Decorated with 192 woodcuts by Giovanni Bellini: a knightly romance in the unusual form of a dream within in a dream

Hypnerotomachia Poliphili

Hypnerotomachia Poliphili

Hypnerotomachia Poliphili

  1. A young man named Poliphilo experiences the ups and downs of love in a story based in classical mythology

  2. An acrostic formed from the title indicates that its author was the Domincan friar Francesco Colonna (1433/1434-1527)

  3. Printed in November of 1499 by Aldo Manuzio in Venice, it is adorned with 192 woodcuts by Giovanni Bellini (ca. 1430-1516)

Hypnerotomachia Poliphili

Hypnerotomachia Poliphili – 11571 – Biblioteca Lázaro Galdiano (Madrid, Spain)
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  1. Short Description
  2. Codicology

Short Description

This is one of the world’s most coveted and artistically refined incunabula, early printed books originating before 1501. It originates from the Aldine Press, the famous Venetian printing house of Aldo Manuzio (1449/52-1515), Latinized Aldus Manutius, a Venetian humanist, scholar, and educator. Although written anonymously, an acrostic formed by the first decorative initial in each chapter in the original Italian edition indicates the Domincan friar Francesco Colonna (1433/1434-1527), Latinized Franciscus Columna, is the author. It is a chivalric romance, but takes on the unusual form of a dream within a dream, as the protagonist, Poliphilo, attempts to overcome the rejection of his beloved Polia. 192 superbly detailed woodcuts, possibly by the painter Giovanni Bellini (ca. 1430-1516), clearly illustrate the confused dreams of Poliphilo. Appearing in numerous editions and translations, this is one of the most popular literary works of the Renaissance.

Hypnerotomachia Poliphili

An incunabulum is an early printed book originating before 1501, they mark the genesis of modern book printing and are highly coveted by bibliophiles. The specimen at hand is one of the most beautiful, sought-after incunabula ever printed: a courtly romance presented as a mysterious allegory. Its title in English is Poliphilo's Strife of Love in a Dream or alternately The Dream of Poliphilus and it was printed in November of 1499 by Aldo Manuzio (1449/52-1515), Latinized Aldus Manutius, a Venetian humanist, scholar, educator, and founder of the Aldine Press, famous inter alia for the introduction of Italics and the small “octavo” format resembling a modern paperback and designed to be portable. The popularity of the tale has necessitated numerous translations and editions over the centuries.

Inspiration for Carl Jung

The author of the book is anonymous, but an acrostic formed by the first decorative initial in each chapter in the original Italian edition reads: POLIAM FRATER FRANCISCVS COLVMNA PERAMAVIT, which means "Brother Francesco Colonna has dearly loved Polia". As such, the Domincan friar Francesco Colonna (1433/1434-1527), Latinized Franciscus Columna, is typically credited with authoring the work. The work has been widely praised, and not just by bibliophiles – famed Swiss psychologist Carl Jung (1875-1961) admired the work and credited it for inspiring his theory of archetypes.

Dreams within Dreams

The protagonist, Poliphilo, is shunned by his beloved, Polia, and endures a restless, dream-filled night. In his dream, he is lost in a forest where he encounters dragons, wolves, and maidens as well as various architectures. He escapes and fall asleep once more. Poliphilo now awakes to a dream within a dream, and is taken by nymphs to meet their queen. There he declares his love for Polia and is taken by two of the nymphs to choose among three gates, choosing the third. His beloved Polia is within and the reunited couple are taken to a temple to be engaged after they are celebrated by five triumphal processions. A barge piloted by Cupid then takes them to the island of Cythera, which is filled with orange trees and marble statues and where another triumphal procession awaits to celebrate their union. At this point, Polia’s voice interrupts the narrative and describes Poliphilo’s infatuation from her point of view before rejecting him again. However, Cupid appears to her in a vision, compelling her to return to Poliphilo, who has fallen into a deathlike swoon but is revived by Polia’s kiss. Their love is now blessed by Venus and, united at last, he tries to embrace Polia, but she vanishes in a mist, ending the dream and waking up Poliphilo. All of these events are illustrated by 192 superbly detailed woodcuts, possibly by the painter Giovanni Bellini (ca. 1430-1516). The scenes’ architectural settings in particular are, aside from being artistically refined, excellent insights into the aesthetics of Greek and Roman antiquities that were valued during the Renaissance.

1 available facsimile edition(s) of „Hypnerotomachia Poliphili“

Hypnerotomachia Poliphili
Hypnerotomachia Poliphili – 11571 – Biblioteca Lázaro Galdiano (Madrid, Spain)
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Hypnerotomachia Poliphili

1 volume: Exact reproduction of the original document (extent, color and size)
Publisher
Vicent Garcia Editores – Valencia, 2000
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