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MS. Holkham misc. 48

Dante, Divine Comedy, in Italian
North Italy, Genoa(?); 14th cent., third quarter

Physical description

Material Parchment of variable quality, the hair-and flesh sides often very different; the lower edges at the start of the book very ragged, and patched with other pieces of parchment before being decorated; the parchment of the Inferno section is generally inferior to that which follows.
Dimensions The leaves c. 355-60 x 235 mm.
Extent iii (paper) + 74 + iii (paper) leaves.
Foliation The main text paginated in 19th-cent. pencil 1-147, the last page of the text and the flyleaves paginated in late 20th-cent. pencil i-vi, 178-154.
Collation I8 (pp. 1-16), II-III10 (pp. 17-56) | IV-VI8 (pp. 57-104), VII-VIII2 (pp. 105-112) | IX8 (pp. 113-128), X10 (pp. 129-148); quire signatures at the top gutter corner of the first rectos, ['a1']-'k1'; quires arranged with a flesh-side outermost.
Ruling Ruled in leadpoint for 36-45 written lines per page, in 2 columns; the ruled space 210-50 x 180-200 mm.; prickings (sometimes double) often survive in the outer margin.
Script Written in a rounded Italian gothic script by more than one scribe, below top line, apparently with a change of hand at the start of Purgatorio.
Rubrication Rubrics in red introduce each canto; initial letters of verses stroked in red.
Sec. fol. 'Maio per che'.
Binding Typical Holkham binding of green straight-grained morocco over pasteboards, with the Holkham crest in gilt in the centre of the upper cover; the spine lettered in gilt 'COMMEDIA | DI | DANTE || MS. | DEL.SEC. | XIV.', and, at the bottom, '51[4]'.


(pp. 1-148) Dante, Divine Comedy, in Italian:


One historiated initial:
(p. 1) Dante sitting asleep on a hillside at the start of the Inferno

The lower border of every page with coloured drawings, occasionally using gold, illustrating the text; figures and scenes usually identified by inscriptions in red ink; the final page with an almost uncoloured ink drawing, possibly of Dante presenting his work to a dignitary with a retinue.

The miniatures of the three main textual sections appear to have been decorated by different artists.

About 150 digitised images showing all the major decoration, with descriptive captions, are available online. These derive from three of the more than 1,300 published Bodleian filmstrips and their accompanying handlists, and it should be noted that the information provided by the handlists has not been re-checked.

There is a large 'puzzle' initial in red and blue with red and purple penwork at the start of Purgatorio and Paradiso (pp. 57, 113); and three-line initials in red with purple penwork to each canto, one of them in red with fine penwork in brown ink (p. 141).


  1. One or more inscriptions are erased at the end of the text, perhaps partly in red ink.
  2. Occasional annotations and corrections to the text in early Italian hands, including whole omitted verses (e.g. at the end of Canto 18: 'Di quella soza ...'; p. 28).
  3. Bookplate of 'THOMAS WILLIAM COKE' (1754-1842) (upper pastedown), and signed 'Thos. Willm. Coke.' (p. ii); inscribed by his friend William Roscoe (1753-1831) 'The designs in this curious M.S. have great merit, when considered with reference to the very early period at which they were produced. [signed] W.R.' (p. iii); inscribed 'Cat. 2.' (p. 153) and '2' (p. 1, top gutter corner) in 19th-cent. pencil; formerly Norfolk, Holkham Hall, MS. 514, inscribed with this number in pencil (p. iii).


W. Roscoe, 'Some account of the manuscript library at Holkham, in Norfolk, belonging to T. W. Coke, Esq', Transactions of the Royal Society of Literature of the United Kingdom, 2 (1834), 352-79, at 370.

William Roscoe, Proof impressions of engravings, designed to illustrate Mr. Roscoe's catalogue of the manuscript library at Holkham (n.p., 1835, 'not published'), pl. 24.

Paul Colomb de Batines, ed., Bibliografia dantesca (2 vols., Prato, F. Alberghetti, 1845-6), II: 268 no. 511.

Edward Moore, ed., Contributions to the textual criticism of the Divina commedia: including the complete collation throughout the Inferno of all the MSS. at Oxford and Cambridge (Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 1889), 605 (siglum 's').

C. W. James, 'Some notes on the manuscript library at Holkham', The Library, 2, 4th series (1922), 213-37, at 228.

Seymour de Ricci, A handlist of manuscripts in the library of the Earl of Leicester at Holkham Hall: abstracted from the catalogues of William Roscoe and Frederic Madden (Supplement to the Bibliographical Society's transactions, 7) (Oxford, The Bibliographical Society, 1932), 46 no. 514.

Peter Brieger, Millard Meiss, and Charles S. Singleton, Illuminated manuscripts of the Divine Comedy (2 vols., London, Routledge & Kegal Paul, 1970 ('1969')), I, 252-7 and passim; II, many pls.

W. O. Hassall, ed., The Holkham library: illuminations and illustrations in the manuscript library of the Earl of Leicester (Oxford, The Roxburghe Club, 1970), 2-4, 26, pls. 77-84.

Mario Rotili, I codici danteschi miniati a Napoli (Libreria scientifica editrice, 1972), 53-6, 72-7, pls. I-V.

A. C. de la Mare, 'Further manuscripts from Holkham Hall', Bodleian Library Record, 10 (1982), 327-38, at 333-4.

W. O. Hassall, 'Holkham manuscripts acquired for the Nation', Apollo, [117?] (1983), 83-86, 85 figs. 2-3, 86, 86 fig. 4.

A. C. de la Mare, 'Further Italian illuminated manuscripts in the Bodleian Library', in Emanuela Sesti, ed. La miniatura italiana tra gotico e Rinascimento: atti del II Congresso di storia della miniatura italiana Cortona 24-26 settembre 1982 (Storia della miniatura, 6) (Leo S. Olschki Editore, Florence, 1985), 127-54, 131 no. 7.

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Page created 28 March 2000 by PJK; revised 09 October 2003 by LwM. © Bodleian Library