'Italy's Three Crowns' exhibition opens at Bodleian Library

19 June 2007


dante_openingThe summer exhibition in the Bodleian Library, Oxford, which features three Italian authors known as the ‘Three Crowns’, Dante, Petrarch and Boccaccio, opened to the public today.


Italian literature is unique in Europe because it began with three great masterpieces: Dante’s Comedy (1306/7-21), Petrarch’s Canzoniere or Book of Poems (begun c. 1336), and Boccaccio’s Decameron (1349-50). These three authors soon came to be known as the Tre Corone or Three Crowns. The exhibition celebrates the vast influence which these writers had on other European literatures.


The Bodleian Library contains one of the most important collections of Italian literary works outside Italy. The biggest donation of such works was the bequest of nearly 4,000 volumes left by the great Oxford Dante scholar Paget Toynbee (1855-1932). Some of the Library’s most precious manuscripts of works by Dante, Petrarch and Boccaccio are on display in the exhibition, and include one of the earliest illustrated manuscripts of Dante’s Comedy from the 1340s.


The exhibition starts by illustrating the literary and artistic reception given to the three writers in the late Middle Ages and Renaissance.   It then documents the revival of interest in Dante during the last 200 years; included are two of Dante Gabriel Rossetti’s most famous paintings inspired by Dante’s book of verse Vita Nova. It finishes with material work on the Inferno by the contemporary artist Tom Phillips. Phillips’s Dante Archive has recently been purchased by the Bodleian Library.


The exhibition includes a 35-minute film Dante on Screen, with excerpts from L’Inferno by Giuseppe de Liguoro (2004) and the 1990 Channel 4 television production A TV Dante.


Richard Ovenden, Keeper of Special Collections and Western Manuscripts, said: ‘This is a unique opportunity to see masterpieces from Oxford in celebration of Dante, Petrarch and Boccaccio. From spectacular medieval manuscripts and early printed editions to the work of major contemporary artists such as Tom Phillips, the exhibits illustrate the impact of Italy’s three great writers in Britain and the western world throughout history.’


The exhibition is being held to coincide with a major conference, the fifth international Dante Seminar at Somerville College, Oxford and the Taylor Institution on 20-22 September 2007. The seminar, which is held every three years, will have a session devoted to the extraordinary contribution made by British scholars, and particularly Paget Toynbee, to Dante studies in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.


A lavishly illustrated book to accompany the exhibition is published by the Bodleian Library this week: Italy’s Three Crowns: Reading Dante, Petrarch, and Boccaccio, edited by Zygmunt Barański and Martin McLaughlin (in the photograph - see below). It is available from www.bodleianbookshop.co.uk



The exhibition 'Italy's Three Crowns: Dante, Petrach, and Boccaccio' is open 19 June – 31 October 2007 in the Bodleian Library Exhibition Room, Old Schools Quadrangle, Catte Street, Monday to Friday 9 am to 5 pm, Saturday 9 am-4.30 pm. Admission free.


(The photograph, taken at last night's official opening, shows Zygmunt Barański (left), Serena Professor of Italian at the University of Cambridge, and  Martin McLaughlin (right), Fiat-Serena Professor of Italian Studies in the University of Oxford, with the First Minister at the Italian Embassy, Giovanni Brauzzi, and his wife.)

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