The Making of a Medieval Valentine

I finally realized Valentine’s Day is coming up, and I should make something for it! So I got busy over the weekend.

First I had to find a text. Medieval love poetry can be a little difficult for modern readers to swallow because it’s usually about how miserable the lover is. But there’s no denying that one of the greatest medieval love poets was Dante (in fact, he’s considered one of the greatest poets ever!). So I browsed around a lot until I found this love poem by Dante:

May Love ever protect
this heart he gave to you, his to command,
and, on the other hand,
may Mercy beg you to remember me,
because before I go
too far away from all your present worth
the thought I will return
to you once more already comforts me.
God! Not for long shall I remain away,
judging by what I see,
for often this my mind
will turn right back to wonder on your face:
therefore, in both my journey and my stay,
O gentle lady, please remember me.

(If you’re interested, here it is in Italian.)

So I had my text… but then I had to figure out how to write it. Most of my work is based on 6th and 7th century Irish manuscripts, and that’s really not appropriate for a 14th century Italian poem. (Yes, I know I take this historical reproduction stuff far more seriously than most of my customers, but I’m not getting a degree in medieval history for nothing!) Italian manuscripts are very distinctive: they use the same Gothic script that was popular in the rest of Europe, except in Italy, Gothic is more rounded, and the letters usually just end with a straight line, instead of having little feet at the bottom. So I really wanted to be sure to get the Italian look in my rendition of Dante.

Whenever I need to know what manuscripts from a certain time and place looked like, I always go to the Digital Scriptorium. So I went there and did a search for manuscripts written in Italy between 1300 and 1350. I had a lot to choose from, but here are the ones I found most helpful:

In particular, I based my script off of this image from Plimpton 35 and my initial “M” off this image.

In the end, here is what I came up with:

Medieval Valentine: Love Poem by Dante
Click to see more images

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