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.
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.
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.
Its 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.