“Una eredità inaspettata”: the new exhibition at the Istituto degli Innocenti from November 18 to December 28

Nine 14th-century fragments of Dante’s Comedy will be exhibited

Fragments of Dante’s Comedy

The exhibition titled Una eredità inaspettata (An unexpected legacy) that will be hosted at the Museo degli Innocenti from November 18 to December 28 tells a fascinating story. Nine parchments with verses from Dante’s Comedy will be on show. The handwritten pages belong to a 14th-century text, preserved in the historical archive of the Istituto degli Innocenti and never before exhibited to the public.

The nine pages had been used as carte di guardia (guard pages) according to book practices that reused historic parchments. They were used within 16th-century accounting registers belonging to the Violi family that were kept in the archives of the Institute, and form part of the Violi family’s legacy in 1594. The books which were the keepers of Dante’s verses are five 16th-century registers of the Violi family, who were Florentine wool makers and dyers. The forefather Lorenzo was a famous notary who was awarded public offices and is remembered for transcriptions of Savonarola’s sermons. Ser Lorenzo includes the Ospedale degli Innocenti as his beneficiary and his grandchild Jacopo appointed them as sole heir in 1594. Here comes the unexpected inheritance that gives the exhibition its title: in the midst of these accounting books, pages by Dante were discovered in 1912 which had been inserted purely for practical reasons but which today have great value.

Their recovery is the result of careful research and work, and is also thanks to the Violi registers that have made it possible to go back, for example, to that stationer in via della Condotta who in 1580 bound the accounting books by reusing the parchments on which we find the Comedy.

Inauguration “Una eredità inaspettata”

What are the parchments on display at the Innocenti

Dante’s works were already widely spread in the 14th century. The Divine Comedy was the most transcribed literary text ever, second only to the Bible. Very often, the handwritten versions of the Comedy were not intact books, but loose fragments. Dante’s poem was transmitted through an unknown number of manuscripts by copyists and scribes, of which over eight hundred copies still survive. Many transcriptions also reveal alterations to the text due to lexical and orthographic changes, to the point that there are no two identical versions among the numerous manuscripts we have.

The Innocenti parchments would have been replaced by the printed book. The Divine Comedy is the first text printed in Italian. The old manuscripts were considered “useless” and the practice of reusing medieval parchments for binding new ones spread.

Stationers and bookbinders are well aware of the virtues in binding parchments, given that they are durable and resistant. To reuse them, they were separated from their original codex and inserted into modern volumes to reinforce the covers as “guard papers”, thus protecting the internal pages. This practice guaranteed the production of good quality books and records at low cost, a necessary requirement for those who made constant use of them such as merchants, accountants and notaries.

The exhibition is set up in the Sala San Giovanni and is visible as part of the entrance ticket costing 6 euros (includes the museum route and the “Una eredità inaspettata” and “Jenny Saville” exhibitions). More details on the website www.museodeglinnocenti.it.

The museum is open from 11am to 6pm daily (except Tuesdays when it’s closed).