A particularly noteworthy innovation of the 1481 Florentine edition was
the intended iconographic program. The designs were conceived by Botticelli
and executed somewhat crudely by Baccio Baldini, a Florentine goldsmith
and engraver active between 1460 and 1485. To Botticelli are attributed
two sets of drawings for the Comedy, the first set intended for the
1481 edition, and another group commissioned by Lorenzo Pierfrancesco de'
Medici which resulted in the very beautiful illustrations for the entire
poem today found in folio manuscripts in Berlin and at the Vatican. Botticelli
completed only nineteen of the illustrations of the Inferno for the
According to one tradition, Botticelli may have interrupted work to go to
Rome where he was called to paint the Sistine chapel, leaving Baccio Baldini
without anything to engrave. On the other hand, the project's failure may
have been due in part to the technical difficulties involved in combining
the printing of the text with a second intaglio process for the engravings.
The edition was meant to include one hundred illustrations, since at the
head of each canto a space was left to receive one. Some copies of the edition
have no illustrations. Others have only two. Still others, like Notre Dame's,
repeat the second engraving at the beginning of the third canto of the Inferno.
Only the very rarest copies, like The Newberry Library copy, have illustrations
for all of the first nineteen cantos of the first cantica.