Tag Archives: Dante Alighieri

Boccaccio and the humanist tradition in the Cardiff Rare Books Collection

Commemorating the 700th anniversary of the birth of Giovanni Boccaccio (1313-1375), the new exhibition in Cardiff University’s Special Collections and Archives features a selection of works by Boccaccio and his fellow humanists, Dante and Petrarch. The Cardiff Rare Books Collection is particularly rich in Italian literature of the late medieval and early Renaissance period, with all three authors amply represented, and we hold more than forty 15th and 16th century editions of Boccaccio’s works alone.


Giovanni Boccaccio (1313-1375): engraved frontispiece to “The novels and tales of the renowned John Boccacio, the first refiner of Italian prose” (London, 1684)

20130705_150346Boccaccio is considered one of the three great humanist writers from Italy, along with Dante Alighieri (c. 1265-1321) and Francesco Petrarca (1304-1374).  They were responsible for laying the foundations for a new humanist revival in re-examining the classical Roman and Greek works, and achieving a new literary style and standard that lasted for centuries – both Chaucer and Shakespeare were later influenced by Boccaccio, particularly his Decameron, the collection of 100 comic and tragic tales for which he is perhaps best known.


Illustration from Boccaccio’s “Amorous Fiametta” (London: Mandrake Press, 1929), a reprint of the first English translation of 1587

20130705_144103Boccaccio was a student of Petrarch, and later became his good friend. Both were leaders in the use of the Italian language for many of their works, in contrast to Latin which was the main language across much of Europe for literary and official purposes. Boccaccio himself was influenced by the works of Dante and was a great admirer, composing his Trattatello in laude di Dante (“Treatise in praise of Dante”) between 1350 and 1355.


“Genealogiae Ioannis Boccatii”, published in Venice, 1494/95, includes detailed family trees for the classical gods

Our exhibition has been set up to coincide with the major international conference, Locating Boccaccio in 2013, being held at the University of Manchester on 10-12 July 2013, and with the accompanying exhibition of Boccaccio works at the John Rylands Library. For more information about Boccaccio anniversary events, see http://locatingboccaccio.wordpress.com.


“Ameto, ouer, Comedia delle nimphe fiorentine” (Venice, 1524). This copy of Boccaccio’s work on the civilising nature of love comes from the collection of W. P. Lindsay Jones, which was purchased for the Cardiff Public Library in 1902 by a group of prominent citizens.

In the footsteps of Dante

In 1302 the Italian poet Dante Alighieri, author of the Divine Comedy, was permanently banished from his beloved Florence, the city of his birth. Forced to spend the rest of his life in political exile, Dante travelled throughout Italy wandering from city to city, and was eventually inspired to write about his journeys in the largely autobiographical Commedia.


Any scholar hoping to follow in Dante’s footsteps would do well to studyP1200500 these beautiful hand-coloured maps, produced in 1892 by the English artist Mary Hensman and now held in our Private Presses collection. They include all the places supposedly visited by Dante in his exile or named in his works. The first map shows the whole of Italy in the time of Dante, “Onorate L’Altissimo Poeta”, surrounded by an elaborate border made up of Guild emblems, while the other highlights Tuscany and central Italy.


The maps were produced in London by Charles Robert Ashbee’s Guild ofP1200502 Handicraft as coloured photolithographs, printed on a single large linen-backed sheet and folded into a maroon buckram case with Hensman’s preface and gazeteer mounted on the front pastedown. The hand-colouring was apparently completed by Hensman herself with Ashbee’s assistance.