Hypnerotomachia Poliphili (The Strife in the Dream of Poliphilus)

 

One of the most celebrated illustrated books of the Quattrocento, and of all time, the book shows us inventive and well drawn illustration within elegantly designed page layouts. The esoteric narrative of erotic love triumphant adds to the attraction of the publication. The author was probably Colonna, a flamboyant and scandalous Dominican Friar. The illustrator is less certain, but contemporary opinion gives the work to Benedetto Bordon. The central character pursues an erotic fantasy through a strange dreamlike landscape - to be reconciled with his great passion in front of the Fountain of Venus.


Linda Fiertz-David, The Dream of Poliphilo, The Soul in Love, Spring Publications, Dallas, 1987 (the Bollingen Lectures).


E.H.Gombrich, Symbolic Images, Phaidon, Oxford, 1975, "Hypnertomachiana".


Anthony Blunt, "The Hypnerotomachia Poliphili in Seventeenth Century France", Journal of Warburg and Courtauld , October 1937 (and Misc.Note).


The book was immensely influential in defining what formal gardens could achieve, and how narratives were to unfold therein. The scattering of antique remains also founded that evocative device and The Oxford Companion to Gardens p.268 records that the architect and designer William Kent owned several copies of the book. The book was the first depiction of complex interweavings of geometry in the service of topiary and the Knot Garden.

 

POSSIBILITIES

Here is the original page layout of the edition published anonymously in Venice in 1499. From that date until 1833 it was reprinted ten times.

CHARACTERISTIC IMAGES

selected to give an idea of the range of imagery available, are from a photo-lithographic version issued to British art schools in 1893. They are crisp, clumsy in places and censored. But apart from that....The narrative is an extended, abstruse, and sometimes dislocated sequence of events that happened to Poliphilus on his journey to Death and Redemption. He is first seen wandering through a dense forest. He stumbles upon a stream from which he refreshes himself. After sleeping a while he wakes in a mysterious landscape of shards and ruins. On of the most influential images in the book, a temple surmounted by a giant obelisk.

Many of the symbolic images address the issue of the paradox, Make Haste Slowly - Festina Lente .

Here the winged horse is encumbered by clambering putti.

The narrative presents a whole cluster of tombs bearing inscriptions.

Later in the story Poliphilus is led by his attendants to a choice of three doorways. beneath this, is a typical rebus/emblem panel of puzzles for the reader to decode.

The version of Eden, Poliphilus enters the Garden of Perfection.


published in Venice in 1499 by Aldus Romanus; the woodcuts do look like the work of the illustrator of the Poliphili but without the delicacy of touch.

PARIS

Here are pages from the Parisian editions of 1546 and the 1561 reprint. The edition by Jean Martin and Jacques Gohorry is much shortened from the original with plates omitted or redrawn. The titlepage measurES 11" x 7" (1546) (1561)

VENICE

pages from the first edition, Venice, 1499.

THE ELEPHANT AND CASTLE

 

01 a plate from Domenico Amici, Raccolta di Trenta Vedute Degli Obelisch iScelte Fontane, published by the author in Rome in 1839.

02 Titlepage to the sumptuously printed text of the Royal Law of Frederick III, King of Denmark, in 1665 , Lex Regia det er; Den Souveraine Konge-lov , Copenhagen 1709 . A rampaging elephant with troop carrier thunders across the bottom panel.

03 From the children's book, Mamma's Present, plates dated 1801 and published in Britain (London) by John Marshall. The Professional narrator tells the tale in the background.

04 A woodcut of the subject with the mark of the printer GD, from the Dutch town of Gouda c1490.

05 The original image from the Book

06 H.Chaveau, C'Est l'Ordre qui a este tenv a la novvelle et ioyevse, Dallier, Paris, 1549.

07 From a book of architectural design, a combination of Durer's Rhinoceros with the Poliphili spectacle.

08 Libellus de Natura Animalium This Italian fifteenth century Bestiary was printed between 1508 and 1512 in Mondovi. The names of the author and illustrator are in doubt.

PARIS, GIANT ELEPHANT 1758

BERNINI'S ELEPHANT FROM KIRCHER 1666

THE TRAVELS OF SIR JOHN MANDEVILLE 1727

ELEPHANT AND CASTLE 2007

ELEPHANT AND CASTLE 2007

FESTIVITIES FOR THE DUC D'ANJOU 1582

from Vegetius, DE RE MILITARI...1592

from Chesneau, Trophées Medallique...1661

from Hartenfels, Elephantographia...1715

page from Howard Simon's 500 Years of Art in Illustration 1945

page from Howard Simon's 500 Years of Art in Illustration 1945

A PLATE FROM H BRADLEY MARTIN'S COPY, Venice 1499 SLEEPING FIGURE

ANOTHER PLATE FROM H BRADLEY MARTIN'S COPY, Venice 1499 THE BOWER

Room Interior from the Venetian edition.

Titlepage Paris 1600