The Poliphilus as an iconographic work

Prof Dr. Frans A. Janssen 2007

Exciting books have more than one meaning; they are, they say, layered. The Italian novel Poliphilus also has different layers of meaning. The first edition was printed in Venice in 1499, at the height of the Italian Renaissance, in the large folio format by the most renowned printer of the period, Aldus Manutius. The title already indicates that it is a book for the few, because it requires language skills to understand the first word, which cannot be found in dictionaries: Hypnerotomachia Poliphili (Poliphilus' dreamed love struggle). No handwriting has survived, including sketches of the woodcuts that enrich the book. The authorship is uncertain, most experts assume that the monk Francesco Colonna was the writer, but we know little about him. The designer of the illustrations also remains in the dark; possibly it was Benedetto Bordone, who worked more for Manutius. In 1545, the son of Aldus, Paulus, a more or less similar second edition appeared, and after that the French Renaissance took over: in 1546 it appeared in Paris under the title Hypnerotomachie, ou Discours du songe de Poliphili (The dreamed love struggle, or Story of the Dream of Poliphilus) a French translation, probably written by Jean Martin, with woodcuts after those in the Italian prints (and some added). This translation was reprinted two more times, in 1554 and 1561, all three printed in folio format in the grandeur of French Renaissance typography. And then in 1600 an adaptation of this translation by Béroalde de Verville appears under the title Le tableau des ríches inventations (The overview of the rich 'inventions'), and I will present this edition in more detail below.
But first I would like to address some of those layers of meaning that can be pointed out in the Poliphilus. The Hypnerotomachia Poliphili is first and foremost a love novel: 'Poliphilus' dreamed love struggle, in which he tells us that everything earthly is just a dream, and in which he also tells a lot of interesting things'. In his dream he goes in search of his beloved Polia, he experiences many adventures, but when he finally has won his beloved Polia, the dream is broken and he realizes that 'all human is no more than a dream', a topos which can be found in Petrarca's first sonnet, among other things.
The book is also an allegorical novel: characters represent abstract matters. Thus the beloved Polia can represent the Love, or the Beauty, the Wisdom, the Soul. In the latter conception Poliphilus travels from body to soul, to 'true (purified) love', as can be read at the end of the first part. state.
The Poliphilus is also a true renaissance book. I personally like to see the novel as the imagination through the renaissance of antiquity. The renaissance here envisions antiquity, in which the notion of 'Golden Age' plays a role, which incidentally is explicitly called: 'O aurea veramente aerate (oh truly golden age). In this imagination architecture comes to the fore – both of buildings and gardens -, but art, philosophy (Platonism) and eroticism also play an important role.

The novel is part of a tradition that is referred to as 'quest literature'. A young hero goes on a quest, the journey shapes him and at the end he has reached adulthood. One can also speak here of Bildungsroman, a genre that includes Fénelons Les aventures de TéLémaque and Thomas Manns Der Zauberberg.
The first edition from 1499 is also special as an object: it is generally regarded as a typographic masterpiece, to which have contributed (fig. 1-2): the large folio format, the choice of the letter (a variant of a roman print type already used by Manutius), the decorated initials, the typographic layout (with shapes on the type area that we could call visual typography) and the clear woodcuts in the best Renaissance tradition. ' Because the profession of typographic designer did not yet exist, it was undoubtedly the printer Manutius who was responsible
for design. Just like the English translation published in 1999, the Dutch translation produced in 2006 imitated this typography; the letter used was in both cases a digital version of the lead typeface 'Poliphilus', which was modeled for the Monotype typesetting machine in 1923 after the original Roman letter designed by Francesco Griffo. The fine first edition from 1499 immediately became a cult book for book collectors, with the result that more than 300 copies are now kept in institutional and private libraries. However, it has always remained an unread cult book.
And that being unread has to do not only with the detailed descriptions, but also with the 'philosophical' layer, with the thinking of the Renaissance, with the Platonist view that the human soul can ascend to the world of the 'ideas', to the 'secret' world. treasure house of philosophy ', as the book's client and patron, Leonardo Grassi – in fact the publisher of the first edition – puts it in his brief at the front of the book. And that absorption takes place through symbolic use of language and image.

The rest of my argument is about that symbolic use of language and image. We know that elements from the Poliphilus have influenced various arts, but there is more than that. To demonstrate that, I go a century further, to the year 1600, when the just now
said fourth edition of the French translation of the Poliphilus was published. However, this edition was given a different title, a different format (the smaller quarter-for-measure) and a different, sober typographic design (fig. 3-4, same chapter as fig 1-2 '. The title is
now fig. 5): Le tableau des riches inventions: 'The overview of the rich "inventions" that, covered by the veil of the deceptions of love, are described in the
Dream of Poliphilus, stripped of the darkness of the dream and delicately explained by Béroalde '. The new title promises a statement that clearly explains the 'rich inventions'. Who was Béroalde and what did he have to offer in his adaptation of the French translation
of the Poliphilus?
Francois Béroalde de Verville (1556-1626) 'a now forgotten novelist and poet, fled as a Huguenot from Paris to Geneva, where he stayed between 1573 and 1582. On his return to Paris he became a Catholic; he was in circles around the court. From 1589 we find him in Tours where he was given an ecclesiastical function.
He was a physician and intellectual, writing history, philosophy and science, and like many doctors, he was interested in alchemy. Among other things, we have the alchemical novel Le voyage des princes fortunez (1610), a chaotic satirical work 'Le
moyen de parvenir, (circa 1617), and his adaptation of the Poliphilus (1600). He undoubtedly met the publisher of this last book, the Parisian Mathieu Guillemot, during his stay in Tours (1591-5). Béroalde's works display characteristics of literary mannerism: irregularity, disharmony, 'obscuration, mystery', 'it is labyrinthine', it plays with multiple meanings, it shows a play with forms that are different than they appear, and alchemy and kabbalah are helpful backgrounds to this. His works are mirrors that show different facets of reality. An author whose works can be characterized with these words must be receptive to the temptations of the phantasms in the Poliphilus. By the way, around 1600 there was a renewed interest in Colonna's novel, which explains that shortly after 1600 there were two more reprints
of Béroalde's adaptation appeared, incidentally under the same title page.
Béroalde has altered Jean Martin's translation – which was in fact an adaptation – here and there, but without including the original Italian text: he adapted the text slightly to the world around 1600. This new adaptation would not deserve special mention were it not for the fact that the text editor shows other aspects of the work in paratexts (all texts that are printed around the main text of a work, such as title page, dedication, forewords, index). I will discuss four of these para texts. I already mentioned the new title: Tableau des riches inventions; I will postpone the question of the meaning of 'inventions'.

The title engraving (fig. 5, engraved by Léonard Gaultier) differs greatly from the woodcuts in the novel, if only because of the heavily emphasized alchemical symbolism. To give just one example: the phoenix in alchemy represents the changed matter that becomes the philosopher's stone; the dragon points to the 'prima materia' that the alchemist must perfect;
The signs for salt, mercury, and sulfur indicate the trinity in alchemy; the winged serpent dragon biting its tail symbolizes the cyclical nature of the universe.

Béroalde's introductory essay is entitled, 'Recueil steganographique, contenant L'intelligence du frontispice de ce livre' (steganographic collection containing an understanding of the title engraving). Béroalde here gives an explanation of the alchemical symbols with the aid of 'steganography', an occult notation that obscures, covers meanings. This method was devised a century earlier by the Christian 'magician' Trithemius. Does this explanation of the alchemical symbols of the title engraving constitute the essence of the 'inventions'? Possibly in the design of Béroalde, but these symbols hardly appear in the Poliphilus (the snake that bites its tail does occur, but has a different meaning here). Only once can one recognize alchemical symbolism. Incidentally, Béroalde was not originally in his alchemical setting of the Poliphilus. The second and third editions of the French translation from 1554 and 1561 have a short foreword by the alchemist Jacques Gohory, in which an alchemical atmosphere is pointed out: the search for the beloved in the novel stands for the search for alchemical insights regarding nature and cosmos. . These attempts at annexation of the Poliphilus are part of a movement that at the end of the sixteenth century began to interpret mythological and literary texts alchemically, including Ovid, Virgil, the Grail novels, the Roman de la Rose.

Béroalde wrote two commissions, one to his patron Pierre Brochard, one 'to the good readers who turn their eyes to these ideas for serious pleasure. Hardly anything is said about alchemy here; Béroalde does point out that Colonna is in his
novel provides hidden philosophical insights, which can be found behind the 'figures' (representations), and that the' steganographic 'treatise that is the novel offers the reader new' inventions' (also in one of the introductory poems' inventions').

The biggest surprise is the para text at the end of the translation of the Poliphilus, an index: 'Table des principaux poincts, choses plus memorables et dignes de remarque contenues au Songe de Poliphile' (Index of the most important subjects, the most memorable and noteworthy things described in the dream of Poliphilus); the index covers eleven pages, the Poliphilus has 308 pages here. An index on a novel may come as a surprise, but we must realize that at that time there was no sharp division between fiction and non-fiction, between the novel and essay, and everything shows that the text editor Béroalde saw de Poliphilus as a kind of essay. In the literature on Béroalde this is
index mentioned twice: one of the researchers sees it as an index on philosophical themes, another considers it a useless part. Under bypass
reflections on the history of the index, I conclude that it concerns an 'index rerum', although it also contains names: it is an index on symbols' but the alchemical symbols that Béroalde mentions so highly do not appear in it .

The index does not have the level of a modern iconographic register on sign and / or meaning. It is not complete and the keywords seem to have been chosen randomly. However, the nature of the proposed item is indicated for each keyword, for example under 'Amour' (which occurs nine times as a keyword): 'The Love between two persons represented hieroglyphically'. Not under 'Amour' but under 'Banniere' one finds: 'The Banner of Love represented with the signs of its victories', and this is repeated literally under 'Hierogliphe': 'Hieroglyph representing the victories that Love achieves everywhere'.

Sometimes the sign is included as an entry, sometimes the meaning, rarely both. I will give some examples. Under the sign: 'Circles representing the three times – past, present and future'; 'Labyrinth to represent the changes and the constraints of fate'; 'Het Roer [Tymon]represents the infinite wisdom that rules the whole world'. Under the meaning: "Autumn depicted by a Bacchus" (but under "Bacchus" it only says: "Bacchus elaborately represented next to a chariot"); "The Auspicious Opportunity descri[occasion]bed ingeniously," although the personification is not occasionally mentioned in the text. Under both sign and meaning:
'The Victory, why represented by a palm', and 'Palm, why it means victory' 'Nine times the keyword' Comparaison 'is included, among others:' Comparison of the limbs and functions of the human body with the parts of a grand building '(goes back to Vitruvius' book 3); 'Comparison of the Trojan Horse' full of enemies, weapons and fire, with the Love that invades a heart '. 'Figure' is recorded five times' including: 'Hieroglyphic images interpreted as patience', with a reference to the, well-known rebus (fig. 6) from anchor, dolphin and ring and the saying '[dolfijn]always hur[ríng]ry slowly'[anker] this imagination had become Manutius's printer's mark in 1501) 'This is reflected under' Patience ':' Patience, depicted hieroglyphically ', but not under' anchor ' or 'dolphin'. The term "hieroglyph" here does not represent an Egyptian script but a symbol with a hidden meaning (riddle, rebus); in this index this word always refers to an illustration '

Naturally, we also look at the keyword 'invention', which appears five times, including: 'Beautiful and admirable inventions for embellishing a garden'; 'Invention, the main activity of an architect'. Under 'Fixed' it says: 'Very special Vase with
perfumes, enriched with beautiful inventions '' After all this, how should we use the word 'invention'
read? The meaning is broader than 'invention, discovery' invention '. Without going into discussions in professional literature – in particular that of the history of rhetoric and of art – about the concept of 'inventio', I say that here at Béroalde it stands for intellectual idea, representation, image, imagination 'portrayal of hidden concepts' I will give two
places that support this broad meaning. Just around 1600 the English playwright Ben Jonson spoke several times about 'inventions':
he pointed to "distant mysteries," and saw affinity with symbols, hieroglyphs, emblems, and imprese (motto, personal symbols). The great connoisseur of Mannerism, Gustav Hocke, called Béroaldes 'riches inventions' 'the treasury for dark combinations' and made a connection with the Platonic 'ideas' (eternal, divine objects of knowledge), and with hieroglyphs, emblems and motto.
At the end of my tour of the Tableau des riches inventions, my conclusion is that in this version of the Poliphilus, in particular by its title and by its index, this novel is presented as a kind of handbook for 'inventions', for symbolic representations, for representations of other, 'higher' things; the work becomes an example book, a model book for artists and writers – an iconographic handbook. The title is then perfectly chosen: "Overview of versatile imaginations". With this, the Tableau des riches inventions places itself in the sixteenth-century iconographic tradition that we know in particular from collections such as Horapollo, Hieroglyphica (first edition 1505, many reprints), Alciati, Emblematum liber (first edition 1531, many reprints and copies) , Valeriano's extensive Hieroglyphics (first, incomplete edition 1556, many reprints), Vicenzo Cartari, imagini Dei de gl 'antichi (first edition 1556, many reprints). The relationship between the Poliphilus and these emblematic works has already been pointed out. Béroalde implicitly refers to it through its index: some of these editions have an index or index-like table of contents. And it was precisely around 1600 that two other iconographic handbooks, arranged by keyword, were published in extensive reference works for symbolic representations. In 1593 the first edition of Cesare Ripa's iconologia appeared (second edition 1602, third edition 1603, the first with illustrations), and in 1604 Karel van Mander published his Schilder-Boeck, which contains two iconographic supplements: wtlegghing op den Metamorphosis Ovidii en Vvtbeelde der Figures. Like BéroaldeTableau, these books are not printed in the monumental folio format, but in the manual format, the handy quarto format.

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