Mardersteig's other Divine Comedy

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Mardersteig's other Divine Comedy

Editado: Nov 20, 11:13 am

Mardersteig's Stamperia Valdonega printed an edition of the Divine Comedy, translated by Thomas G. Bergin and published by Grossman Publishers in 1969. For a number of reasons, this editions is lesser known, from the more obscure imprint to the understated design. Even the copyright page only states ambiguously that it is printed in Italy.

However, the crafting and materials are quality, the translation is notable (and readable), and the edition rewards careful attention. It was released in three volumes with a relatively plain slipcase and is large quarto in page size.

A brief description from a Stamperia Valdonega exhibition catalog:

Each canto features multiple full-page illustrations by Leonard Baskin. The nihilistic intensity of Baskin's illustrations works well with the Inferno, but perhaps lends a sense of unwarranted hopelessness to the Purgatorio and Paradiso.

The design is purposeful in all respects, but, as noted above, is subtle. It carefully avoids all flashy elements. Even the gold stamped lettering on the spine fades into the sandy cloth. The illustrations at first glance often read visually as pencil sketches or rough ink washes, but almost all have regions of exacting detail, often around the faces.

The paper color is just barely warm enough to avoid sterile white, and is a laid sheet but (like all elements of the design) the pattern is not ostentatious.

Below are selected photos of the Inferno. You should be able to click through to see higher resolution photos on the image hosting site.;

The edition includes limited but useful endnotes explaining references for each canto:

Without further ado, the Inferno proper:

"... And we came forth once more to see the stars."

Nov 20, 11:31 am

I remember that Dante. It was published while I was working in a book store in Missoula, Montana. It was later remaindered, and I was tempted to purchase a copy at literally a bargain basement price, but ultimately decided against it. Baskin's illustrations just turned me off. It would appear they still do.

Nov 20, 11:59 am

Interesting take on the subject, I'm on the fence as to whether the illustrations work for me or not. I do like the vagueness, which is helpful in suggesting the unquantifiable aspects of Hell, but there are other elements to them that I don't care for.

This post comes at a very propitious time for me, as I was debating asking about the titles from the Elizabeth Press that were printed by Martino Mardersteig at Stamperia Valdonega on rag paper in the 1970/1980s. Is it safe to assume these are letterpress books? Here is one of the volumes in question:

(Apology for the threat hijack, but it seemed an apt place to ask.)

Nov 20, 12:35 pm

>1 abysswalker:

It shows up at auction quite a lot. I just don't really like Baskin but Stamperia Valdonega is top notch.

Nov 20, 3:25 pm

>3 Shadekeep: hijack away, the topic is of interest to me as well.

I'm not 100% sure when the Stamperia Valdonega added offset equipment (they did at some point) but I can check next time I'm near my books about books (later this week).

I think most of the SV output has been what we'd classify now as "letterpress" (automatic loading cylinder relief presses).

Nov 20, 11:09 pm

>5 abysswalker: Thanks kindly, and I do appreciate hearing more if you learn anything further. I want to think that the timeframe makes letterpress a bit more likely, but it's far from certain of course.