Posted: March 25th 2021
by Mac Graham
This year will mark the 700th anniversary of the death of Dante Alighieri, known as the father of the Italian language. In anticipation of this, the Italian government named 25th March as Dantedì (or Dante Day). This date was chosen because it is the one given by scholars for the start of the journey to the afterlife in Dante’s most famous work, the Divine Comedy.
To mark the day, we are reproducing a pamphlet describing a rather special loan, made by the 3rd Earl of Leicester, 100 years ago this year. In a unique event, the Earl loaned all of Holkham’s amazing manuscript copies of the Divine Comedy to the Norwich Library. He also loaned the only manuscript copy of Dante’s Convivio (The Banquet) in private hands in Britain.
Click here to read this exhibition pamphlet
One hundred years later, Lord Leicester has a very active loans policy. Two important manuscripts have recently come back from a loan to Cambridge and two important paintings by Claude have just been re-hung after visiting Sweden.
These days, the ‘sustainability’ of the collection is paramount. Each loan request is carefully vetted before it is agreed. We must assess the condition of the items requested, and how recently they have been loaned before. We also assess the nature of the exhibition, the critical approach to its subject, the nature of the organising institution, and the exhibition’s curators. Criteria regarding light levels and how the items are to be displayed will also be agreed upon.
Once these issues are agreed, however, Lord Leicester’s instinct is to allow loans to go ahead, where practical. This ensures Holkham’s treasures are seen by the widest possible audience around the world.
Later this season, restrictions permitting, we hope to be able to put on a special event marking the 700th anniversary of the great Italian philosopher and poet, so please watch this space!
This the image is of the earliest manuscript of Dante’s Comedia at Holkham [MS. 513, fol. 60 recto], made in the 14th century. It shows a beautifully illuminated capital from the beginning of the third book, Paradiso.