Orlando in Ferrara

Written by  Gianni Venturi

A tale of words, books, and book-lovers
A new critical edition of the Orlando Furioso (Florence: Leo S. Olschki, 2006) edited by Marco Dorigatti and based on the 1516 text was presented in Ferrara in December.
In April 1516 Ariosto's great work had only been in print for a few months, and it was already being read and discussed everywhere. But the lively and ironic structures of the northern Italian vernacular were out of step with the sixteenth century classicist emphasis on the Tuscan dialect, and thus the work was unacceptable to the refined Italian courts of the day.

Ariosto's language was a failure, widely considered to be coarse and entirely lacking in that illustrious poetic tradition to which only Tuscans, or even only Florentines, could lay claim. So Ariosto's Orlando Furioso, after its initial moment of exceptional fame and a second edition in 1521 which was largely similar to the first, almost disappeared. It was replaced by the 1532 edition which had an additional six cantos and was re?written in a Florentine style, and which was hugely successful. In the sixteenth century alone the poem went through 155 editions, not including translations. The 1532 edition is not, other than in its characters and plot, simply a new version of the first edition. It is very different in structure and in its language: it is a new work. And what happened to the first Furioso, known as the 'Ferrara Orlando'? It disappeared, and until this new edition produced by the noted scholar Dorigatti its survival depended on just twelve copies, scattered around the world. Dorigatti has spent years examining the original documents to retrace and resuscitate this Orlando 'Printed in Ferrara by Maestro Giou?ni/ Mazocco dal Bondeno this .xxii./ of April .M.D.XVI'. From Ferrara to Dresden, from Dublin to London, from Manchester to Harvard, from New York to Paris, and then in Florence, Rovigo, Treviso and Chantilly, Dorigatti has applied his extraordinary research capabilities to read, compare and analyse the available documents. He has produced a critical edition which approaches more closely than ever before the 'ideal text' as Ariosto intended it, and which corresponds most nearly to the lost original manuscript. In reconstructing the textual and editorial history of the 1516 Orlando, Dorigatti has also traced the lost copies of the poem. As he shows, the loss of so many copies represents not merely a material loss, depriving us of precious manuscripts, but given that every copy has subtle textual variations we have also lost an irreplaceable part of the text's history. The story of this textual recovery includes not only those examples which survive but those which have disappeared, each of which has its own story, as fascinating as a novel. Two particular examples of lost copies are worthy of special attention, both printed in Ferrara: the famous Cavalieri copy, and that owned by Renzo Bonfiglioli, father of the late Geri who displayed his generosity in assisting Dorigatti to reconstruct the fate of the missing text. The first volume was in the personal library of the great Jewish industrialist of Ferrara, Giuseppe Cavalieri (Ferrara 1834?Bologna 1918), a connoisseur and collector of rare and valuable books. The copy of the Orlando which he owned was put up for sale in Florence in 1906, but remained unsold until his death in 1918. Cavalieri's widow sold his entire library to the Ulrico Hoepli antiquarian bookshop in Milan, for the sum of 3 10.000 lire. In a series of successive auctions, the library was broken up and even this marvellous copy of the Furioso, of whose luxurious binding a description remains, was sold off before 1922. Dorigatti, seeking every trace of this volume, has managed to track its passage from one individual to the next up until 1955, but since that date there has been no sign of it.
Even more moving and mysterious is the fate of the Bonfiglioli text. In addition to exemplifying the refined education of the bibliophile Renzo Bonfiglioli (1904?1963), this story typifies for us Ferrarese the Jewish world which Renzo and his son Geri experienced not only during the dark years of the Holocaust but also during the cultural, moral and civil rebirth of Ferrara in the post-war years. Interned in the Urbisaglia concentration camp in 1940, Doctor Renzo Bonfiglioli encountered the medic Bruno Pincherle, from Trieste, a noted bibliophile. Despite the tragic surroundings, the Ferrarese acquired from the Triestino the beginnings of this passion which in the immediate post-war years led him to build up one of the most important library collections in the world, notwithstanding the difficulties of his return to the city and to his beautiful home there. Such a collection could not be without a copy of the 1516 Ferrarese Orlando, which was carefully preserved in a specially designed cabinet in his splendid library. The collection also included two examples of the 1532 edition, and a large number of other sixteenth century editions of the poem, of which no fewer than thirty-seven which were published in that century by the Ferrarese publisher Nicolò d'Aristotele, known as the Cripple. In 1974, eleven years after the death of its owner, Bonfiglioli's heirs decided to put the entire library up for sale, seeking to keep the collection together and suggesting that the city of Ferrara should purchase it. Unfortunately the negotiations were unsuccessful and the entire collection was entrusted to a renowned Milanese antiquarian who sold it off to various buyers, amongst which the library of Yale which purchased 401 volumes. But of the 1516 Furioso and the editions published by 'the Cripple' all trace was lost, and the book is no longer in the possession of the Bonfiglioli family nor is it available on the antiquarian market. The sad task of tracing this tale fell to Geri Bonfiglioli in 2005, a year before his own death, and Dorigatti in reproducing the fate of the Bonfiglioli text has restored it at least to history if not to our use. A third Ferrarese example, this time happily conserved in the Biblioteca Ariostea, has acted as the central text for Dorigatti's edition to which all other copies have been compared. The history of this copy of the Furioso is also fascinating, involving as it does the most important intellectual of early nineteenth century Ferrara, count Leopoldo Cicognara, who was a close friend of Antonio Canova to whom he dedicated his monumental History of Architecture. President and founder of the Accademia di Venezia, and responsible for the establishment of its museum which is one of the most important in the world, and president of the Ateneo Veneto, Cicognara was a political and intellectual figure of the utmost importance in the Napoleonic period. With his assistance in the negotiations, this extremely rare copy of the text came from the Library of Brera where it was originally held and was given to that of Ferrara in exchange for other rare and precious volumes.