1499: Hypnerotomachia Poliphilii R215208 (Christie 35 a 9)

Fol. d7 recto, Hypnerotomachia Poliphili

Dolphin & Anchor, Fol. d7 recto, Hypnerotomachia Poliphilii

The emblem of a dolphin and anchor is the hallmark of books printed by Aldus Manutius, together with the motto festina lente, ‘Make haste slowly’. The dolphin is first found in an illustration for the Hypnerotomachia Poliphilii, published in 1499 and one of the finest examples of printing from this period with a combination of elegant Roman typeface and beautifully executed woodcuts.

The text is a mysterious allegory in which Poliphilo pursues his love Polia through a dreamlike landscape, and is at last reconciled with her by the Fountain of Venus. The authorship is still uncertain, but it is believed to be the work of Francesco Colonna, a Dominican monk who lived in Venice. Colonna’s name is supposed to be revealed in the book by taking the first letter of each of the 38 chapters to spell out Poliam frater Franciscus Columna peramavit, meaning ‘Brother Francesco Colonna loved Polia tremendously’.

The book features 172 woodcuts, including 11 full-page illustrations. Two of them (a6 verso and c1 recto) are signed with the initial B. This initial supports the scholarly opinion that indicates that the Venetian artist Benedetto Bordon designed the illustrations.

With the publication of this book, Aldus moves away from the publication of scholarly works to give prominence to an allegorical work that focuses on romance (the love between Poliphilo and Polia) and fantastic landscapes.

Leda and the Swan, folios h7 verso and h8 recto

Leda and the Swan, folios h7 verso and h8 recto

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