Guide to the Research Collections

- Section -- II: -- THE HUMANITIES


Italian belles-lettres are collected comprehensively. The growth of the collections in this area is indicated by the following:

1854 Astor Library1,761 volumes
1921 New York Public Library7,536

The holdings of Italian literature form a good working collection, with historical and critical studies for all periods and an excellent representation of literary periodicals. Approximately one-third of the material consists of plays and works related to the drama. While the resources devoted to Dante and Petrarch do not compare in size to those for Shakespeare or Cervantes, they do include a good representation of early editions and translations into English, French, German, and other languages.

Most Italian Renaissance authors are held in later editions. The major figures of the seventeenth through the nineteenth centuries are well represented, even though no single author is collected exhaustively. Holdings from the 1920s are uneven, yet the recognized classics are generally available in reprints or new editions, if not in their first editions. Since 1960 the output of the major Italian publishers of belles-lettres has been acquired.

Among the journals in the collection are the early Biblioteca italiana (1816-39), and the Giornale storico della litteratura italiana (1883-, incomplete), Nuova antologia (1886-, incomplete), and Lettere italiane (1949- ). The library currently receives approximately 20 Italian literary journals. Literary collections include Classici italiani (1802-18) and sets for the drama such as Teatro italiano antico and Teatro italiano contemporanco.

Notable additions to the collections of Italian literature came with the George Bancroft library, acquired by the Lenox Library in 1894, which contained about 1,000 volumes relating to French and Italian literature. In 1901, L.E. Opdycke gave 29 editions of Castiglione's Il libro del cortegiano, published between 1528 and 1901.


Translations from other languages into Italian are not acquired. Certain exceptions to the policy indicate the type of decision made in special cases; for example, the library buys Italian translations of the work of Ezra Pound, and has a first edition of Boris Pasternak's Dr. Zhivago, first published in Italian translation. The Piccolo Teatro of Milan issues editions of the plays it produces, many in translation, and in this manner a number of Italian texts of plays from other languages enter the collections.

The Berg Collection contains several first editions of English translations of the Italian classics, among them the Fairefax translation of Tasso's Godfrey of Bulloigne (1600); an anonymous English translation, published by Iaggard, of Boccaccio's The Decameron (1620); Edward Dacres's translation of Machiavelli (1636); Leigh Hunt's version of Tasso's Amyntas (1820), with a 113-page holograph; and Longfellow's translation of The Divine Comedy (1867).


The Dante collection is a strong one, including early editions and translations into many languages. Periodicals devoted to the poet include Dante Studies, Deutsches Dantejahrbuch, and Studi Danteschi.

Among the incunabula in the Spencer Collection are a copy of the first Florentine edition of the Divina commedia (1481) with the commentary of Christoforo Landino, and both the March and November 1491 Venetian editions. The 1502 Aldine printing of Le terze rime in the Rare Book Division is in the small format popular for sixteenth-century texts. Also in the Rare Book Division is a copy of the first edition of the Vita nuova (1576). An interesting association item is John Milton's copy of L'amoroso convivio di Dante (1529).8


A manuscript held by the Manuscripts and Archives Division contains Petrarch's Trionfi and Canzoniere. It has eleven miniatures, including

-------------------------------------------- page 108
illustrations of the triumphs of Amor, Chastity, Death, Fame, and Eternity. The miniature for Canzoniere shows Petrarch standing near a laurel tree attended by two muses. Decorative designs and mottos in verse face the illustrations.

A number of Spencer Collection manuscripts relate to Boccaccio's De claris mulieribus. A fifteenth-century French illuminated manuscript entitled Des clères et nobles femmes contains seventy-six small miniatures. A South German manuscript has pen and wash illustrations based on the 1473 Ulm printed edition.