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The Hypnerotomachia Poliphili - Architectural Treatise or Intellectual Onanism?

Part 1 Dissertation 1999
Manisa Mistry
Leeds Beckett University, UK
The Hypnerotomachia Poliphili, published in 1499 by the Venetian publisher Aldos Manatuis, is and exemplary as well as challenging combination of text and images. Probably the most unreadable book to have ever been published, the Hypnerotomachia Poliphili is amongst the most important texts written in the Renaissance.
The Hypnerotomachia is a unique textual hybrid. It makes reference to philological and archeological matters related to architecture in a love story. However, the underlying notion in the text is the unsuspected eroticism, this is what entices the reader and draws them into a somewhat unusual architectural treatise.
The events of the story take place in a dream. The book begins with the hero, Poliphilo, who has spent a restless night because his beloved, Polia, has failed to meet him. The next day he is to begin his search for Polia, but falls into a deep sleep, and his 'Hypnerotomachia' or 'struggle for love in a dream' begins. The narrative is constantly interrupted with detailed descriptions of numerous buildings and landscapes he encounters in his journey, implying another level to the story.
The Renaissance was a time of innovation and great discoveries and the Hypnerotomachia was vital tro this development. It was unique for the way in which it conveyed architecture via a dream, dismissing reality and exploring the potential to which creative thinking and the human body could influence the concept of architectural appreciation.
The aim of my study was to investigate this new way of thinking, and to investigate whether th erotic notion and the use of the human body as a metaphor for architecture, was possible. Was the Hypnerotomachia a genuine architectural treatise? And why did the text have a hidden erotic theme?
The Hypnerotomachia Poliphili describes Poliphili's loves and desires, which appear to the reader as his search for Polia, but on close examination, Poliphili actually desires architecture. Poliphili sees buildings as an embodiment of Polia. He engages in sexual activity with the buildings he encounters, therefore the erotic notion implied that eroticism could be applied to the whole way of life and not only to people.



Patricia Fortini - Brown - Venice and Antquity : The Venetian Sense of the Past. (Yale University Press, London, 1996)

Liane Lefraivre - Leon Battista Alberti's Hypnerotomachia Poliphili : Re-cognizing the Architectural Body in the early Renaissance. (M.I.T Press)

Alberto Perez-Gomez - Polyphilo or the Dark Forest Revisited, An Erotic Epihany of Architecture. (M.I.T.Press)


Word & Image - Garden and architectural dreamscapes in the Hypnerotomachia Poliphili. Vol. 14, no 1/2. Jan/June 1998.


The University of Technology of Delft, M.I.T Press - ' The Electronic Poliphilo '.

Manisa Mistry

Manisa has attempted a new interpretation of this complex and obscure text, raising the issue of whether it is a viable and convincing architectural treatise or an indulgent exercise in intellectual onanism. She has taken the principle of dream as an authentic, and indeed substantive, basis for exploring architeture, where erotiscism and love are inextricably intertwined with the corporeal experience of space. Many recent interpretations of the text have tended to focus, in isolation, on a particular aspect of the narrative, such as philology, horticulture, archaeology or poetry, thereby ignoring questions of meaning. Manisa has taken Alberto Perez-Gomez's argumentof a continuity between these otherwise distinct disciplines, as an initial point of reference and has re-emphasised the grounding of this multivalent narrative in an essentially primordial relationship between the myth of Eros and architecture.

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