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Hypnerotomachia Poliphili

Francesco Colonna

Sobre o Hypnerotomachia_Poliphili

Provavelmente, o mais obscuro livro antigo jamais publicado. No se sabe muito bem quem foi o seu autor, muito menos qual o sentido do livro, repleto de imagens estranhas, textos impenetrveis e referncias obscuras. Atribui-se a autoria do livro a Francesco Colonna, intelectual italiano do sculo XV, apenas porque no livro aparece a inscrio latina "poliam frater franciscus columna peramavit". A impenetrabilidade do texto e o obscurantismo das ilustraes levam a pensar que o livro est escrito em cdigo, contendo cdigos sobre cdigos, enigmas cuja resoluo leva a novos enigmas. Publicado em 1499, foi composto pelo tipgrafo veneziano Aldus Manutius, que inventou o tipo de letra Aldus, ainda hoje utilizado na nossa era de impressoras digitais. O que surpreende no livro o enciclopdico conhecimento sobre arquitectura, paisagstica, engenharia, pintura e escultura, aplicado num livro de forte contedo ertico, cujo enredo descreve o sonho de Polfilo, em busca da sua amada Polia. O seu sonho leva-o a jardins encantados, bosques de tortura, edifcios, palcios e jardins fantsticos. As descries so detalhadas ao ponto do fetichismo. O livro entendido, por aqueles que o leram (poucos, devido impenetrabilidade do texto), como um manifesto poltico que defende o direito da mulher expressar a sua sexualidade e a superioridade de Eros, o amor, da beleza e do conhecimento perante a violncia e a guerra. As ilustraes detalhadas so um primor das tcnicas de impresso da poca, complementando brilhantemente o texto do livro. Ser o Hypnerotomachia um mau livro, romance mal escrito, que apenas sobreviveu graas percia do impressor e beleza das ilustraes, ou ser mesmo um livro misterioso, contendo cdigos enigmticos cujo desvendar poder levar revelao de segredos obscuros?

Hypnerotomachia Poliphili

Francesco Colonna

Leon Battista Alberti's Hypnerotomachia Poliphili

In many ways the Hypnerotomachia Poliphili is nondescript. Published in 1499, it is modeled on the idyllic, pastoral, bucolic romanzo damore, a tradition that had reached its peak over a century earlier with its universally acknowledged master, Giovanni Boccaccio, whose works included Filostrato (1333), Teseida (1339-1340), Ninfale Fiesolano (1340s) and Amorosa visione (1342). It is an anachronism. It adds nothing to the amorous imaginary. It brings together all the stereotypical characters traditionally associated with what was by then a highly stylized genre: the enamored hero and the indifferent heroine, attended by scores of stock characters -- nymphs, naiads, satyrs, gods, goddesses, and demigods -- who, all to predictably, sing, dance, make merry, advise, and in general eagerly officiate whenever the opportunity arises for the lovers to engage in one rite of union or another. Its settings bow to the invariable formula of verdant glades, babbling brooks, and enclosed gardens. As for the plot, it too conforms to the conventions of the genres time-worn topoi -- the lovers unrequited love, his quest to win the heart of the heroine, loves triumph, the illusion dashed. The action of the Hypnerotomachia Poliphili takes place in a dream. The books opens on the hero, Poliphilo, who has spent a restless night because his beloved, Polia, has shunned him. At the break of day, he finally falls into a deep slumber and his "Hypnerotomachia," or, as it can be roughly translated, "struggle for love in a dream," begins. The action is particularly absurd, however, even by the standards of the genre. Poliphilo is transported into a wild forest. He gets lost, escapes, and falls asleep once more. He then awakens in a second dream, dreamed inside the first. Within it, he is taken by some nymphs to meet their queen. There he is asked to declare his love for Polia, which he does. He is then directed by two nymphs to three gates. He chooses the third, and there he discovers his beloved. They are taken by some more nymphs to a temple to be engaged. Along the way they come across no less than five triumphal processions celebrating the union of the lovers. Then they are taken to the island of Cythera by barge, with Cupid as the boatswain; there they see another triumphal procession celebrating their union. The narrative is uninterrupted, and a second voice takes over, as Polia describes he erotomachia from her own point of view. This takes up one fifth of the book, after which the hero resumes his narrative. They are blissfully wed, but Polia vanishes into thin air as Poliphilo is about to take her into his arms. .... A conventional romanzo. So the book has been read over the past five hundred years. But does this sum up all that is interesting about the erotic theme of the Hypnerotomachia? Only partly, as we shall see. (from pp. 8, 43 of L. Lefaivres Leon Battista Albertis Hypnerotomachia Poliphili). Copyright 1997. The MIT Press. All rights reserved.

The fact that it survives today after half a millenium as a standard in Western typography makes the Hypnerotomachia one of the most significant contribution of the Renaissance to the history of printing.

Adding to its typographical tour de force, the book also contains prototypical Greek fonts, one of the earliest examples of Hebrew type, and what are the first Arabic passages in the history of European publishing. (from pp. 16, 18 of L. Lefaivres Leon Battista Albertis Hypnerotomachia Poliphili). Copyright 1997. The MIT Press. All rights reserved.

One of the features of the Hypnerotomachia that has attracted the attention of scholars has been its use of the famed Aldine "Roman" type font, invented by Nicholas Jenson but distilled into an abstract ideal by Francesco Biffi da Bologna, a jeweler who became Alduss celebrated cutter. This font generally viewed as originating in the efforts of the humanist lovers of belles-lettres and renowned calligraphers such as Petrarch, Poggio Bracciolini, Niccolo Niccoli, Felice Feliciano, Leon Battista Alberti, and Luca Pacioli, to re-create the script of classical antiquity appeared for the first time in Bembos De Aetna. Recut, it appeared in its second and perfected version in the Hypnerotomachia. (from pp. 16-18 of L. Lefaivres Leon
Battista Albertis Hypnerotomachia Poliphili). Copyright 1997. The MIT Press. All rights reserved.

Lower case fonts

Technically Biffis achievement consists in having carried out a reduction in the relative weight of the lower cases, creating what the renowned English printing historian Stanley Morison has called a superbly harmonious effect.Appearing after the domination of the Gothic, when fonts were inspired by classical calligraphy were still novel, this font is considered the most modern in appearance of fifteenth century types and marks a watershed.

Upper case fonts

This is further enhanced by the introduction of a delicately proportioned font of capitals. Bibliophiles and historians of printing, such as Morison and George painter, admire the rounded and strong outline of the Hypnerotomachia font, "tall in uprights abd firmly seriphed, both bold and delicate, equally dark and radiant in its blacks and whites. Alduss biographer, Martin Lowry, points out that the capitals have a relative height and weight governed by the 1:10 proportion recommended by Feliciano and only partially reduced to 1:9 by Pacioli.

Decorated initials
Equally admired is the particular care lavished on the decorated initials at the head of each chapter. Some are in hatchwork, while others, still finer, are decorated in strapwork or tendriled foliage and flowers.

Taken together, they form the acronym "POLIAM FRATER FRANCISCUS COLUMNA PERAMAVIT," meaning "Brother Francesco Colonna loved Polia tremendously."

Text and image

Scholars find that the greatest artistic merit of the book is neither in typography or woodcuts separately, but in the overall composition of text and image into a harmonious whole, which allows the eye to slip back and forth from textual description and corresponding visual representation with the greatest of ease a rarity even today. (from pp. 16, 18 of L. Lefaivres Leon Battista Albertis Hypnerotomachia Poliphili). Copyright 1997. The MIT Press. All
rights reserved.

Besides displaying a remarkable level of visual culture and clarity , the Hypnerotomachia must also be seen as an extraordinary visual-typographical-textual assemblage of a type not repeated until the avantgarde books of the 1920s and 1930s. Among its feats of typographical ingenuity, the form of goblets and drinking vessels is reproduced in the layout of the text in the page.

The 172 woodcuts are at least as studied as the font of the Hypnerotomachia. The book is unique in being the only illustrated one to have been published by Aldus. Yet the identity of the cutter is unknown. Most of the woodcuts from this period are mediocre. This is no doubt because, as we know from Arthur Hind, in the late fifteenth century, book woodcuts were still considered an inferior art form, especially compared to illuminations, but indeed among the visual arts in general. The Hypnerotomachia is one of the two Venetian books that does stand out for its great quality; the other is the Malermi Bible, named after its Italian translator, which was printed in 1490 and reprinted in 1493 by Giovanni Ragazzo for Lucantonio Giunta with 373 woodcuts. The images of the Hypnerotomachia are far superior. They are distinguished by their design in the same stil nuovo as the high arts of the time. Sculpted by a woodcutter, their original designs have been associated above all with Andrea Mantegna who, more than any other figure, shaped the new classicizing style in engraving. However, they also have been associated with the work of Fra Giocondo, Vittore Carpaccio, and Gentile Bellini. Scholars have even been tempted to see the influence of the young Raphael, an attribution that is difficult to support as Raphael was sixteen years old at the time.

Poliphilo hears the music

(from pp. 14, 18 of L. Lefaivres Leon Battista Albertis Hypnerotomachia Poliphili). Copyright 1997. The MIT Press. All rights reserved.

Cinematic visual logic

One of the features of the Hypnerotomachia that Liane Lefaivre uses to argue for the Alberti attribution is the cinematic visual logic at work in the book, based on Albertis interest in capturing movement. She bases her argument on the passages in Albertis On Painting devoted to movement, and on his "dimostrazioni," early forerunners of modern cinema. (see pp. 142-149 L. Lefaivres Leon Battista Albertis Hypnerotomachia Poliphili).
Copyright 1997. The MIT Press. All rights reserved.



Leon Battista Alberti, in his De pictura, had argued that painters should depict human figures in movement. The illustrations of the Hypnerotomachia Poliphili appear as applications of this tenet. Our team here at the DKS has taken this literally, and has made some of the moving bodies actually spring to life.

The dancer

Poliphilo and the Dragon

Poliphilo in the woods




This obsession with movement is probably responsible for the invention of the double page spread, no doubt a feature of the original Alberti manuscript, enabling the representation of bodies moving from one page onto the next.



Alberti was one of the early inventors of cinema. His precocious cinematic forma mentis lead him to represent several episodes in the Hypnerotomachia through a sequence of images, like consecutive frames on a film. Here are some examples:

The union in the temple.

Eros punishing the chaste nymphs.

Poliphilo swoons and is revived.

Readers have found the single most extraordinary feature of the story to be the series of buildings and gardens that the hero keeps encountering throughout the narrative. Among them are a temple, a pyramid, a triumphal arch, a hippodrome, a propylaeum, a palaestra, two colossi, a gigantic building in

the form of an elephant with an obelisk on its back, a bathhouse, a palace, a two circular-plan temples, some ruins, and an amphitheater. (from L. Lefaivres Leon Battista Albertis Hypnerotomachia Poliphili). Copyright 1997. The MIT Press. All
rights reserved.


Hybrid building; part triumphal arch, part temple, part pyramid, part propylaeum, part grotto, part obelisk

Triumphal arch

Interior, Palace of the Queen of Freedom

Throne room, Palace of the Queen

Temple of Venus

Interior of the Temple of Venus

Gardens and landscapes

Among the landscapes and gardens described in the Hypnerotomachia are a boschetto, a palm grove, a chambre verte, a picturesque landscape, three nymphaea, a grotto, an aquatic labyrinth and an immense garden that covers an entire island. (from L. Lefaivres Leon Battista Albertis Hypnerotomachia Poliphili). Copyright 1997. The MIT Press. All
rights reserved.

Palm grove

Picturesque Garden

Three examples of ars topiaria from the Island of Cythera

Other editions
The book went on to become a spectacular success. Indeed, it turned into something of a cult book in sixteenth-century Italy and was re-edited by Alduss sons in 1545. But it is in France that the book had its greatest success. There its publication probably shaped to a great extent the sensibility of the arts of the French Renaissance under the reign of Francis 1. Le Songe de Poliphile was published at the press of Jacques Kerver in Paris in 1546; it was reprinted twice in folio editions, in 1554 and 1561, and in quarto in 1600. The translation is usually attributed to Jean Martin and the engravings, also anonymous, to Jean Cousin. The English version of 1592 was published under the title The Strife of Love in a Dreame at the press of Simon Waterson in London, dedicated to Sir Philip Sydney, and probably translated by Sir Robert Dallington. While the text is a fine example of the exquisitely crafted and charming prose of the Elizabethan period, it represents only about a third of the original and contains many errors of translation, beginning with the first sentence. The illustrations, also subject to many eliminations, are by a mediocre hand. (from pp. 23 of L. Lefaivres Leon Battista Albertis Hypnerotomachia Poliphili). Copyright 1997. The MIT Press. All rights reserved.

Poliphilo dreaming inside his dream

Italian version

French version

English version

The sleeping nymph

Italian version

French version

English version

Mysterious messages
The Hypnerotomachia Poliphili is one of the most unreadable books ever published. The first inkling of difficulty occurs at the moment one picks up the book and tries to utter its tongue-twisting, practically unpronounceable title. The difficulty only heightens as one flips through the pages and tries to decipher the strange, baffling, inscrutable prose, replete with recondite references, teeming with tortuous terminology, choked with pulsating, prolix, plethoric passages. Now in Tuscan, now in Latin, now in Greek elsewhere in Hebrew, Arabic, Chaldean and hieroglyphs the author has created a pandemonium of unruly sentences that demand the unrelenting skills of a prodigiously endowed polyglot in order to be understood. One of the woodcuts the reader comes across early in the book is of an unbridled winged steed, charging headlong at full gallop, ears drawn back, head twisted sideways, bucking the unlucky riders who try in vain to cling to its back and mane. The image might serve as an emblem for the whole work. At times even the most devoted reader cannot help feeling bewildered when looking down in this frenetic, fantastic specimen of whirling linguistic furore, hurling great semantic dust clouds into the air as it kicks and reels and pitches along on its impetuous course" (p. 80) . As if the text were not difficult enough, the accompanying illustrations themselves are cryptic and enigmatic (p. 91). (from L. Lefaivres Leon Battista Albertis Hypnerotomachia Poliphili). Copyright 1997. The MIT Press. All rights reserved.

Mysterious messages in:


Latin and hieroglyphs


Arabic, Hebrew, Greek and Latin

Greek and Arabic


Eros and the Metaphor of the Architectural Body

The name Poliphilo means "lover of many things." The name Polia, in turn, means "many things." And to be sure, Poliphilo does love many things besides Polia. ...But he loves architecture most: he loves it as much as he loves Polia, in the same carnal way. One after the other, the buildings in the book become objects of desire, metaphors for Polias solido corpo.

Indeed, among the dreamlike features of the buildings is the inordinate feeling of happiness they impart to the beholder. Poliphilo characterizes the marble of the triumphal arch as "virginal," the veinless marble of another surface as "flawless," which is the sma eterm he uses to describe the skin of a certain nymph. Upon seeing the buildings, Poliphilo feels "extreme delight," "incredible joy," "frenetic pleasure and cupidinous frenzy". The buildings fill him with the highest carnal pleasure" and with "burning lust." He loves them not just because they are beautiful to behold, but also because they are fragrant and agreeable to touch. He partakes of their pleasures with all his senses. In front of the frieze of a sleeping nymph, he cannot keep from plcing his hand on her knees and "fondling and squeezing" them, nor can he resist pressing his lips to her breasts and sucking them. The sexuality of the buildings Poliphilo loves is polymorphic. He approvingly describes the column of a certain temple as "hermaphrodotic," because they combine male and female characteristics. The altar of Bacchus is made of darkly veined marble especially selected to express the virility of that deity, and it is carved with a grat phallus "rigidly regorous." Above the reclining nude body of a sleeping nymph leers a naked satyr with a watchful eye and an erect penis. This erotization of architecture comes to its logical conclusion. In three cases, Poliphilo manages to locate the appropriate orifice through which he can engage in sexual congress with particular buildings. His response, always described at length and in great detail, is sheer coital ecstacy. In one case, the effect on the building is mutual. (from pp. 65-66 of L. Lefaivres Leon Battista Albertis Hypnerotomachia Poliphili). Copyright 1997. The MIT Press. All
rights reserved.

See especially pages biii v-dvi, dviii-eii, nviii-piii and yvii v-zvi v. (or 29- 65, 69- 75, 214- 237, 357- 372.)

Technical innovations
Among the extraordinary features of the Hypnerotomachia is the expertise it displays in describing the ingenious mechanical principles involved in the functioning of various wind and hydraulic powered technical inventions. For instance, in the mobile "fontana a termini," or perpetual fountain, which also fascinated Leonardo da Vinci. (see pp. 116-121 of L. Lefaivres Leon Battista Albertis Hypnerotomachia Poliphili). Copyright 1997. The MIT Press.
All rights reserved.

Fontana a termini,

and in the wind-powered twirling trumpeter,

and, in addition, in the sprinkling joker, set into action through the action of a leaver concealed in the floor in front of it.


Hypnerotomachia Poliphili
A Textura desse Abismo chamado Conscincia

Uberlndia/ MG. Brasil Primavera de 2011 e.v.