COLONNA, Francesco. Hypnerotomachia Poliphili, ubi humana omnia non nisi somnium esse docet atque obiter plurima scitu sanequam digna commemorat.

Venice, Aldus Manutius for Leonardus Crassus., December 1499

Folio (301 x 200 mm.), 234 leaves. Collation: π4, a-y8, z10, A-E8, F4: π1r title HYPNEROTOMACHIA POLIPHILI ... , π1v dedicatory letter in Latin by Leonardo Crasso to Guidobaldo da Montefeltro, Duke of Urbino, π2r laudatory Latin poem addressed to Crasso by Giovanni Baptista Scyta, unsigned synopsis of the work in Latin distichs, Italian prose and Italian trecets, π4v epigrams by Andreas Maro Brixianus; a1r Book I, A1r Book II, F4r errata and colophon; 172 woodcuts in the text, 11 full page, 39 woodcut chapter initials. The misprint “Saneque” on a1r corrected in manuscript, uncorrected misprint signature E1 at the begining of quire C. Late XIX century dark brown morocco richly gilt in the style of XVI century bindings signed by Gruel, gilt edges, brown morocco pastedown with gilt decorations, purple silk flyleaves. Provenance: Laurent Meeûs (ex libris). A very good copy.

First edition of the most magnificently illustrated book of the Italian Renaissance. The text is ‘an enigmatic tale of love lost and regained, presented in two versions and written in”an extraordinary exotic Latinate vernacular, a language never spoken and never again attempted in Latin literature” (Martin Davies, Aldus Manutius, 1995, p.37). The Polifilo has inspired a body of commentary and conjecture disproportionate to its literary merit. From the title, a coniage meaning –a struggle of love in a dream by the lover of Poliato the oneiric illustrations and text dense with classical allusions, the work has evoked almost as many interpretations as interpreters. “A linguistic and literary debauch, choked with recondite imagery, erudite periphrases, and exotic verbiage” (Lowry, p.120), the text has been confidently glossed as an allegorical guide to neo-classical aesthetics and to Leon Battista Alberti’s architectural theories; a fable relating to the struggle of medieval Christian mind towards humanistic enlightenment; a coded alchemical treatise; a Jungian allegory of the individuation of the psyche and its striving for self-knowledge; or a sort of humanistic encyclopaedia. This last, most straightforward interpretation is the result of a close study of the annotations by a 16th-century north Italian humanist reader in a copy still privately owned in Italy (Dorothea Stichel, Reading the Hypnerotomachia Poliphili in the Cinquecento, marginal notes in a copy at Modena in Aldus Manutius and the Renaissance Culture, Essays in Memory of Franklin D. Murphy, Florence, 1998). Numerous allusions misinterpreted or unnoticed by later commentators were easily recognized by that near-contemporary reader, and his copious notes elucidate the rich classical sources underlying the work, whose author relied largely on Pliny, Ovid, and Boccaccio Genealogia deorum. Stchel concludes (as did Lowry) that the Polifilo was conceived first and foremost as a treasury of erudition, fundamentally defined by the classical heritage, and suggest that this may have been Aldus’s motivation for agreeing to the request of the well-connected Veronese nobleman Leonardo Crasso that he publish it. On whose behalf Crasso was acting has still not been satisfactorily resolved. The commonly accepted attribution to the dissolute Dominican frair Francesco Colonna is supported by internal evidencethe acrostic formed by the chapter initials and a dedicatory poem, cancelled in all but one copy (Berlin Staatsbibliothek), addressed to Francisco alta columna. Also of possible relevance is an act of the Dominican order dated 5 June 1501, instructing Colonna to repay the Provincial of the Order for the expenses incurred on account of the printed book. (M.T. Casella and G. Piozzi, Francesco Colonna, biografia e opere. Padua, 1959). The identity of the’Polifilo Master? Who designed the woodcuts – two of which (a6v and c1r) are signed “.b.” or “b”(possibly simply the mark of a workshop) – has also long been disputed. The Paduan miniaturist Benedetto Bordon or Bordone (ca. 1450760-ca. 1530), who spent most of his career in Venice and almost certainly collaborated with Lucantonio Giunta on the illustrations for a sequence of monumental printed choir books, remains the likely artist. Although circumstantial and stylistic, the evidence is strong that Bordon worked with Aldus on the illustration and layout of the Hypnerotomachia Poliphili: “Regardless of the author and the form of the manuscript, Aldus Manutius would have required the assistance of a skilled designer in order to produce the Polifilus. The designer would have overseen the transfer of drawings to woodblocks and would have worked on the complex layout of the woodcuts and type. Such a designer needed to know about woodcut production and to have worked previously with images – painted or woodcut –in printed books of the known book artist in the Veneto in the 1490s with these skills. Benedetto Bordon was by far the most obvious candidate”. (Lilian Armstrong, Benedetto Bordon, Aldus Manutius and Lucantonio Giunta, Old links and New in Aldus Manutius and the Renaissance Culture, Essays in Memory of Franklin D. Murphy, Florence, 1998). Unlike the identies of its author and illustrator, the book’s status as a masterpiece of typographic design is rarely challanged, and it is justifiably celebrated as the greatest early exemple of the harmonious integration of printed text and illustration. The woodcuts depict scenes from the story as well as ancient architecture, inscriptions, monuments and triumphal processions observed by the dreaming Polifilo and described in detail in the text. A deliberate role was apparently assigned to the typeface for the achievement of a felicitous design. For the Polifilo a new set of capitals was combined with the roman type cut by Francesco Griffo da Bologna for the 1495/6 edition of Bembo De Aetna. These capitals were designed according to the rules of proportion based on classical models which had been set forth by Felice Feliciano, Alberti and Luca Pacioli. Lowry went so far as to affirm that the “Polifilo capitals proclaimed Aldus’ association with an all-embracing movement to revive the culture of antiquity as loudly, and to his audience as clearly, as any of his rousing humanistic prefaces. This audience was at first, however, quite small. Undoubtedly the expense of the edition ( for which Dürer paid a ducat in 1507) and the obscurity of the work discouraged buyers: ten years after publication Crasso was still in possession of most of the edition, whose print-run has been estimated at 500 or 600 copies (G. Mardesteig, Festschrift Donati, Firenze, 1969, p.228). Only after publication of a second edition by Aldus’ hiers in 1545 did the work gain in popularity, mainly through the French translation, illustrated with copies of the woodcuts, which was first published ayear later and reprinted twice before the end of the century, An English version appeared in 1592. (The Helmut N. Friedlaender Library. Christie’s New York, 2001).

BMC V 561; IGI 3062; Goff C 767.

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