COLONNA, Francesco (1433-1527). Hypnerotomachia Poliphili, ubi humana omnia non nisi somnium esse docet atque obiter plurima scitu sanequam digna commemorat, in Italian. Venice: Aldus Manutius for Leonardus Crassus, December 1499.
Super-chancery 2o (299 x 194 mm). Collation: s4; a-y8 z10; A-E8 F4 (r title, v dedicatory letter in Latin by Leonardo Crasso to Guidobaldo da Montefeltro, Duke of Urbino, r laudatory Latin poem addressed to Crasso by Giovanni Baptista Scytha, unsigned synopses of the work [by the author?] in Latin distichs, Italian prose and Italian tercets, v epigrams by Andreas Maro Brixianus; a1r Book I, z10v blank; A1r Book II, F4r errata and colophon, F4v blank). 234 leaves. 39 lines. Type: Roman types 2:115 = the lower case of 114R, cut by Francesco Griffo, with new majuscules based on inscriptional models (text), and 10:82 (first title, errata, massed capitals in quires q, r, and elsewhere); Greek types 2:114 (occasional words) and 3:84 (errata); Hebrew type (4 lines on b8r-v). 172 WOODCUTS RELIABLY ATTRIBUTED TO THE PADUAN MINIATURIST BENEDETTO BORDON, including 11 full-page illustrations. Two 8-line and 37 6-line woodcut chapter initials, the latter printed from 17 blocks from two sets, the initials forming an acrostic reading POLIAM FRATER FRANCISCUS COLUMNA PERAMAVIT. The misprint "Saneque" on A1r corrected in manuscript: the E erased and the last two letters "AM" written in (not stamped, as often); the erroneous signature "E1" for C1 corrected in ink. (Small stain on a8v-b1r, trace of effaced inscription on title, short repaired marginal tear to C2, discreetly repaired tears in upper margins of F1-4, causing loss of a letter of heading on F1r and slightly affecting 5 letters of errata, minor restoration to lower blank corner of errata leaf.)
Binding: bound ca. 1810-1818 by FRANçOIS BOZéRIAN in gold-tooled dark blue straight-grained morocco over pasteboard, sides with fillet frame enclosing border of a repeated fan and palanquin tool, highlighted by tiny clover tools and gilt dots, concave squares at corners richly decorated in the mille points style with floral and other small tools on gilt-dotted ground, inner border of delicate small repeated gilt tulip tools and tiny blind-tooled diamonds, the spine in 7 compartments divided by pairs of faux bands, title lettered in the second compartment, the remainder with dense mille points tooling, "Rel. p. Bozerian jeune" lettered in the lower compartment, gilt flecks on board edges and roll-tool along turn-ins, pale orange watered-silk liners, gilt edges (minor scuffing to head and tail of spine and corners, front fore-corners slightly bumped); morocco-backed slipcase and folding chemise.
Provenance: Nicolas Yemeniz (1783-1871): bookplate; his library sold en bloc to Ambroise Firmin-Didot (1790-1876), who dispersed it, Paris sale, 9 May 1867, lot 2249 -- Léon Rattier (d. before 1909): bookplate; sale, 3 June 1913 -- Eugène Wasserman: sale, Brussels, 24 October 1921 -- A. W. M. Mensing (1866-1936): sale, Sotheby's, 15 December 1936 (lot 133) -- Charles Conover Kalbfleisch (1868-1943): booklabel, sale New York, Parke-Bernet, 10 January 1944 -- Francis Kettaneh: bookplate; sale, Paris, 20 May, 1980, lot 28 (to Quaritch, collation note).
FIRST EDITION, THE YEMENIZ -- RATTIER -- KETTANEH COPY, OF THE MOST CELEBRATED ILLUSTRATED PRINTED BOOK OF THE ITALIAN RENAISSANCE. An enigmatic tale of love lost and regained, presented in two versions and written in "an extraordinarily exotic Latinate vernacular, a language never spoken and never again attempted in Latin literature" (Martin Davies, Aldus Manutius, 1995, p. 37), the Polifilo has inspired a body of commentary and conjecture disproportionate to its literary merit. From the title, a coinage meaning "a struggle of love in a dream by the lover of Polia," to the oneiric illustrations and text dense with classical allusions, the work has evoked almost as many interpretations as interpreters. "A linguistic and literary debauch, choked with recondite imagery, erudite periphrases, and exotic verbiage" (Lowry, p. 120), the text has been confidently glossed as an allegorical guide to neo-classical aesthetics and to Leon Battista Alberti's architectural theories; a fable relating the struggle of the medieval Christian mind toward humanistic enlightenment; a coded alchemical treatise; a Jungian allegory of the individuation of the psyche and its striving for self-knowledge; or a sort of humanistic encyclopaedia. This last, most straightforward interpretation is the result of a close study of the annotations by a 16th-century north Italian humanist reader in a copy still privately owned in Italy (Dorothea Stichel, "Reading the Hypnerotomachia Poliphili in the Cinquecento, marginal notes in a copy at Modena," Aldus Manutius and Renaissance Culture, Essays in Memory of Franklin D. Murphy, Florence 1998). Numerous allusions misinterpreted or unnoticed by later commentators were easily recognized by that near-contemporary reader, and his copious notes elucidate the rich classical sources underlying the work, whose author relied largely on Pliny, Ovid, and Boccaccio, Genealogia deorum. Stichel concludes (as did Lowry) that the Polifilo was conceived "first and foremost [as] a treasury of erudition, fundamentally defined by the classical heritage," and suggests that this may have been Aldus's motivation for agreeing to the request of the well-connected Veronese nobleman Leonardo Crasso that he publish it.
On whose behalf Crasso was acting has still not been satisfactorily resolved. The commonly accepted attribution to the dissolute Dominican friar Francesco Colonna is supported by internal evidence -- the acrostic formed by the chapter initials and a dedicatory poem, cancelled in all but one copy (Berlin Staatsbibliothek), addressed to "Francisco alta columna." Also of possible relevance is an act of the Dominican order dated 5 June 1501, instructing Colonna to repay the Provincial of the Order for expenses incurred "on account of the printed book" (M. T. Casella and G. Piozzi, Francesco Colonna, biografia e opere, Padua 1959, I, p.124).
The identity of the "Poliphilo Master" who designed the woodcuts -- two of which (a6v and c1r) are signed ".b." or "b" (possibly simply the mark of a workshop) -- has also long been disputed. The Paduan miniaturist Benedetto Bordon or Bordone (ca. 1450/60-ca. 1530), who spent most of his career in Venice and almost certainly collaborated with Lucantonio Giunta on the illustrations for a sequence of monumental printed choir books, remains the likely artist. Although circumstantial and stylistic, the evidence is strong that Bordon worked with Aldus on the illustration and layout of the Hypnerotomachia Poliphili: "Regardless of the author and form of the manuscript, Aldus Manutius would have required the assistance of a skilled designer in order to produce the Poliphilus. The designer would have overseen the transfer of drawings to woodblocks and would have worked on the complex layout of the woodcuts and type. Such a designer needed to know about woodcut production and to have worked previously with images -- painted or woodcut -- in printed books of the known book artists in the Veneto in the 1490s with these skills. Benedetto Bordon was by far the most obvious candidate" (Lilian Armstrong, "Benedetto Bordon, Aldus Manutius and Lucantonio Giunta, Old Links and New", Aldus Manutius and Renaissance Culture, op. cit., p. 166).
Unlike the identities of its author and illustrator, the book's status as a masterpiece of typographic design is rarely challenged, and it is celebrated as the greatest early example of the harmonious integration of printed text and illustration. The woodcuts depict scenes from the story as well as ancient architecture, inscriptions, monuments and triumphal processions observed by the dreaming Polifilo and described in detail in the text. A deliberate role was apparently assigned to the typeface for the achievement of a felicitous design. For the Polifilo a new set of capitals was combined with the roman type cut by Francesco Griffo da Bologna for the 1495/96 edition of Bembo, De Aetna. These capitals were designed according to the rules of proportion based on classical models which had been set forth by Felice Feliciano, Alberti, and Luca Pacioli. Lowry went so far as to affirm that the "Polifilo" capitals "proclaimed Aldus' association with an all-embracing movement to revive the culture of antiquity as loudly, and to his audience as clearly, as any of his rousing humanistic prefaces."
This audience was at first, however, quite small. Undoubtedly the expense of the edition (for which Dürer paid a ducat in 1507) and the obscurity of the work discouraged buyers: ten years after publication Crasso was still in possession of most of the edition, whose print-run has been estimated at 500 or 600 copies (G. Mardersteig, "Osservazione tipografiche sul 'Polifilo' nelle edizioni del 1499 e 1545," Festschrift Donati, Florence 1969, p. 228). Only after publication of a second edition by Aldus' heirs in 1545 did the work gain in popularity, mainly through the French translation, illustrated with copies of the woodcuts, which was first published a year later and reprinted twice before the end of the century. An English version appeared in 1592.
The binding of this extremely fine copy is a splendid example of Bozérian jeune's later style. During the early years of the Restauration, François Bozérian (active 1805-1818), like his older brother Jean-Claude, moved away from the neo-classical Empire style that had been demanded by a clientèle centered around the imperial court, and began experimenting with bolder and richer decoration, foreshadowing the Romantic style developed by Thouvenin, Simier and others. The technique known as "mille points" or "sablé d'or," consisting of squares or rectangles containing meticulously disposed clusters of small tools on a densely gilt-dotted ground, was extraordinarily labor-intensive and ensured that each binding was unique. The binding-poet Mathurin Marie Lesné affirmed that up to 50,000 "strikes" could be required for the more elaborately decorated bindings, such as the present example (cf. Devauchelle, La Reliure en France, Paris 1960, II, p. 117).
HC 5501*; BMC V, 561 (IB. 24499-24502); Brunet Suppl. II, 269 (citing this copy); BSB-Ink. C-471; Essling 1198; GW 7223; Harvard/Walsh 2685-86; Lowry, pp. 119-25; Sander 2056; Goff C-767.