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Dante Alighieri - Divine Comedy, 1879

Dante Alighieri (Florence, 1265 - 1321, Ravenna)

Divine Comedy, 1879

Ink on paper bound in leather with silver decoration , 19.2 x 12.7 x 8.7 cm (7 9/16 x 5 x 3 7/16 in.)


Mrs. Gardner and her friend Francis Marion Crawford read Dante together in the winter of 1881 to 1882. Crawford, the cousin of Mrs. Gardner's friend and neighbor, Maud Howe, had been raised in Italy and spoke beautiful Italian. Their intense friendship was a source of much speculation and gossip at the time. In 1883, Crawford left Boston abruptly to return to Europe. Ten years later, on his return to America, he resumed his friendship with Mrs. Gardner. In the autumn of 1893, Crawford sent their modern copies of Dante's Comedy to Tiffany in New York to be interleaved and bound in an exquisite binding. The cover is dark green leather, and there are four silver mounts in the outer corners. One each mount, in Gothic script, is one word of the opening line of Dante's Vita Nova: "Hic Incipit Vita Nova" (Here begins the new life). While the outer design is Gothic, the inside cover has flowers and tendrils based on a sketch by Crawford. On each of the silver clasps is written: "The two are one." Written on the first page are two lines from Paradiso (33. 86-87): "Legato con amore in un volume / cio che per l'universo si squanderna" (Bound with love in one volume all that is scattered throughout the universe). In a letter of 1895 Crawford refers to the pleasure of reading from "the dear green Dante with its clasps and its Gothic corners."
-Rachel Jacoff in Alan Chong et al. (eds.) Eye of the Beholder: Masterpieces from the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum (Boston, 2003), pp. 72-73.