Leon Battista Alberti's Hypnerotomachia Poliphili

Leon Battista Alberti's Hypnerotomachia Poliphili

Re-Cognizing the Architectural Body in the Early Italian Renaissance

By Liane Lefaivre

A critical-theoretical reading of the strange, dreamlike work of Leon Battista Alberti.





A critical-theoretical reading of the strange, dreamlike work of Leon Battista Alberti.

The enigmatic, polyglot Hypnerotomachia Poliphili—the inspiration for the bestselling novel The Rule of Four—has fascinated architects and historians since its publication in 1499. Part fictional narrative and part scholarly treatise, richly illustrated with wood engravings, the book is an extreme case of erotic furor, aimed at everything—especially architecture—that the protagonist, Poliphilo, encounters in his quest for his beloved, Polia. Among the instances of the book's manifesto-like character is Polia's tirade defending the right of women to express their own sexuality, probably the first sustained argument of this type, which lifts the book's erotic theme from the realm of ribaldry to the more daring one of sexual politics. Liane Lefaivre offers the closest critical-theoretical reading of Hypnerotomachia Poliphili to date, placing it within both the historical context of the quattrocento and the rethinking of the metaphor of the architectural body. Lefaivre is the first to attribute this strange, dreamlike book definitively to none other than the arch-rationalist Leon Battista Alberti. Intended as his final text, she argues, the book is the legacy of a humanist passionate about his life's work, a treatise on the role of dreamwork in design by one of the most creative minds of the Renaissance, and a manifesto in defense of humanism by a man who had been dismissed by an anti-humanist pope after a thirty-year career in the papal service.


Out of Print ISBN: 9780262122047 340 pp. | 8 in x 11 in


$8.75 T | £6.99 ISBN: 9780262621953 340 pp. | 8 in x 11 in


  • This work is of great interest and considerable importance: of interest as an exciting detective story, and of importance as a timely attempt to formulate an epistemology of architectural/cororeal cognittion by unravelling the threads that, in the Hypnerotomachia, end up weaving what the author calls the 'humanist body.' The evidence cited in support of the argument attributing the Hypnerotomachia to Alberti is most impressive, and certainyl convinced me. The potential readership for the work is a wide one: among novices, among specialists and among the growing numbers of people interested in the history of the human body. For the latter group, Lefaivre's account of how and why this body became so unequivocally architectural with Alberti and the quattrocentro will be of particualr interest.

    Indra K. McEdwen

    Architectural Historian, McGill University

  • This book is an important contribution to our understanding of this complex and rich architectural treatise, whose various levels of meaning the author unravels with erudition and grace. Especially significant is the connection made between the reconfiguration of the body and that of architecture, both approached as sources of pleasure. Equally important is the discussion of creativity as a recombination of visual and textual elements, and the analysis of the treatise as part of the humanist thought-world. The book will read with great profit by those interested in the history of architecture, the history of Renaissance and the history of mentalites.

    Angeliki E. Laiou

    Professor of Byzantine History, Harvard University; and Director, Dumbarton Oaks Research Library and Collection


  • Winner of the 1997 Association of American Publishers Best New PSP Book (Literature and Language)
  • Winner of the 8th Annual AIA International Architecture Book Award for History
  • Winner of the 8th Annual AIA International Architecture BookAward for History