• Danica Micallef

Dante's Divine Comedy with the Giorgione Illustration: The Highest Valued Book in Australia

In February 2019 Abergower Digital had the honour of working with the University of Sydney’s Rare Books collection to digitise the highest valued book in Australia. The historically significant 1497 copy of Dante’s Divine Comedy, which in 2017 was discovered to have within its pages a death notice of renaissance artist Giorgione, accompanied by a red chalk sketch of the Madonna and her child by the artist.

Giorgione is considered the rarest of the Venetian artists, with only six surviving paintings attributed firmly to him. Along with Da Vinci and Titian, he founded the Venetian School of Italian Renaissance painting, however, much less is known about his life than his contemporaries and so few of his works survive. As such the discovery of this illustration was extremely exciting.

Scanning this book presented several challenges, most notably its value, age and condition all necessitated extremely careful handling of the material. Further, the book had been rebound prior to arriving at the University of Sydney, meaning it was somewhat misaligned. Abergower developed a customised digitisation system, consisting of a specialised cradle to ensure the book was fully supported during digitisation. Abergower was able to produce high quality scans of this most valuable book, which can be viewed in full on the Fisher Library website. Fisher Library holds several liturgical manuscripts and texts from the 1400s which have been digitised by Abergower. These books range in size from that of a pocket bible, to the size of a coffee table, and may consist of paper, vellum, cracking parchment, linen, worn leather, wood, metal and gold leaf. While they present a challenge to scan, the opportunity to work with such beautiful, old objects is always a joy to our staff- big history nerds that we are.

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