Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History



  • Hypnerotomachia Poliphili (Poliphilo's Dream about the Strife of Love)
    Author: Francesco Colonna
    Venice: Aldus Manutius, 1499
    Woodcut illustrations with printed text; bound volume: 11 3/8 x 8 1/2 in. (29 x 21.5 cm)
    Gift of J. Pierpont Morgan, 1923 (23.73.1)

    This exquisite book, a complex tale of love and antiquarianism and a prime document of the Renaissance rediscovery of classical antiquity, was produced by the important Venetian publisher Aldus Manutius (ca. 1450–1515). A specialist in the publication of Greek texts, Aldus was also famous for developing new formats, such as the small, handheld book, and new typefaces, such as the italic, the descendants of which are still in use today. The typeface used in the Hypnerotomachia Poliphili, based on ancient Roman inscriptions, was created by Aldus' type designer Francesco Griffo of Bologna especially for this book, which has long been admired for its harmonious marriage of text and image. The spare and elegant illustrations reveal a careful study of ancient art as well as an interest in the new science of one-point linear perspective. The beauty of these anonymous woodcuts has led scholars, through the years, to associate their design with such famous artists as Andrea Mantegna, Gentile Bellini, or the young Raphael.

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  • Hypnerotomachia Poliphili (Poliphilo's Dream about the Strife of Love)
    Author: Francesco Colonna
    Venice: Aldus Manutius, 1499
    Woodcut illustrations with printed text; bound volume: 11 3/8 x 8 1/2 in. (29 x 21.5 cm)
    Gift of J. Pierpont Morgan, 1923 (23.73.1)

    Book One, signature d8 verso and e1 recto

    The Fountain of the Nymph, one of several fantastic fountains described and illustrated in this text, exerted considerable influence on the imagination of Renaissance readers. The encounter between satyr and sleeping nymph was depicted by Titian, the Carracci, and countless other artists, including the eccentric Master of 1515 (31.31.19), and even inspired the creation of a real fountain in the Roman garden of the Renaissance humanist Angelo Colucci. With the appearance of this illustration, the theme of erotic love becomes entwined with the love of the antique, for both the priapic satyr and the narrator Poliphilo desire the fair naked nymph of smooth white marble.

    Book One, signature k5 verso and k6 recto

    Poliphilo and Polia witness four triumphal processions that celebrate the power of Cupid by honoring the women loved by Zeus. In the first triumph, shown here, we see Europa on the back of a bull, the form taken by Zeus when he abducted the maiden and carried her over the sea. The author's fascination with the trappings of ancient Roman triumphs is evident in the trophies and standards borne by the participants. Elsewhere in the book, imaginative trophies are depicted and discussed as significant objects in themselves.

    Book Two, b2 verso and b3 recto

    Here we see two of three illustrations that depict the frightening dream of Polia, the beloved of Poliphilo who has refused his advances, wishing to remain chaste. Two women, chained to Cupid's chariot, are driven naked through the woods and furiously whipped by the small but deadly god. He then hacks their bodies to bits, and, in a final scene, not shown here, feeds their organs to the wild animals. Upon awakening, Polia learns that the dream is a warning of the fate of women who resist the dominion of the all-powerful god of love.

    Woodcut illustration, Book One, signature z8 recto

    In this illustration from the Hypnerotomachia Poliphili, a literary work of the Renaissance that blends eroticism with antiquarianism, Poliphilus and his beloved Polia participate in the worship of a statue of Venus erected on the tomb of Adonis. Relief sculpture on the tomb depicts the Graces consoling the goddess for the death of her lover.

    Book One, signature y3 verso and y4 recto

    When Poliphilo encounters another astonishing structure—an amphitheater that far surpasses the glory of the Colosseum (41.72[1.59])—he describes in minute detail even the sculptural decoration, including the scroll ornament inhabited by nymphs and satyrs illustrated on the left page. Clearly the author had studied similar examples of ancient ornament and extrapolated from these to create his own design. This was a common practice among Renaissance artists who, fascinated by the decorative stucco and marble reliefs found on Roman ruins, as well as the painted grotesques of the Golden House of Nero, used these as a basis for new inventions. Often published as prints, as in the case of Agostino Veneziano's Agostino Veneziano's Ornamental Panel (49.95.41), the resulting designs served in turn as models for other artist


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