I maybe, maybe I'm getting that wrong.
ROHDA EITEL PORTER: I don't know my Dante well enough, but I think that's an early transition, isn't it, from the circles of hell, the bolge or something? Or am I-- I'm not sure. I don't have an answer, I should be honest about it. And a fascinating question.
ANDREW C WEISLOGEL: OK, thank you, I think, are we-- do we need to wrap up, eCornell team? Yes, OK. So I want to thank you again, both of you, for being with us today remotely. It's wonderful to see you. And we look forward to continuing discussions offline that have been sparked by this talk. Thank you.
ROHDA EITEL PORTER: Thank you to everyone. And I look forward to--
ANDREW C WEISLOGEL: OK thanks, everyone.
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From its creation, Dante Alighieri’s poetry has inspired the world’s greatest writers, artists, and thinkers. His groundbreaking “Divine Comedy,” completed in 1320, became muse to giants of the Italian Renaissance—among them Sandro Botticelli, Giovanni Stradano, and Federico Zuccari—as well as to scholars seeking to illuminate the complex poem through imagery.
Join Rhoda Eitel-Porter, an expert on 16th-century Italian drawings and prints, as she explores the work of literary scholar Alessandro Vellutello, whose drawings likely became the basis for the highly influential series of woodcuts illustrating the 1544 edition of “Divine Comedy.” Dr. Eitel-Porter will guide you through Vellutello’s unique vision of Dante’s work—from its unusual emphasis on barren, volcanic terrain to the intricate illustrations of each circle of hell and Purgatory—and examine how the perspective of the comparatively amateur Vellutello varied from those of his more-famous Renaissance contemporaries.
This is the first talk in Cornell’s “Visions of Dante” symposium held in conjunction with the Johnson Museum of Art’s “Visions of Dante” exhibition, timed to mark the 700th anniversary of Dante’s death. The Vellutello drawings and woodcuts are part of the exhibit, on loan from the Morgan Library & Museum’s collection.
“Visions of Dante: A Central NY Humanities Corridor Symposium” was held on Saturday, October 16, 2021, at the Herbert F. Johnson Museum of Art, Cornell University, in conjunction with their exhibition “Visions of Dante.” The symposium was cosponsored by the Central New York Humanities Corridor, a unique regional collaboration between Syracuse University, Cornell University, the University of Rochester, the New York Six Liberal Arts Consortium, and other liberal arts schools and colleges in the central New York region.
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