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In the third book of Baldassare Castiglione's Book of the Courtier, set in Urbino in 1507, the discussion turns to how the ideal courtier approaches the lady he has chosen to love. One of the participants, the Magnifico Giuliano de'Medici, makes an observation: "For I have known some who, in writing and speaking to women, use Poliphilian words and stand so on the subtleties of rhetoric that the women lose confidence, and think themselves very ignorant and cannot wait to hear the end of such talk and get rid of the fellow." (1) This passage has been often cited as evidence of contemporary negative criticism of the Hypnerotomachia Poliphili. (2) Yet it also points to the book's most salient yet understudied aspects: rhetoric and love, the subjects of this essay.
Printed in Venice in December 1499, by Aldus Manutius, the publisher of ancient Latin and Greek and contemporary related works, the Hypnerotomachia Poliphili (The Strife of Love in the Dream of Poliphilo), was his first vernacular work and, with 171 woodcuts all of original design, one of the most lavishly illustrated books of the period. By its dedication to Guidobaldo da Montefeltro, Duke of Urbino (1472-1508), the book was directed to an audience of persons like him, educated in the studia humanitatis and with associations to the courts of Italy. (3) The Hypnerotomachia recounts and illustrates the experiences of its protagonist, Poliphilo who, in a dream within a dream, searches for his beloved, the nymph Polia. In his quest, he encounters ancient architecture, sculpture, Latin and Greek inscriptions, hieroglyphs, and mythological and allegorical personages.
The principal focus of study has been on the identity of its author, Francesco Colonna (the name found in an acrostic composed of the initial letters of each chapter), (4) and the interpretation of the book as a product of his culture, whether Venetian-Dominican or Roman-noble. (5) Research on this question has significantly increased understanding of the author's education, particularly his familiarity with Greek and Latin literature. Recent publications, including a new critical edition with Italian translation and an English translation, have added to our knowledge. (6) These studies generally consider the Hypnerotomachia as a compendium of humanistic learning, more specifically as a philosophical treatise, in which simple, clear images recount the pleasing fiction of a dream, whose moral and ethical message is concealed from the unlearned by Colonna's ornate, artificed prose. (7) It has received less attention as a work of vernacular literature and fiction. Both critical editions note the Petrarchan theme s and textual allusions in the book. Yet their significance has been minimized; one writer has reduced their meaning simply to the evidence of the author's Roman identity, placed by Colonna in his text to memorialize allusively his ancestors' patronage of the poet. (8)
Emphasis on the question of authorship has also overshadowed study of the early reception of the book in Italy. (9) Art historical study of the Hypnerotomachia has concentrated primarily on the pictorial and literary sources of its illustrations, particularly those describing architectural monuments and sculpture, which reveal Colonna's knowledge of the writings of Vitruvius and Leon Battista Alberti. (10) A relationship between Petrarch's poetry and the book's images has been discussed only in relation to the triumphs, described and illustrated in Book One. (11) Scholarship on the book, noting the interrelation of its text and images, generally credits the author with the original design and invention of the woodcuts, though discrepancies between text and image have been explained as misunderstandings or embellishments of Colonna's intentions by craftsmen. (12)
The argument presented here makes two basic assumptions. First, based on the philological evidence in the text, the book's author was the Venetian Francesco Colonna, a Dominican grammarian, though this premise is not central to the interpretation presented in this essay. (13) Second, the appearance of the woodcuts reflects the author's intentions. While certainly not discounting the importance of ancient Greek and Roman culture for its composition, this study considers it as a product of vernacular literary tradition. An examination of one aspect of that tradition, Petrarchan poetry, helps to contextualize the book's reception in the first decade of the sixteenth century It undergirds the close reading of the text and images offered here, centering on how two woodcuts (Figs. 1 and 2) operate intricately with their accompanying text, representing sentiments to the viewer-reader, as vernacular lyric poetry does. In one case, this produces an affective identification of the reader with the protagonist. In the ot her, the image-text dynamic occurs through a critical distancing of the reader-viewer from Poliphilo. Both woodcuts illustrate the initial encounter of Poliphilo with Polia, who is the motivation for his dream and the object of his search, and thus central to the book's plot.
The image-text relationships in the Hypnerotomachia have been studied extensively by Giovanni Pozzi, who characterizes the woodcuts as being either descriptive or narrative, according to their function. (14) He argues that those containing figures have a narrative function, serving to connect significant episodes, thereby producing narrative clarity for the reader lost in the wealth of Colonna's elaborately vivid, descriptive yet confusing language. This is, according to Pozzi, achieved by placing the woodcuts within the body of the chapter, juxtaposing the image representing a single action to the relevant text narrating that action. Pozzi's distinction certainly holds true for several series of illustrations presenting a sequence of actions within a single episode, such as the ceremony in the temple. In such sections, the text of the chapter is punctuated by woodcuts juxtaposed to narrative actions described in the text, as (Fig. 3) where an image of the priestess and her assistants in a procession has imme diately below it sentences recounting their arrival and describing in order the objects they carry. (15) This essay, which argues for a more complex interaction of text and image, studies woodcuts that Pozzi used as specific examples to demonstrate his thesis. Rather than considering them in terms of their independent function (a concept without much historical foundation), this essay examines them in connection with the literary tradition from which their subjects originate. In this case, the encounter of the lover (Poliphilo) with his beloved (Polia) is a topic central to Italian vernacular romance and lyric poetry.
Traditional art historical study of the Hypnerotomachia has been limited in part because of the difficulty of its language. Colonna created a vocabulary from Latin, Greek, and the vernaculars of Italy organized through Latin syntax. (16) He formed new words, adding Latin suffixes and prefixes to Italian words, and vice versa, creating adverbs, verbs, adjectives, diminutives, and augmentatives. (17) His readers, contemporary and modern, are constrained to perform a type of philological analysis in their reading, which slows the reader's pace to attend closely to the words of the text, to note their arrangement within clauses, and determine their significance.
Though an equivalent philological study of the vernacular did not yet exist in the late fifteenth century, a period without printed vernacular grammars or dictionaries, it cannot be inferred that vernacular works were ignored by persons who read critically Latin and Greek classics. On the contrary, recognizing no single norm of language, fifteenth-century non-Tuscans could and did read Tuscan literature, accepting its difference from their own written vernaculars. This is particularly true of the Hypnerotomachids readers, as the publisher Leonardo Grassi's dedicatory epistle states: "One thing about it is remarkable: although it speaks in our tongue, in order to understand it one needs Greek and Latin no less than Tuscan and the vernacular." (18) The most familiar Tuscan works then were those of Dante, Boccaccio, and Petrarch. The latter's Canzoniere and Triumphs were the best known, as is evident by the many surviving manuscript copies and the number of editions published with commentaries, beginning in 1475 . (19) The author of the commentary to the Canzoniere, the humanist Francesco Filelfo (1398-1481), considered the vernacular neither in need of nor worth philological study; he provided interpretations of the poems and identified Petrarch's mythological and historical allusions, without discussing his poetic style. (20) Two years after the issue of the Hypnerotomachia, the publication in July 1501 of Le cose volgari de messer Francesco Petrarcha, the Aldine edition of Petrarch's Rime (an alternative title for the Canzoniere) and Triumphs, edited by the Venetian patrician humanist Pietro Bembo (1470-1547) revealed a more philological attitude to the vernacular. Though it was not the first edition of Petrarch based on an autograph manuscript (the first was published in Padua in 1472), Bembo's correction of spelling, addition of punctuation and reordering of the sequence of both the Canzoniere and Triumphs, produced a version of Petrarch markedly different from that of the twenty-two preceding editions. (21) Bem bo did not write a related commentary; but in 1505 Aldus published his dialogue on the nature of love, written in fourteenth-century Tuscan, Gli Asolani. (22) In this work, Petrarch's poetic style was offered to a courtly humanist audience as a model for vernacular poetic imitation. Bembo's intent was to provide an example by which to reform the vernacular, by recovering the style he associated with a Golden Age of vernacular literature. (23) Within a fictional debate among three courtiers, Perottino, Gismondo, and Lavinello, Bembo contrasts three styles of vernacular poetry, which embody three different concepts of love, of literary imitation, and, as Lina Bolzoni has argued, of literary interpretation. (24) Bembo, who from the 151 Os on explicitly advocated Latin Ciceronianism and a Tuscan vernacular, may seem an unsuitable medium through which to interpret Colonna's work, since their styles differ greatly However, the Asolani was begun in 1496 (though its publication postdated the Hypnerotomachia by severa l years) and, at that time, both authors participated in a common culture of vernacular literature, recognizing both its forms and conventions, and in which style had not yet become a polemical issue. (25) Bembo did not rediscover Petrarch's poetry but instead sought to purify an existing practice of Petrarchan verse, revealed in the numerous contemporary manuscript and printed collections of sonnets by court poets now considered minor figures of Italian literary history. (26) The 1505 edition of the Asolani may be considered as an account of the state of that tradition in the late fifteenth and early sixteenth centuries. (27)
Colonna's use of vernacular topics has been disparaged, considered formulaic, unoriginal, and backward by many scholars, because his sources, particularly Boccaccio, Petrarch, and Dante, can be identified. (28) If, instead, we consider how Colonna transformed his sources, a more culturally accurate account of the book emerges. By alluding to many authors, adapting their topics, Colonna's practice appears more emulative than imitative, but not disputative or eristic. (29) Rather than seeking to surpass his literary predecessors, he demonstrates his command and knowledge of literary tradition, using it as the fabric to create his own fiction. Colonna's reader participates in this play, delighting in the recognition of sources and their visual and textual adaptations. (30) Beyond identifying a particular literary topos and its alteration by Colonna, his readers, educated in the theory and practice of rhetoric, could identify the specific techniques he employed to achieve his results. Such knowledge was found in the Latin rhetorical treatises used as theoretical models for imitation, such as Cicero's De inventione, Quintilian's Institutio oratoria, or the Rhetorica ad Herennium, a practical handbook then attributed to Cicero."
One such adaptation operates in the initial encounter of Polia and Poliphilo, which occurs approximately a third of the way through the Hypnerotomachia. After encounters with personifications of the five senses, Liberality, (32) Will, and Reason, Poliphilo meets a nymph whom he will later recognize as Polia. He views her through a pergola (Fig. 1) and a textual description of her appearance follows. This description has a long literary history. It belongs to the particular rhetorical figure of effictic (portrayal), defined in the Ad Herennium as that which "consists in representing and depicting in words clearly enough for recognition the bodily form of some person," and the example given is fairly detailed: "the ruddy, short, bent man, with white and curly hair, blue-grey eyes, and a huge scar on his chin." (33) Effictio was employed chiefly in ancient epideictic rhetoric, though physical descriptions also appear in ancient poetry. (34) Medieval rhetoricians adapted the figure to poetic use, and in so doing, prescribed a portraiture by type, in which a poet's personal experience was filtered through a notion of an ideal. (35) This new literary portraiture of conventions was employed extensively by Provencal and Italian poets and writers, including Petrarch and Boccaccio, and in Latin prose romances such as Enea Silvio …