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After his graduation in Pavia (1932) he studied in Torino and Paris (1934–36). Then he taught French Literature and Romance Philology in the universities of Pisa, Freiburg Fribourg and Florence. 

Amongst Contini's main contributions and critical editions (the latter mainly in the field of Old Italian literature) are the first complete edition of Italian poetry of the 13th century (Poeti del Duecento, 1960), his essays about Dante Alighieri (Un'idea di Dante, 1970), and his studies about the methodology of text editing (in Italian “ecdotica”, in French “ecdotique”) and textual criticism (Breviario di ecdotica, 1986). Contini also devoted himself to the study and valorisation of Italian poets and writers of the 20th century, such as Eugenio Montale and Carlo Emilio Gadda.