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Art & Design

Italian, Hypnerotomachia Poliphili, 1499, Museum Works of Art Fund


Hypnerotomachia Poliphili

Francesco Colonna, author Italian
Attributed to Benedetto Bordon
Italian, ca. 1450-1530
Aldus Manutius, publisher
Italian, 1449-1515
Hypnerotomachia Poliphili, 1499
Bound book with woodcut illustrations
Length: 38.1 cm (15 inches)
Museum Works of Art Fund 51.509

This book’s overall design - is typography, woodcut illustrations, and general layout - render it one of the most remarkable artistic achievements of the Renaissance. Printed by the scholarly Venetian publisher Aldus Manutius in 1499, RISD’s Hypnerotomachia Poliphili is one of thirty known extant copies. Part fictional narrative and part scholarly treatise, the text relates the story of the hero Poliphilus who, in quest of his beloved Polia, falls asleep and dreams of wandering through antiquity. The delicate woodcuts, no attributed to the circle of Andrea Mantegna, exhibit an elegant clarity. Illustrated here is an elephant holding an obelisk, an edifice through which Poliphilus wanders in his dream. The complicated layers of interpretation in both text and image appealed to Manutius’s highly learned, humanist audience.

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