Skip to Main Content

Lady Margaret Hall Library: Dante Illustrators

The library hosts one or two exhibitions each year, a chance for everyone to see some of our rare books collections. Have a look at our current exhibitions to see what's on at the moment: . If you are interested in viewing any objects from exhibitions in person, you can always make an appointment (email - we can normally open most weekdays during working hours.

We've also made colouring sheets showing some of our favourite items from the exhibitions:

Batten's Illustrations for Musgrave's Inferno

1 of 3 | Musgrave's Translation

George Musgrave (1855–1932) collected editions of Dante whilst preparing an English translation of Dante’s Inferno, and commissioned John D. Batten (1860–1932), a noted illustrator of folk tales, to produce a set of 44 woodcuts to accompany his edition. Sadly, the edition was only published in 1933, after their deaths. 

Dante's Inferno: a version in the Spenserian stanza / by George Musgrave, with forty-four illustrations by John D. Batten (London, 1933)

Two engrave printing blocks depicting the same scene, Dante and Virgil on the back of a giant flying creature. One is a woodblock, one a copper plate.

2 of 3 | Printing blocks

Musgrave left all of his Dante collections to LMH. This included a set of large collotypes of Batten’s illustrations, with multiple copies of each image, as well as the printing blocks (displayed here) and printer’s proofs.

A colotype depicting Dante and Virgil on the back of a giant flying creature.

3 of 3 | Colotypes

For many years the complete collection of collotypes hung in the corridor opposite the Chapel corridor, leading it to be known as ‘Hell’s Passage’ – there are still 3 of them hanging there now. In 2021, to mark the 700th anniversary of Dante’s death, the collection was hung in the Jerwood Room and the LMH Fellow Peter Hainsworth published a book including pictures of all of them, available on Amazon by clicking here

Other Illustrators of Dante

1 of 9 | Early engravings

The first printed edition of La commedia dates from 1472. Lady Margaret Hall’s Dante collection includes three books from the early 16th century, all illustrated:  two editions and a commentary. LMH has a major Dante collection, including over 300 books. This collection started in 1919 with the gift of Lucy Ethel Willock’s collection, including our 16th century editions, and expanded with the George Musgrave bequest in 1932.

To aid comparison of the many artists who have tackled Dante’s work, the selection of illustrated editions in this exhibition are all open to Canto XVII. In this Canto Dante sees the usurers sitting on the ground, with purses around their necks showing their family crests. The flying monster Geryon, with an innocent human face, a colourful serpentine body and a scorpion’s sting, then carries Dante and Virgil on his back from Circle VII to Circle VIII.

La Comedia / di Dante Aligieri, con la nova espositione di Alessandro Vellutello (Venice, 1544)

2 of 9 | Sandro Botticelli

Sandro Botticelli (c. 1445–1510) was an Italian Early Renaissance painter, most famous today for his Birth of Venus, Primavera, and Venus and Mars. He was also fascinated by Dante, producing illustrations of the Inferno for an early edition as well as a spectacular complete illustrated Divine Comedy on sheepskin for Lorenzo di Pierfrancesco de' Medici (reproduced here). Sadly this last work was never fully completed, with outline drawings being made for most cantos but only a few were coloured. They are famous for their faithful and detailed reproduction of the scenes as described by Dante.

This book was part of the George Musgrave bequest.

Drawings / by Sandro Botticelli, for Dante’s Divina Commedia (London, 1896)

3 of 9 | John Flaxman

John Flaxman (1755–1826) was a sculptor and artist who worked for Wedgwood and designed monumental graves but gained the most fame producing illustrations for books. After producing illustrations of the works of Homer for Georgiana Hare-Naylor he was commissioned by Thomas Hope to produce this series of the Divine Comedy. These illustrations were hugely important as a reference for many 19th-century artists.

LMH also owns his edition of 1807, but it was too large to display in the exhibition. The volume here was given to LMH from the library of Professor Cecil Grayson.

Flaxman e Dante / a cura di Corrado Gizzi (Milan, 1986)

4 of 9 | William Blake

William Blake (1757–1827) was working on a set of Dante illustrations for John Linnell from autumn 1824 to his death. He completed the series of designs, but sadly most of them were only preliminary sketches and only seven had been turned into engravings nearing completion. Looking closely at the picture reveals the stages which Blake undertook: the background figures have only been loosely added in pencil; Dante and Virgil have been slightly more worked on but are unfinished; whilst Geryon is much further advanced.

Dante’s Divine Comedy: the complete drawings / William Blake (Köln, 2020)

5 of 9 | Gustave Doré

This edition was illustrated by Gustave Doré (1832–1883), who is seen by many as the greatest 19th-century woodcut engraver. He started work as a caricaturist for Le Journal pour rire, and also worked on editions of Byron, the Bible, Milton, Dante, Cervantes, Coleridge, and Tennyson, among others.

This book was given to us by Joseph Churchill.

The Vision of Hell / by Dante Alighieri, translated by the Rev. Henry Francis Cary, and illustrated with the designs of M. Gustave Doré (London, 1872)

6 of 9 | Alberto Martini

Alberto Martini (1876–1954) was an Italian artist, considered by some a precursor to the Surrealists, whose work included illustrations for a number of books – including Dante, Edgar Allan Poe, and Shakespeare’s Hamlet.

La Divina Commedia / Dante Alighieri, illustrata da Alberto Martini (Milan, 2012)

7 of 9 | Salvador Dalí

In 1950, to celebrate the 700th anniversary of Dante’s birth, the Italian government commissioned Salvador Dalí (1904–1989) to produce a set of illustrations of Dante’s work. There was a huge outrage at the idea of getting a Spanish atheist to illustrate something so distinctively Italian and Catholic, which led to the government cancelling the commission – but Dalí was already hooked on the project, and continued working. Finally, they found a home with the publisher Joseph Forêt’s Editions d’art Les Heures Claires, who produced the complete set of 100 prints, one for each canto.

Dalí, Illustrator / Eduard Fornés (Paris, 2016)

8 of 9 | Monika Beisner

Dante’s work continues to provoke interest today, and this set of illustrations by Monika Beisner (1942–) perfectly captures the description of Geryon as painted all over with nodes and orbits, with colours more variegated than any embroidered cloth. Beisner started her career as a children’s book illustrator, and has also illustrated Ovid's Metamorphoses.

Donated by the artist, Monika Beisner, 2002.

Die Göttliche Komödie / Dante Alighieri, Deutsch von Karl Vossler, mit farbigen Illustrationen von Monika Beisner (Leipzig, 2001)

9 of 9 | Lorenzo Mattotti

Lorenzo Mattotti (1954–) is an Italian comics artist and illustrator, famous for his comics Fires and Dr Jekyll & Mr Hyde. This volume is one of three made by Edizioni Nuages, alongside a Purgatorio illustrated by Milton Glaser and a Paradiso illustrated by Moebius, all of which are held in LMH Library.

La Divina Commedia: Inferno / Dante Alighieri, illustrazioni di Lorenzo Mattotti (Milano, 2006)

Contact the Library

LMH Special Collections are open to visitors by appointment (email during staffed hours, Monday to Friday, 9.30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. and 2 p.m. to 5 p.m.

Lady Margaret Hall Library
Norham Gardens
United Kingdom


Telephone: (01865) 274361

The librarian, Jamie

Jamie Fishwick-Ford

(Librarian, they/them)

Sally Hamer

(Assistant Librarian, she/her)