This manuscript contains sixteen autograph drawings by the painter, architect, and antiquarian Pirro Ligorio (1513–1583). Born in Naples, Ligorio spent much of his career in Rome, in the service of the popes and of the powerful Cardinal Ippolito II d’Este (1509–1572); he served as architect at the Vatican palace and was responsible for much of the design of the Villa d’Este at Tivoli. In 1568, he was appointed court antiquarian to Duke Alfonso II d’Este and moved to Ferrara. This manuscript was composed there but had been commissioned by Cardinal Ippolito, for Ligorio sent the manuscript from Ferrara to Rome in November 1569, accompanied by an apology for the delay in its completion.
The drawings and Ligorio’s commentary relate the story of Hippolytus (Ippolito in Italian, and thus the cardinal’s namesake). Hippolytus was the son of the mythical hero Theseus. After repulsing the advances of Phaedra, his stepmother, Hippolytus was forced to flee his father’s house after Phaedra falsely accused him of raping her. As a result of Theseus’s appeal to Poseidon, a sea monster frightened Hippolytus’s horses, which then dragged him to his death.
According to an old tradition reflected in the title page, which was probably added in the seventeenth century, Cardinal Ippolito d’Este wished to have a set of tapestries made after Ligorio’s drawings, although these were never executed. The artist signed the manuscript, as was his custom, Pyrrho Ligorio Romano Meisopogniero, that is, "hater of the wicked".