Unique Dante archive is purchased by Bodleian Library

  • 19 April 2007

A major archive relating to one of the most important artist's books of the 20th century - Dante's Inferno by Tom Phillips RA - has been bought by the Bodleian Library, with a £9,000 grant from The Art Fund.

The total cost of the acquisition was £18,800, with additional funding coming from the MLA/V&A Purchase Grant Fund and the Library’s support group, the Friends of the Bodleian.

Dante’s Inferno represents the first - and most famous - part of The Divine Comedy (1308-21) by the Italian poet Dante Alighieri, which tells of a journey through the three realms of the dead. The Inferno illustrates the poet’s vision of the hierarchy of Hell and the gruesome punishments meted out on its residents.

Tom Philips’ translation, edition and illustrated publication of Dante’s Inferno is one of the most important private press books to be published in the post-war period. The archive (c.1976-86), which has just been bought by the Bodleian directly from the artist, contains all surviving artwork including a complete set of final prints, working drawings, artist’s proofs, trial sheets, correspondence with other artists including Frank Auerbach, and specially bound copies of the book.

An alumnus of Oxford University, it was the artist’s own preference that the archive found a home at the Bodleian.

Part of the archive will go on display as part of the Library’s summer exhibition ‘The Three Crowns of Italy: Dante, Petrarch and Boccaccio’ (19 June - 31 October), timed to coincide with a major Dante conference to be held in Oxford in September.

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