La Hypnerotomachia di Poliphilo, cioe pugna díamore in sogno. Dovíegli mostra, che tutte le cose humane non sono altro che Sogno: & doue narra moltríaltre cose degne di cognitione

Autore COLONNA, Francesco (ca. 1433-1527).
Tipografo Eredi di Aldo Manuzio
Dati tipografici Venezia, 
Prezzo Venduto/Sold
La Hypnerotomachia di Poliphilo

Folio (303x202 mm). [234] leaves. Collation: π4 a-y8 z10 A-E8 F4. Aldine device on title page and last leaf verso. 172 woodcuts, of which 11 are full-page. Blank spaces for capital letters, with printed guide letters. Eighteenth-century calf, covers framed with gilt fillets and floral tools at corners, spine with six raised bands, compartments gilt-tooled with floral motifs, title in gilt on red morocco lettering-piece, marbled endpapers, mottled edges in green and red (back cover somewhat bowed). A fine, wide-margined copy. A few minor stains on the title page. On front flyleaf verso there is an ownership inscription, barely legible, but dated 1796.

SECOND EDITION of the celebrated Poliphilus, following the first edition published by Aldus in 1499. The book is rightly famous for its marvelous mis-en-page, the elegance of printing and inking, the exquisite design now generally ascribed to the Venetian artist Benedetto Bordon, the careful woodcutting, and the perfect fusion between text and image. Nothing of this perfection is lost in this second edition.

The second edition was printed by Aldus' heirs, employing the same woodblocks as the 1499 edition, with the exception of seven that were either broken or missing. The re-designed and newly cut woodcuts are found on fols. b4v, b5r, e2v, e5r, o3v, q5v, and x2r. The new printing suggests a renewed interest in the work, in Italy as well as beyond, for within a year a French translation appeared, followed by an English translation in 1592.

The work is conventionally attributed to the Dominican friar Francesco Colonna, whose name is mentioned only in the acrostic formed by the thirty-eight initials that open each chapter: “Poliam frater Franciscus Columna peramavit” (‘Brother Francesco Colonna intensely loved Polia'), where Polia is the name of the beloved, but also means “all things” in Greek.

The ‘Dream of Poliphilus' is one of the most bizarre and controversial works of world literature. Firstly, its language is a hybrid mixture of Latin and northern Italian vernacular, interspersed with frequent Greek and Hebrew words. Secondly, the text, full of digressions and obscure allegories, tells the initiation of Poliphilus into sensory and intellectual knowledge.

Of the three possible destinies (asceticism, worldly glory, and the pleasures of love), Poliphilo chooses the latter. Introduced to the secrets of love, he marries the woman he loves (Polia) and reaches the island of Venus. The second part of the work, set in a transfigured town which is however recognizable as Treviso in the Veneto, holds the key to deciphering the enigmas of the first part and reveals that everything was just a dream. Within all this, the taste for allegory and hieroglyphs mixes in Colonna with neo-Platonism and archaeological erudition.

The third, and probably most important aspect that makes this work unique, is its sumptuous iconography, which is deeply related to the narrated events, so much so that some have speculated that the illustrations may have been conceived by the author himself. The importance of the woodcut series, variably associated with the names of famous artists of the time, is also demonstrated by the fact that the Hypnerotomachia exerted more influence in the history of art than in literature. Renaissance and Baroque painters such as Giorgione, Tintoretto, Agostino Carracci and Pietro da Cortona drew many subjects and took inspiration from Aldus' book. The literary and social fortune of the work is instead demonstrated by certain passages quoted in B. Castiglione's Cortegiano.

Today most scholars agree on attributing the woodcuts to the miniaturist, copyist, woodcutter and designer Benedetto Bordon. The double frame, well-balanced layout, classical themes, use of shading with parallel lines, and the clear influence of Mantegna are all unequivocally aspects related to the style of Bordon.

Composed around 1467, probably in Treviso, the Hypnerotomachia Poliphili (literally ‘Poliphilus' Strife of Love in a Dream') can be defined as an archaeological-mnemonic dream-journey into the secrets of imaginary Eros, in which the desire aroused by a ghost, after various adventures, is in the end satisfied by the ghost itself. We are clearly within a cultural frame very close to Ficino's magic and neo-Platonism, but probably independent from it.

Born in Venice, Francesco Colonna entered the Dominican order at an early age, residing for some years (1462-1467) in Treviso. He then graduated in theology at Padua in 1473. In the following years he lived mostly in Venice in the convent of SS. Giovanni e Paolo. Despite an expulsion from Venice and various other charges for insubordination, Colonna was appointed preacher at San Marco in 1493 and in 1495 he became prior of the Scuola di San Marco.

After the publication of what has remained his only work, Colonna was allowed to live outside the convent. While continuing to carry out duties for his order, his impatience with religious discipline brought him to clash with superiors on many occasions. In 1516 he was accused of immorality and confined to Treviso. Colonna subsequently returned to Venice and received new charges, but the contrasts persisted until his death in 1527, at the age of ninety-four. Although the few sure facts of his tumultuous life are sparse and fragmented, it seems they may well be reflected in the erotic-pagan character of the Hypnerotomachia.

L. Donati, Di una copia tra le figure del Polifilo (1499) ed altre osservazioni, in: “La Bibliofilia”, 64 (1962), pp. 163-183; G. Mardersteig, Osservazioni tipografiche sul Polifilo nelle edizioni del 1499 e 1545, in: “Contributi alla storia del libro italiano. Miscellanea in onore di Lamberto Donati”, Florence, 1969, pp. 221-242; H. K. Szépe, Desire in the Printed Dream of Poliphilo, in: “Art History”, 19, 1996, pp. 370-392; M. Lowry, The World of Aldus Manutius. Business and Scholarship in Renaissance Venice, Oxford, 1978, pp. 118-125; M. Palumbo, Benedetto Bordon, a Life in the World of Books, New York, 2015, no. 11.

  • La Hypnerotomachia di Poliphilo
  • La Hypnerotomachia di Poliphilo
  • La Hypnerotomachia di Poliphilo
  • La Hypnerotomachia di Poliphilo
  • La Hypnerotomachia di Poliphilo