You Were Not Made to Print as Brutes

A collection of ex libris Dante-themed

P. F. 1983 - Hans F. Kruse (1983) by Helmut ArndtBiblioteca Sormani

... but to be followers of worth and knowledge.

A visual and sound experience of Dante's Divine Comedy. The three canticles read through the engraving techniques turn into a "new" human journey of knowledge, in the wake of the fanciful warning: Fatti non foste a 'tipografar' come bruti.

The ex libris gallery by some international contemporary and last century artists (Karol Izakovic Podolinsky, Furio De Denaro, Enrico Vannuccini, Angelo Sampietro, Danila Denti and others) will guide you throughout the online exhibition. They have been dedicated to important printers, including Mauro Mainardi.

Ex libris Werner Daniel (1979) by J. W. KuznetovBiblioteca Sormani

Did you know that good printers can brave Hell?


If not, let's flip these ex libris pages and join Dante in his descent: they will be our gateway from darkness to light! Just remind to open wide your eyes and you ears. Ready?

When I had journeyed half of our life’s way...

H. Fogedgaard ex libris, Lew Beketow, From the collection of: Biblioteca Sormani
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Untitled (1985) by Zdenek MezlBiblioteca Sormani

The three Beasts: a leopard, a lion and a she-wolf

And almost where the hillside starts to rise - 
look there! - a leopard, very quick and lithe, 
a leopard covered with a spotted hide.

He did not disappear from sight, but stayed; 
indeed, he so impeded my ascent
that I had often to turn back again.

(Inferno I, vv. 31-36)

so was I when I faced that restless beast
which, even as she stalked me, step by step
had thrust me back to where the sun is speechless.

While I retreated down to lower ground,
before my eyes there suddenly appeared
one who seemed faint because of the long silence.

(Inferno I, vv. 58-63)

Ex libris Mauro Mainardi (1998) by Karol Ondreicka filsBiblioteca Sormani

Dante Inferno I

Can you see who hides behind the dark forest?

He's the wise Virgilio, representing the power of ratio against the scary wildness of the beasts. Dante finds Virgilio after he meets the she-wolf, an allegory of greed... Miserere!

Better to have a guide to painfully ascend towards the light... the light the Heedless will never find!

They chase naked for eternity a white sign running fast and turning on itself, while wasps and flies never stop to sting them. Their blood and tears is then sucked by worms...

“The world will let no fame of theirs endure;
both justice and compassion must disdain them;
let us not talk of them, but look and pass.”

(Inferno III, vv. 49-51)

Juvat empta labore gloria ex libris Giovanni Botta (1948) by Enrico VannucciniBiblioteca Sormani

Virgilio Inferno III

Juvat empta labore gloria!

The Heedless are confined to Antinferno as they are despised even by Devils. In life they have never chosen between Good and Evil nor have they ever taken side politically. 

Would you have imagined that a pope also belongs to this circle? His name is Celestino V. Refusing the pontificate, he caused the rise of Pope Bonifacio VIII - the poet's bitter enemy.

After I had identified a few,
I saw and recognized the shade of him
who made, through cowardice, the great refusal.

(Inferno III, vv. 58-60)

So neither Heedless nor Popes deserve salvation: only Glory gained with toil favors men!
And that's why Dante becomes part of the highest poets line...

Dr Mauro Mainardi Ex Libris (1999) by A. CzestochowaBiblioteca Sormani

Virgilio Inferno IV

Dante's investiture among the ancient Greek and Latin poets

Virgilio points out to Dante the four great ancient poets and they know how to honor the Florentine poet.

and even greater honor then was mine, 
for they invited me to join their ranks - 
I was the sixth among such intellects.

(Inferno IV, vv. 100-102) 

Let's drop in on the Seventh Circle: here the Suicide cry, in the middle of a hostile nature. They were turned into plants after violently separating from their bodies. In this dark wood you will not find holy birds invoking mercy with their singing, but the monstrous Arpie announcing curses! They are half birds with huge bellies and hideous human faces... ugh!

Ex Libris Mauro Mainardi (05-02) by Stefano PatroneBiblioteca Sormani

This is the nesting place of the foul Harpies...

... who chased the Trojans from the Strophades 
with sad foretelling of their future trials.
Their wings are wide, their necks and faces human; 
their feet are taloned, their great bellies feathered; 
they utter their laments on the strange trees. 

(Inferno XIII, vv. 10-15)

Virgilio tells Dante to break a branch and when he finally takes the courage to do it, a scream leaks out with blood... He is Pier della Vigna, the close aide of Federico II:

I am the one who guarded both the keys
of Frederick’s heart and turned them, locking and
unlocking them with such dexterity

that none but I could share his confidence;
and I was faithful to my splendid office,
so faithful that I lost both sleep and strength.

(Inferno XIII, vv. 58-63)

Untitled, Remo Wolf, 1981, From the collection of: Biblioteca Sormani
Carlo Chiesa Ex Libris, A. Poliakov, From the collection of: Biblioteca Sormani
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“Why do you break me off? / Are you without all sentiment of pity? / We once were men and now are arid stumps: / your hand might well have shown us greater mercy / had we been nothing more than souls of serpents.”  (Inferno XIII, vv. 35-39)

Pier della Vigna is not the only one blamed with treason! In Inferno XXVIII Sowers of discord swear loudly...

E. L. Mauro Mainardi (2001) by Danila DentiBiblioteca Sormani

That traitor...

"... who sees only with one eye
and rules the land which one who’s here with me 
would wish his sight had never seen, will call 

Guido and Angiolello to a parley,
and then will so arrange it that they’ll need 
no vow or prayer to Focara’s wind!”

(Inferno XXVIII, vv. 85-90)

Let's leave Hell and start to get close to the second kingdom... Dante raises his voice and his spirit to enter the Purgatorio...

P. F. 1968 (1968) by [Marina]Biblioteca Sormani

Welcome to... almost Paradise! Dante's arrival in Purgatorio

To course across more kindly waters now 
my talent’s little vessel lifts her sails,
leaving behind herself a sea so cruel;

and what I sing will be that second kingdom, 
in which the human soul is cleansed of sin, 
becoming worthy of ascent to Heaven.

(Purgatorio I, vv. 1-6)

Ex Libris Mauro Mainardi (1999) by Augustinas Virgilijus BurbaBiblioteca Sormani

Dante Purgatorio XI

Do the Proudest Hearts pray?

Purgatorio is where prayer helps souls to atone for their sins.
Dante realizes that he has been saved.

For such pride, here one pays the penalty;
and I’d not be here yet, had it not been
that, while I still could sin, I turned to Him.

O empty glory of the powers of humans!

(Purgatorio XI, vv. 88-91)

Ex Libris Mauro Mainardi by Fabrizio BombinoBiblioteca Sormani

Sapìa Purgatorio XIII

The Envious host...

Sapìa senese asks Dante to remember her to her loved ones and to clear her reputation. 

"I was not sapient, though I was called Sapia;
and I rejoiced far more at others’ hurts
than at my own good fortune". 

(Purgatorio XIII, vv. 109-111)

Ex Libris Mauro Mainardi (2002) by Furio De DenaroBiblioteca Sormani

Guido del Duca Purgatorio XIV

"Oh Romagnuoli bastardi!"

"Where is good Lizio? Arrigo Mainardi?
Pier Traversaro? Guido di Carpigna?
O Romagnoles returned to bastardy!"

(Purgatorio XIV, vv. 97-99)

Ex Libris Mauro Mainardi (2001) by Angelo SampietroBiblioteca Sormani

Greedy souls...

Dante fights against his doubts: how can these greedy souls be so thin?
... the greedier they are, the more insatiable they become!

“How can one grow lean
where there is never need for nourishment?”

(Purgatorio XXV, vv. 20-21)

Dante ex libris (1939) by Enrico VannucciniBiblioteca Sormani

It's now time to deal with the highest subject of the Comedy

When he arrives in Paradise, Dante is finally blessed by the voice of Beatrice... even if she reproaches him at the beginning of this canticle. Dante's mind is purified from any sin and that's how the most powerful light gets in him...

(Paradiso V, vv. 7-12; Paradiso XXIII, vv. 46-48)

Untitled (1982) by Karel BenesBiblioteca Sormani

Beatrice Paradiso V

Passing beyond the human cannot be / worded

Dante is now beyond the human condition as Beatrice says:

"Indeed I see that in your intellect
now shines the never - ending light; once seen, 
that light, alone and always, kindles love; 

and if a lesser thing allure your love,
it is a vestige of that light which - though 
imperfectly - gleams through that lesser thing".

Beatrice Paradiso XXIII

Open your eyes and look at me!

“Open your eyes and see what I now am;
the things you witnessed will have made you strong 
enough to bear the power of my smile.”

(Paradiso XXIII, vv. 46-48 )

Ex Libris P.F. 2004 M. Mainardi (2004) by Angelo SampietroBiblioteca Sormani

The Wise Spirits in the Fourth Heaven of Paradise

Here they dance and sing with grace.

The singing and the dance fulfilled their measure; 
and then those holy lights gave heed to us, 
rejoicing as they turned from task to task.

(Paradiso XIII, vv. 28-30)

P. F. Linoryt Igor Rumansky (1984) by Karol Izakovic PodolinskyBiblioteca Sormani

Dante Paradiso XXX

The Empyrean and the new inexpressible Beauty of Beatrice

Dante sighs full of wonder and of Love for poetry: now he is allowed to see God and to feel a complete religious fulfilment.

(Paradiso XXX, vv. 28-33)

Credits: Story

The ex libris reproduced are part of the Historical Collection of the Sormani Library (Fondo Enrico Vannuccini and Raccolta di Ex libris Sergio Guidi).

The exhibition itinerary is part of the "Dante in Sormani" project promoted and curated by the Library's Enhancement Office on the occasion of the 700th anniversary of the death of Dante Alighieri.
Graphics and editing by Benedetta Buttarelli. 
Voices by Massimo Dolci, Diego Finazzi, Pietro Gambacorta and Carolina Tomassi.

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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