[History of Typography - Giambattista Bodoni]

Dante Alighieri


Parma, Nel Regal Palazzo, Co' Tipi Bodoniani,(i.e. Giambattista Bodoni), 1796.

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The scarce FOLIO issue of the 2nd Bodoni edition. Three volumes in one. Text in Italian. Edited by Giovanni Jacopo Dionisi. Dedicated to Ludovico Filiberto di Borbone, king of Etruria (1773 - 1803).

"Bellissima edizione." (Brooks)

"The magnificent folio edition of Bodoni, edited by G. J. Dionisi - a learned, but perverse and quarrelsome, admirer of Dante." (John A. Carlyle)


"The most beautiful of the three editions published - between 1795 and 1796 - by the celebrated Stamperia directed by Giambattista Bodoni. A substantial reprint of the [1st Bodoni] edition issued in 1795, but printed in smaller type, making the mise-en-page more harmonious." (Philobiblon: The Dante Collection www.dantecollection.com)

The first Bodoni edition issued in 1795 in Royal Folio was limited to only 130 copies, and immediately sold out.

The 1795 and 1796 Folio editions of Dante are among the most beautiful and desirable productions of the celebrated Italian printer Giambattista Bodon, who achieved Neoclassical ideals in his books and typefaces. Bodoni's books embody the ultimate refinement of page design and typography.

The most celebrated European printer of his era, Giambatista Bodoni (1740-1813) was born into a family of typographers and at the age of 18 moved to Rome, where he was introduced to Cardinal Spinelli. In 1766 Bodoni set out for England, but illness forced him to return home. He started printing and received some local commissions; then, through the offices of Cardinal Spinelli's librarian, Paolo Maria Paciaudi, he was employed as head of the Stamperia Reale of the dukes of Parma. His early books show the influence of the types used by Pierre-Simon Fournier. He developed a dramatic, bold style, exemplified by the Epithalamia (1775), which celebrates the wedding of the sister of the French king Louis XVI. His mature style achieved a stark brilliance and Neo-classical purity, and from the 1780s he worked with his brother Giuseppe Bodoni (d.1825) to produce his own types.

Bodoni made three main innovations in type design: he gave a vertical alignment to the sloped swellings in the bowls of the letters that derive from the down strokes in handwriting; he made all the horizontal serifs on the upper and lower parts of the letters very thin and uniform; and he increased the contrast between stems and serifs. Bodoni cut a total of c. 300 fonts of type. In 1806 he exhibited 14 of his books at the Exhibition of National Industry in Paris, where he was awarded gold medals. In 1810 he was granted a pension by Napoleon.

According to Brooks, "He took his printing in all its branches very seriously, laboured incessantly to perfect his type, had a fine artistic sense, [...] and produced books not only of a very high standard, but also showing a remarkably distinct individuality. [...] The result of his labours is a long list of books which [...] reach a very high, many of them the highest, level of technical excellence."

The text of La Divina Commedia is here edited by the renowned Dante scholar from Verona Giovanni Jacopo Dionisi (1724-1808), on the basis of the famous Santa Croce codex of the Biblioteca Laurenziana (ms xxvi. sin. 1). Dionisi's "philological accuracy and thoroughness were such that Foscolo labeled him the "ristoratore del testo dantesco" (restorer of Dante's text)." (Joseph Luzzi, Romantic Europe and the Ghost of Italy, p.262)

The Divine Comedy (Italian: Divina Commedia, originally titled simply Commed├Ča) is a long epic poem written by Dante Alighieri (1265-1321) between c. 1308 and his death in 1321. It is widely considered the preeminent work of Italian literature, and, indisputably, one of the greatest works of world literature. The poem's imaginative and allegorical vision of the afterlife is representative of the medieval world-view as it had developed in the Western Church by the 14th century. It also helped establish the Tuscan dialect, in which it is written, as the standardized Italian language. It is divided into three parts (cantiche, or canticles: Inferno, Purgatorio, and Paradiso.

"Dante's theme, the greatest yet attempted in poetry, was to explain and justify the Christian cosmos through the allegory of a pilgrimage [...] The audacity of his theme, the success of its treatment, the beauty and majesty of his verse, have ensured that his poem never lost its reputation. The picture of divine justice is entirely unclouded by Dante's own political prejudices, and his language never falls short of what he describes." (PMM).

Physical description:

Three volumes bound in one; Folio, text block measures approx. 372 mm x 250 mm. In an elegant early ca.1900 Austrian binding (with a binder's ticket of R.A. Pannagl, Wien) of quarter-vellum (with vellum corners) over marbled boards; flat spine with two red morocco gilt-lettered labels and four additional decorative red morocco bands with gilt ornamentation. Marbled endpapers; top edge rouged, fore- and bottom edges entirely uncut (deckle).

Pagination: [12], LII, [2], 205, [1], v; [4], 207, [1], xiii, [1]; [4], 207, [1], XXIV pages.

Dante's text printed in fine roman type; the "Aggiunta critics" in smaller roman type; dedicatory verses in a handsome large italic. Preliminaries include a dedication page (p.[2]) "Alla reale altezza dell'Infante di Spagna D. Lodovico di Borbone principe ereditario di Parma [...]" from "Il Direttore della R. Stamperia Giambattista Bodoni", followed by a dedicatory poem (pp. [5-12]; as well as Dionisi's introductory essay on Dante: "A' studiosi del Divino poeta" )pp.I-LII.

Each volume has its own dated title-page and a half-title.

Appended at the end of each voiume are Dionisi's notes "Aggiunta critica".


The binding carries a binder's ticket of the "Königlicher Hof- und Universitäts-Buchbinder R.A. Pannagl / Wien" (the binder for the Royal Court and the University of Vienna).

According to a (loosely inserted) mid-20th-century typewritten bibliographical note in Geman, the present copy is from the library of the Archduke Ludwig Salvator von Habsburg of Austria (1847 - 1915), and was bound especially for the Archduke, who favored white-and-red bindings. Ludwig Salvator, the second cousin of Emperor Franz Joseph, of the ruling House of Habsburg-Lorraine, and the fourth son of Leopold II, Grand Duke of Tuscany, was born in Florence. He lived most of his life on the island of Majorca. He was a notable researcher and chronicler of the Mediterranean sea, and wrote a nine-volume study on the Balearic Islands.


Near Fine. Binding very slightly rubbed, with just a bit of edge-wear, and a small chip to the bottom label on spine. First title-page with a bit of marginal soiling; a couple of pages with a touch of marginal toning. A few leaves with a few minuscule spots. In all, a vey pleasing copy indeed, clean, bright, solid and uncommonly large, with completely untrimmed deckle edges to outer and bottom margin.

Bibliographic references:

Brooks 653; Fiske/Cornell Dante Collection, Vol.I, p.12; Ebert 5721.

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