'Each one was divided at the groin, whereupon her fleshy thighs separated.'
The enigmatic, polyglot Hypnerotomachia Poliphili 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.printed by Aldus Manutius Venice: 1499
Eros and the Metaphor of the Architectural Body
The name Poliphilo means "lover of many things." The name Polia, in turn, means "many things." And to be sure, Poliphilo does love many things besides Polia. ...But he loves architecture most: he loves it as much as he loves Polia, in the same carnal way. One after the other, the buildings in the book become objects of desire, metaphors for Polia’s solido corpo.
Indeed, among the dreamlike features of the buildings is the inordinate feeling of happiness they impart to the beholder. Poliphilo characterizes the marble of the triumphal arch as "virginal," the veinless marble of another surface as "flawless," which is the sma eterm he uses to describe the skin of a certain nymph. Upon seeing the buildings, Poliphilo feels "extreme delight," "incredible joy," "frenetic pleasure and cupidinous frenzy". The buildings fill him with the highest carnal pleasure" and with "burning lust." He loves them not just because they are beautiful to behold, but also because they are fragrant and agreeable to touch. He partakes of their pleasures with all his senses. In front of the frieze of a sleeping nymph, he cannot keep from plcing his hand on her knees and "fondling and squeezing" them, nor can he resist pressing his lips to her breasts and sucking them.
The sexuality of the buildings Poliphilo loves is polymorphic. He approvingly describes the column of a certain temple as "hermaphrodotic," because they combine male and female characteristics. The altar of Bacchus is made of darkly veined marble especially selected to express the virility of that deity, and it is carved with a grat phallus "rigidly regorous." Above the reclining nude body of a sleeping nymph leers a naked satyr with a watchful eye and an erect penis.
This erotization of architecture comes to its logical conclusion. In three cases, Poliphilo manages to locate the appropriate orifice through which he can engage in sexual congress with particular buildings. His response, always described at length and in great detail, is sheer coital ecstacy. In one case, the effect on the building is mutual. Liane Lefaivre
"The Nymph Polia perceiuing well the change of my colour and blood comming in more stranger sort than Tripolion or Teucrion, thrise a day changing the colour of his flowers, and my indeuoring to sende out scalding sighes deeply set from the bottome of my hart, she did temper and mitigate the same with hir sweete and friendly regards, pacifieng the rage of my oppressing passions, so as notwithstanding my burning minde in these continuall flames and sharpe prouocations of loue, I was aduised patiently to hope euen with the bird of Arabia in hir sweet nest of small sprigs, kindled by the heate of the sunne to be renewed."