Love and Sleep with the Friend of Many Things

Hypnerotomachia Poliphili (from Greek hýpnos, ‘sleep’, éros, ‘love’, and máchē, ‘fight’), called in English Poliphilo’s Strife of Love in a Dream or The Dream of Poliphilus. The book has long been sought after as one of the most beautiful incunabula ever printed. It is actually anonymous, but an acrostic formed by the first, elaborately decorated letter in each chapter in the original Italian reads POLIAM FRATER FRANCISCVS COLVMNA PERAMAVIT, “Brother Francesco Colonna has dearly loved Polia.”, that’s why this romance is said to be by Francesco Colonna.

First published in Venice in 1499 by Aldo Manutius, in an elegant page layout, with refined woodcut illustrations in an Early Renaissance style, Hypnerotomachia Poliphili presents a mysterious arcane allegory in which Poliphilo pursues his love Polia through a dreamlike landscape, and is, seemingly, at last reconciled with her by the Fountain of Venus.

 
 

 
 

The book is illustrated with 168 exquisite woodcuts showing the scenery, architectural settings, and some of the characters Poliphilo encounters in his dreams. They depict scenes from Poliphilo’s adventures, or the architectural features over which the text rhapsodizes, in a simultaneously stark and ornate line art style which perfectly integrates with the type. These images are also interesting because they shed light on what people in the Renaissance fancied about the alleged æsthetic qualities of Greek and Roman antiquities.

The typography is famous for its quality and clarity, in a roman typeface cut by Francesco Griffo, a revised version of a type which Aldus had first used in 1496 for the De Aetna of Pietro Bembo. The type was revived by the Monotype Corporation in 1923 as Poliphilus. Another revival, of the earlier version of Griffo’s type, was completed under the direction of Stanley Morison in 1929 as Bembo. The type is thought to be one of the first examples of the italic typeface, and unique to the Aldine Press in incunabula.

The psychologist Carl Jung admired the book, believing the dream images presaged his theory of archetypes. The style of the woodcut illustrations had a great influence on late-nineteenth-century English illustrators, such as Aubrey Beardsley, Walter Crane, and Robert Anning Bell.

 
 

 
 

The story begins with Poliphilo, who has spent a restless night because his beloved, Polia (literally “Many Things”), shunned him. Poliphilo is transported into a wild forest, where he gets lost, encounters dragons, wolves and maidens and a large variety of architecture, escapes, and falls asleep once more.

He then awakens in a second dream, dreamed within the first. In the dream, he is taken by some nymphs to meet their queen, and there he is asked to declare his love for Polia, which he does. He is then directed by two nymphs to three gates. He chooses the third, and there he discovers his beloved. They are taken by some more nymphs to a temple to be engaged. Along the way they come across five triumphal processions celebrating the union of the lovers. Then they are taken to the island of Cythera by barge, with Cupid as the boatswain; there they see another triumphal procession celebrating their union. The narrative is interrupted, and a second voice takes over, as Polia describes his erotomachia from her own point of view.

 
 

 
 

Poliphilo resumes his narrative after one-fifth of the book. Polia rejects Poliphilo, but Cupid appears to her in a vision and compels her to return and kiss Poliphilo, who has fallen into a deathlike swoon at her feet, back to life. Venus blesses their love, and the lovers are united at last. As Poliphilo is about to take Polia into his arms, Polia vanishes into thin air and Poliphilo wakes up.

The book is briefly mentioned in The Histories of Gargantua and Pantagruel (1532–34) by François Rabelais: “Far otherwise did heretofore the sages of Egypt, when they wrote by letters, which they called hieroglyphics, which none understood who were not skilled in the virtue, property, and nature of the things represented by them. Of which Orus Apollon hath in Greek composed two books, and Polyphilus, in his Dream of Love, set down more…” (Book 1, Ch. 9.)

The 1993 novel The Club Dumas by Arturo Pérez-Reverte mentions the 1545 edition of the Hypnerotomachia (Ch. 3). The book is again mentioned in Roman Polanski‘s 1999 film, The Ninth Gate, based loosely on Pérez-Reverte’s novel (this time, by its Italian title, “La Hypnerotomachia di Poliphilo“).

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Open Sesame!

Ali Baba (1897), Aubrey Beardsley.

 
 

This design dates from near the end of Beardsley’s short life. It is his only drawing for a proposed book of Arabian Night’s Tales, The Forty Thieves. The book was left unfinished at his death from tuberculosis in 1898.

The size and obesity of Ali Baba’s body is suggested in the most simple and minimal way. He almost seems to blend in with the background, his shape defined only by his robes and richly profuse jewellery. The decorations on the tassel seem to be based on 17th-century embroidery designs known as ‘blackwork’. Beardsley may have studied this rare form of ornament at the South Kensington Museum (now the V&A). It is typical of him to ‘quote’ historical forms in this way. He drew inspiration from many different sources, and yet his style was uniquely his own.

 
 

Ali Baba in the woods, also by Beardsley

 
 

Ali Baba (علي بابا‎) is a character from medieval Arabic literature. He is described in the adventure tale of Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves (علي بابا والأربعون لصا). Like many other folk tales frequently adapted for children, the original tale is darker and more violent than the more familiar bowdlerized versions. Popular perception of Ali Baba, and the way he is treated in popular media, sometimes implies that he was the leader of the “forty thieves”; in the story he is actually an honest man whom fortune enables to take advantage of the thieves’ robberies.

Some critics believe that this story was added to One Thousand and One Nights by one of its European translators, Antoine Galland, an 18th-century French orientalist who may have heard it in oral form from a Middle Eastern story-teller from Aleppo, in modern day Syria. In any case, the first known text of the story is Galland‘s French version. Richard F. Burton included it in the supplemental volumes, rather than the main collection of stories, of his edition of the Thousand and One Nights, and seems to have thought it Greek Cypriot in origin.

Swan’s Way

Blazon

For the Countess of Peralta

 
 

The snow-white Olympic swan,
with beak of rose-red agate,
preens his Eucharistic wing,
which he opens to the sun like a fan.

 

His shining neck is curved
like the arm of a lyre,
like the handle of a Greek amphora,
like the prow of a ship.

 

He is the swan of divine origin
whose kiss mounted through fields
of silk to the rosy peaks
of Leda’s sweet hills.

 

White king of of Castalia’s fount,
his triumph illumines the Danube;
Da Vinci was his baron in Italy;
Lohengrin is his blond prince.

 

His whiteness is akin to linen,
to the buds of the white roses,
to the diamantine white
of the fleece of an Easter lamb.

 

He is the poet of perfect verses,
and his lyric cloak is of ermine;
he is the magic, the regal bird
who, dying, rhymes the soul in his song.

 

This winged aristocrat displays
white lilies on a blue field;
and Pompadour, gracious and lovely,
has stroked his feathers.

 

He rows and rows on the lake
Where a golden gondola waits
For the sweetheart of Louis of Bavaria.

 

Countess, give the swans your love,
for they are gods of an alluring land
and are made of perfume and ermine,
of white light, of silk, and of dreams.

Ruben Darío

 
 

Photo: Bruce Weber

 
 

Carmen Dell’Orefice by Norman Parkinson, 1980

 
 

Swaroski logo

 
 

Bathyllus in the swan dance, Aubrey Beardsley

 
 

Henri Matisse making a study of a swan in the Bois de Boulogne, c. 1930

 
 

Advertisement illustrated by René Gruau

 
 

Illustration to Garcia Márquez’s short story Bon Voyage Mr. President, by Josie Portillo

 
 

Still from The Black Swan (Darren Aronofsky, 2010)

 
 

Anna Pavlova

 
 

Still from The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn – Part 1 (Bill Condon, 2011)

 
 

Helena Bonham Carter

 
 

Laetita Casta. Photo: Mario Testino

 
 

Uma Thurman and Mikahil Baryshnikov as The Swan Prince. Photo: Arthur Elgort

 
 

Truman Capote styled his beautiful and wealthy female friends “swans”

 
 

Accompained by Lee Radziwill and Jane Haward

 
 

With socialité Babe Paley in Paris

 
 

Escorting CZ Guest

 
 

Capote and Gloria Vanderbilt Lumet arrive at New York’s 54th Street Theatre for the opening performance of Caligula., 16 Feb 1960

 
 

Gloria Vanderbilt ad campaigns

 
 

Ludwig II (Luchino Visconti, 1972). He was sometimes called the Swan King

 
 

Mirror, Mirror (Tarsem Singh, 2012)

 
 

Robert Redford and Mia Farrow in The Great Gatsby (Jack Clayton, 1974)

 
 

Leonardo di Caprio. Photo: Annie Leibovitz

 
 

Madonna. Photo: David LaChapelle

 
 

David Bowie

 
 

Ad campaign featured in Vogue, January 1997

 
 

Tory Burch swan-print wedge sandalias

 
 

Swan Evening dress by Charles James, 1951

 
 

Kate Moss wearing a Givenchy gown by Ricardo Tisci, Spring-Summer collection 2011

 
 

Giles Deacon Spring-Summer 2012 collection

 
 

Erin O’Connor wearing a gown by Alexander McQueen. Photo: Tim Walker

 
 

Eglingham Children and Swan on Beach, Tim Walker, 2002

Elliot Alice Boots

Elliott Alice Boots‘, by Paul Christodoulou, 1966-67. A monochrome lithographic poster advertising ladies boots manufactured by T. Elliott & Sons. The design incorporating an illustration of a young woman, in a white dress and holding flowers, into a pastiche of designs after Aubrey Beardsley.

The Peacock Enthroned

Earthquake Damage. Lily Cole photographed by Tim Walker in Whadwhan Palace, Gujarat (India), 2005

 
 

La Grande Odalisque, 1814,  Jean AugusteDominique Ingres

 
 

The Peacock Room, 1876-7, James McNeill Whistler

 
 

The Peacock Throne is the most notable piece of furniture of the Moorish Kiosk, a building located at Linderhoff Palace in Bavaria, Germany. It’s the smallest of the three palaces built by King Ludwig II of Bavaria

 
 

Illustration of Sir Vane Peacock, JJ Grandville, 1852

 
 

The Kiss, 1896 Will Bradley

 
 

Aubrey Beardsley

 
 

Alphons Mucha

 
 

Kimono by Iida Takashimaya. Circa 1904-1908

 
 

Erté

 
 

George Barbier

 

bilibinIllustration to a Russian fairy tale about Жар-птица (The Firebird), 1899, by Ivan Bilibin

 
 

Walter Crane

 
 

Orson Lowell

 
 

The Majestic Peacock, by Elisabeth Sonrel

 
 

Vogue Cover , March 18, 1909 as illustrated by James St. John

 
 

George Wolf Plank, 1911

 
 

Frank Xavier Leyendecker, 1921

 
 

Page from Winter 1965 Lanctan catalogue, illustration by Paul Christadoulou

 
 

Flapper style headdress

 
 

Photo credit: Art Kane

 
 

Katharine Hepburn. Photo: Cecil Beaton, 1961

 
 

Gabrielle Coco Chanel. Photo by Boris Lipnistki

 
 

Natasha Khan (Bat for Lashes)

 
 

Michael Jackson’s Dangerous. Cover by Mark Ryden