Hypnerotomachia Poliphili has been described as the most beautiful book of the 15th century, the century that saw the invention of the printing press. It is particularly renowned for the beauty of its typography, construction and illustrations, and is a landmark in the history of books and ideas.
First written in 1467, it was printed in 1499 by Venetian publisher Aldus Manutius. While the authorship of this book remains a mystery, it is generally believed to be the work of Francesco Colonna, a Dominican monk. Colonna's name is revealed in the book by taking the first letter of each of the 38 chapters to spell out 'Poliam frater Franciscus Columna peramavit', meaning 'Brother Francesco Colonna loved Polia tremendously'.
The story itself is odd at best, although harsher critics have deemed it unreadable. The hero, Poliphilo, falls asleep and has a dream in which he searches for, catches and finally loses his love, Polia. The dream takes Poliphili on a fabulous journey through time, architecture, landscape design, engineering, painting and sculpture.
The174 woodcuts show images of ancient architecture, gardens, inscriptions and triumphal processions observed by the dreamer and described in the text. The original woodcut designs have been associated with various artists, although current scholarly opinion favours Benedetto Bordon. The identity of the cutter remains unknown.
This book’s Roman typeface, produced by Francesco Griffo, is also significant. Griffo's lower-case font is considered to be the most modern of 15th-century type. Each chapter of the book has decorated initials, often of flowers or foliage. On some pages, the text is laid out in the form of a goblet or other abstract shape.