Author(s) Colonna, Francesco
Béroalde de Verville, François
Title Le tableau des riches inventions...
Imprint Paris, M. Guillemot, 1600
Localisation Tours, Cesr SR/3A (4023)
Subject Architecture, Gardens
Transcribed version of the text


     The text which was printed at Mathieu Guillemot's shop in 1600 opened a new chapter in the career of Francesco Colonna's Hypnerotomachia Poliphili which was already known as the Poliphile to French readers since the appearance of Jean Martin's translation, published by Kerver in 1546 and 1554. This new version was prepared by François Béroalde de Verville, the author of several teeming mannerist novels typical of the taste of that period, who left his mark on Colonna's text starting with the title. We no longer read an Hypnerotomachia Poliphili or even a simple Songe de Poliphile by Martin, but the Tableau des riches inventions couvertes du voile des feintes amoureuses, qui sont représentées dans le Songe de Poliphile, desvoilées des ombres du songe et subtilement exposées. In itself this title is a declaration of intention: rather than a simple translation of the Hypnerotomachia, Béroalde asserts that he will present the public with a new reading of the text, in a way the only authentic one which would discover the hidden meaning in it.
Jean Martin's translation, formulated as one element in a series of translations of Italian or Latin texts on architecture, put a great deal of importance on "fantaisies" on the antique, to the point of generating a tradition of studies of the text as a manual of architecture or of garden art which was not in the spirit of the original, whatever may be the real place of those descriptions. This importance of an architectural reading was well understood by Béroalde; according to the fiction of the knight of Malta who apparently brought the translation to Jean Martin, he doesn't fail to point out twice in the preface Aux beaux esprits that this knight has "tiré la substance [du livre]>, surtout en ce qui est de l'Architecture, où il fait paroistre son scavoir". This was a reading which corresponded certainly better to the prevailing taste since it concerned a point "en quoy le chevalier maltois s’est parfois exagéré". Béroalde was then going to suggest another reading of the Poliphile, an alchemic reading which was perhaps even less in the spirit of the original than the architectural one, but which would also ensure the lasting career of this strange and teeming book.
The essential part of this new interpretation is found in the introductory portions preceding the text itself. Indeed, after a rather formal dedication to Pierre Brochard, lord of Marigny, "Monsieur mon Moecenas", Béroalde adds an epistle Aux beaux esprits qui arrêteront les yeux sur ces projets de plaisir sérieux, in which the text is immediately presented as a "tableau" of "ce qu'il y avoit de bon es occultes de la stéganographie". Thus Béroalde admits here that he was mainly attracted by the hidden messages, particularly when in the Poliphile they are shaped like hieroglyphics in some illustrations. So he opens the way to an interpretation of the book as containing a secret philosophical message, enjoying what is obscure, so obscure that one might even doubt that it is obscure, as this passage in the epistle "[l’auteur] paroist fort peu être Alquemiste, et ce n’est qu’au discours de sa lampe, et des filets de soye, et du verre filé, mais tant secrettement que peu s’en faut qu’il soit le secret mesme pour taire le secret". Here we see all the ambiguity if not the cunning of Béroalde's wit, able to construct a successful reading based on a clever form of trompe l'œil which he himself perhaps denounced.
A second piece, frankly even more alchemic, follows the epistle Aux beaux esprits : the Recueil stéganographique contenant l’intelligence du frontispice de ce livre. In fact this text refers to the third, or first, alchemic part of the book, the frontispiece required by Béroalde and executed by Mathieu Guillemot. The Recueil stéganographique gives keys to understanding it in a rather long text which is a sort of Beroaldian rewriting of the Poliphile, since it takes up again the initiatory structure (a trip from temple to temple to meet introductory characters, up to the Nymph Olocrirée and the discovery of love and the Master) with a strong alchemic connotation. The series of the introductory texts ends with a collection of accompanying poems of praise in accordance with contemporary customs.
Yet if we look at the very contents of the book, we first notice that the illustrations are the same as those in the Kerver edition, taken from the very same places in the text. We also see that Béroalde, contrary to his affirmations, did not really retranslate the text, and probably compared Martin's translation to the original hardly at all. His text is in fact a grooming of the 1546 translation; here and there he erases an obsolete expression or a heavy turn of phrase, and attempts to render the language more fluid. A gap of fifty years represents a great linguistic variable. In this treatment of a second distancing from the original, Béroalde's version became really what he says about it himself, "non plus que le tout n’est qu’une imitation", more than a real translation.
The Tableau des riches inventions by Béroalde, even if it is obviously not totally foreign to the Hypnerotomachia Poliphili by Francesco Colonna, is more a new avatar than a faithful image of it. Starting with the alchemic construction of the frontispiece, a new career opens up for the book, that of the "discours secret", which was going to reinforce all the stronger its reputation of obscurity and inaccessability, generating new studies which sometimes skirted the extravagant. It is up to the modern critic to replace these readings in perspective in the history of the text, for they are not so much distorted as made up, in accordance with the tastes and styles of their period.

Martine Furno (Université Stendhal Grenoble 3 - CERPHI, Ens LSH Lyon) – 2008


Critical bibliography

Béroalde de Verville (1556-1626), Cahiers V. L. Saulnier, 13, Paris, Pens, 1996.

F. Colonna, Le songe de Poliphile, translation by Jean Martin (1546), presented, translitered and annotated by G. Polizzi, Paris, Imprimerie nationale editions, 1994.

A. Blunt, "The Hypnerotomachia Poliphili in the 17th Century in France", Journal of the Warburg Institute, vol. 1, n° 2 (oct. 1937), 1937-1938, pp. 117-137.

M. Furno, Une "fantaisie" sur l’Antique : le goût pour l’épigraphie funéraire dans l’Hypnerotomachia Poliphili de Francesco Colonna, Geneva, Droz, 2003.

G. Polizzi, "Poliphile ou les combats du désir", H. Brunon (ed.), Le jardin, notre double, Paris, Autrement, Série Mutations, 1999, 184, pp. 81-100.