The new exhibition at Cambridge University Library’s Exhibition Centre is ’‘Visible language: Dante in text and image’, which celebrates the Italian poet Dante Alighieri (1265–1321).

Dante’s works have been transcribed and translated, annotated and adapted, printed and illustrated for successive generations of readers from the fourteenth century right up to the present day. From the youthful lover of the Vita nova to the marvellous journey through the afterlife of Hell, Purgatory, and Paradise in the Divine comedy, Dante’s works continue to challenge and inspire modern audiences.

This exhibition looks at how Dante has been interpreted in text and image over seven centuries of book production. It brings together manuscripts and printed books, illustrations and fine bindings—all created to make Dante’s words visible, or themselves inspired by Dante’s writings. It includes material relating to the geography of Hell and the cosmology of Paradise, the popular cult of Dante, and his influence on modern artists and writers such as Salvador Dali, Tom Phillips, Jorges Luis Borges and Anne Stevenson.

The display draws on Cambridge University Library’s own collections and the private library of the collector Livio Ambrogio.

University Librarian Peter Fox said: ‘We are delighted to have the opportunity to collaborate with Livio Ambrogio on this exhibition. His marvellous collection complements the Library’s holdings superbly. Many of our own Dante books passed through the hands of noted scholars before coming to the Library, and we hope visitors will enjoy the exhibits as much as the collectors to whose enthusiasm for Dante we owe so much.’

The free exhibition runs until 1 July, open to the general public between 9 a.m. and 6 p.m. Monday to Friday and 9 a.m. to 4.30 p.m. on Saturday (closed on Sundays and over Easter, 14-17 April inclusive).

Major items on display include:

  • Fifteenth-century manuscripts of works by Dante.
  • The first portrait of Dante to appear in a printed book, 1521.
  • Autograph annotations by the poet William Blake (1757–1827) in an eighteenth-century translation of Dante’s ‘Inferno’.
  • The 1909 Ashendene Press edition of Dante’s complete works, generally considered one of the ‘triple crown’ of fine press printing.
  • An autograph manuscript of Nobel prize-winner Jorge Luis Borges (1899–1986) of one his articles on Dante.
  • Colourful artwork by modern illustrators inspired by Dante’s works.

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