Hypnerotomachia encore

February 14, 2010

In an earlier post on the bible illustrated by Lucas Cranach’s workshop, I added this note:

[Feb. 13]  Could it be that this dragon image from Hypnerotomachia Poliphili could be the source of the iconography in the image at the head of this post?  A dragon/lizard in the cathedral/temple?  How odd that would be as a source of Protestant anti-papal graphics!

Further to the Cranach-Colonna-Bomarzo connection alluded to in my earlier post on Hypnerotomachia:

A reclining statue of a sleeping nymph in Bomarzo; Nymph Reclining by a Fountain by Cranach, also derived from the woodcut image and establishing the influence of the work on him;  the likely source of the statue’s form in Hypnerotomachia; elephant statue at Bomarzo probably influenced by the elephant-obelisk in Hypnerotomachia.


Hypnerotomachia Poliphili/Santa Maria sopra Minerva

February 13, 2010

The only gothic church in Rome is Santa Maria sopra Minerva, so called because it was erected on top of an ancient Roman temple of the goddess Minerva.  In the plaza in front, there is a statue of an elephant carrying an obelisk created by the great baroque artist, Bernini.   Why is it carrying an obelisk?

1999 marked the 500th anniversary of the initial publication of Hypnerototmachia Poliphili and also marked the first complete English translation of the work, in which this woodcut features.   It’s not surprising that Bernini would have been influenced by the book – every other educated European post 1499 was.

The publication of the original book is itself a landmark event, producing one of the most sought after pieces of icunabula, examples of the infancy of book printing, from the Latin for swaddling clothes.  It was printed by Aldus in Venice, and integrated the woodcut illustrations with the text, which itself was often displayed in novel configurations, e.g. pyramidal layouts on the page.

The text itself is written in Italian, despite the author’s preoccupation with the culture of antiquity – such humanists usually wrote their scholarly stuff in Latin.  But this is no scholarly text, and the author was no ivory tower intellectual.  He was a priest of no good repute and the language, according to the translator’s introduction, is arcane, filled with bizarre neologisms, and with words that even educated readers of the day would have found bewildering.

It’s title translates roughly as The strife of love in a dream, and it seems like an extended wet dream of an overheated imagination.  Whether the erotic longing is for a woman or for architecture is not always clear – at least not as far as I have read so far.  No doubt  as I read further in this antique stream of consciousness but that associations with Bomarzo will be present.


Meanwhile, back at the ranch…

June 16, 2010

While the mariners were landing in the New World (see previous post), the Renaissance intellectual literati were carrying on with their pagan wet dream in a dream.  Published in 1499, and a bestseller for centuries, I just finished Hypnerotomachia Poliphili [other posts] and I can confidently say that it is the weirdest book I have read.  Here are a few samples of the text which, as the translator tells us in his forward, has been considerably pruned of invented words and bizarre phrases to make it flow better for the modern reader.

One of the many architectural wonders Poliphilio dreams, and describes at tremendous length:

The threshold of the doorway was made from an immense leek-green stone, whose tough surface was marred with a scattering of white, black, and grey spots and various other indistinct stains.  The straight antis-columns rested on this, standing one pace form the edge of the threshold with their inner sides smooth and lustrous but their outer faces notably carved.  There was not sight of hinges either on the threshold, or above, nor any indications of iron hooks retaining the half-capitals which were of the same stone.  Above this there curved the arched beam or semicircle, with the requisite lineaments and measured fascias of the beam, namely balls or berries and spindles, arranged by tens as if threaded on a string; dog’s ears; sinuous or lapped rinceaux in antique style, with their stalks.  The spine, wedge, or keystone of the arch was worthy of admiration for its bold and subtle design and its elegant finish, which make it a splendid sight to see.

In his dream, Poliphilio meets an enticing nymph:

The white breasts were left voluptuously open as far as to reveal the round nipples,  The little virginal body rested on straight legs, and little feet, some of the bare within antique sandals what were held on by golden thongs that passed between the bi and the middle toes, near the little toe, and right around the heel, to join neatly above the instep in an artistic bow.  Some were in shoes, tightly fastened with golden hooks: others wore boots with soles of crimson and other gay colors, such as were never seen on Gaius Caligula, the first to wear them.  Some had high boots slit around their with and fleshy calves; others, slippers with masterly fasteners of gold and silk. Many wore antique Sicyonian shoes, and a few had fine silken socks, with golden laces decorated with gems.

Still in his dream, he finds Polia, and is invited into a pagan love-fest:

Does Mars dream?

Take your pleasure of me for a all days to come, and you will feel comfort and contentment that make you forget your former torments and past misfortunes:  they will dissolve under my caresses and kindnesses just as the mists, rising and thickening from the all-ruling earth are dispersed by forceful winds, as dust-motes float and vanish in the air.  Now take this amorous kiss’ (here he embraced me in virginal fashion) as the gauge of my inflamed heart, conceived from my excessive love.”  And as he hugged me tightly, my little round purple mouth mingled its moisture with his , savoring sucking, and giving the sweetest little bites as our tongues entwined around each other.

There is much sighing, some dying, some reviving, then dying more, then sighing, and loving and entwining.  But in the end, Poliphilio awakes, and it’s all over.  He curses the jealous sun that rose and ended his nightime bliss.


Meanwhile, back with the strife of love in a dream…

March 29, 2010

Our trusty Poliphilo has met up with his beloved Polia and is led hither and yon by her.  He can barely restrain himself when he sits beside her:  She is so beautiful, so celestially dazzling that his blood is inflamed, he is short of breath, and all he can imagine is throwing himself on her, moving his hands over her breasts, unlacing those delightful red leather slippers with the blue silk laces and half-moon ornaments, and…  Yes, that’s the level of detail he goes into as he sings her praises – he loves her clothes, and every square inch of alabaster glowing skin they conceal.  Which does he love more?  It’s not always clear.  But, he does restrain himself, and she directs him towards some absolutely fascinating classical ruins that he must go see.  How could he resist?  Antique architecture makes his heart beat (and his manhood grow rigid?) as much as Polia’s goddess-like forehead does.

Amidst all the broken architecture are numerous urns and plaques with incriptions in Latin telling of the woes encountered by lovers cursed by fortune.  Included among them is a married couple that died on their wedding night, before consummating their love, when their house collapsed, crushing them to death in each other’s arms.  None of these sorry tales – mostly involving spurned or lost lovers who take their own lives – cools Poliphilio’s love.

The images below show a massive architectural ensemble that Mr. P. finds and describes in great detail.  I was reminded of this painting by Cosima Tura, one of my favorites, that is in the National Gallery in London.  Tura was from Ferrara, midway between Venice, where Colonna, the author the Hypnerotomachia, lived, and Florence.  He painted this at the same time that Hypnerotomachia was being written, but years before it was printed and published in the famous Aldus edition in Venice.    Click on the images to see enlargements.


Which door will he pick?

February 17, 2010

Poliphilo must select a door, but he get’s to look behind them first.  He still chooses the “wrong” one…

Alas, I was raised on television…


A few of my favorite things…

January 25, 2010

See what my new reproduction of the illustrations from Martin Luther’s translation of the Bible has to offer!

  • Apocalyptic rhetoric – in this case, the real deal, the Book of Revelation
  • Reptiles – here we have the Beast from the Pit looking like a Komodo Dragon
  • Architecture – John measures the heavenly temple
  • No-holds-barred satire – The lizard wears the Pope’s hat!
  • Bob Dylan? – Whoa, two witnesses with tongues of fire.  Swear that’s in one of his songs somewhere!

[Feb. 13]  Could it be that this dragon image from Hypnerotomachia Poliphili could be the source of the iconography in the image at the head of this post?  A dragon/lizard in the cathedral/temple?  How odd that would be as a source of Protestant anti-papal graphics!


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