Last night CEO and State Librarian Sue Roberts spoke with Lindy Burns on ABC Radio 774 about love poetry and one of the Library’s most treasured and mysterious books, a 1499 copy of Hypnerotomachia Poliphili.
Hypnerotomachia Poliphili or ‘The Strife of Love in a Dream’ is widely considered to be the most beautiful book of the 15th century. Illustrated with more than 170 woodcuts, it is renowned for its typographical design and coded messages.
Authorship is attributed to Francesco Colonna, a Dominican friar who lived in Venice. Colonna’s name is revealed 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 dearly’.
Poliphili’s love for Polia takes him on a fabulous journey through history, revealing the author’s great knowledge of language, architecture and landscape design, as well as engineering, painting and sculpture.
Hypnerotomachia Poliphili is one of many great works purchased for the Library collections from the library of Robert Carl Sticht in 1923. These included a number of early Bibles, a 1482 copy of Euclid’s Elementa (one of only three complete copies in the world) and 137 volumes of the works of Johann Wolfgang von Goethe — amongst dozens of other prized works now known as the Sticht Collection.
The purchase of the Sticht Collection was made possible with funds from the Felton Bequest, the same bequest that allowed the National Gallery of Victoria to procure many of its masterpieces.
Hypnerotomachia Poliphili is one of many treasured books on display in the Library’s permanent exhibition, Mirror of the World: Books and Ideas.
The full story of how the Library acquired Hypnerotomachia Poliphili and the Sticht Collection is told in The La Trobe Journal.