The Alchemy web site on

Alchemy texts archives - Hypnerotomachia Poliphilo

Back to Alchemy texts archive.

Date: Wed, 16 Apr 1997
From: Samten de Wet

The Hypnerotomachia Poliphilo of Francesco COLONNA 1499 - 1999.

Dear Friends,
In 1999 - it will be 500 years since the publication of the
Hypnerotomachia Poliphilo of Francesco Colonna. I thought it would be a
good seed idea to circulate amongst members of The Alchemy Web Page, and
other interested parties - and related Sites - that we work towards a
celebration of this remarkable work - at a Conference in Venice, Italy in

The Project could not succeed without the assistance of all interested
parties, across the academic divide. That is to say, the interrelated areas
where interest in the Hypnerotomachia has been shown, such as History of
Art and Architecture, Depth Psychology, Imaginal and Archetypal Studies,
History of Western Esotericism, History of Literature, Renaissance Studies,
Emblem Studies, Alchemy, Paganism in the Renaissance and so forth.

The question is: are any other interested parties preparing for a
celebration of the publication of the Hypnerotomachia?

Secondly, and in particular - are any plans in motion from Venice itself?
For example, the Department of Culture of the Commune di Venezia?

The setting would be Venice.

The time - 1999. For maximum organisational preparation time - September -
October 1999 is suggested. Venice may be rather cold at this time - so a
more suitable date can be arranged.

Thirdly, an ongoing email and WWWeb Conference on the Hypnerotomachia could
start as from now, and lay the foundations. Would Adam McLean and others be
so kind as to open a Web site specifically for this project.

Here are a few quotations to give a perspective to the work:

"The Hypnerotomachia, the first edition of which comprises four hundred
and fifty folio pages of letterpress and illustrations..." "...was first
published anonymously at Venice By Manutius, the most famous of Italian
Renaissance publishers. Between 1499 and 1833 it was reprinted in all ten
times." 1

Mario Praz wrote:

"The most extraordinary book of the Italian Renaissance is doubtless the
Hypnerotomachia Poliphili, which appeared anonymously in Venice in 1499.
This work, ascribed to a friar, Francesco Colonna, is famous for its
beautiful woodcuts, and is certainly the most desirable among the Aldine
editions." 2

"Aldus did not normally illustrate his books, but in 1499 he produced a
work that may well claim to be among the most beautiful printed books of
all time, a black tulip in the midst of his classical texts: the
Hypnerotomachia Poliphili by Francesco Colonna. In post-Renaissance times
the text of this extraordinary book has generally been regarded as a jumble
of mystical nonsense that owed its reputation solely to the woodcut
illustrations..." 3

Fortunately, the "jumble of mystical nonsense" attracted the attention of
C.G. Jung and the Hypnerotomachia often appears in his Collected Works. His
friend and close collaborator, Linda Fierz-David, interpreted the
Hypnerotomachia according to Jungian depth psychology.
"Like every real dream, the Hypnerotomachia is Janus-headed; it is a
picture of the Middle Ages just beginning to turn into modern times by way
of the Renaissance - a transition between two eras, and therefore deeply
interesting to the world of today, which is still more transitional in

C.G. Jung, in Fierz-David, Linda, The Dream of Polophilo - The Soul in
Love, Spring Publications, Inc. Dallas, 1987, pp. XIII-XIV.

1. Fierz-David, Linda, The Dream of Polophilo - The Soul in Love, Spring
Publications, Inc. Dallas, 1987, p. 8.
2. Mario Praz, Some Foreign Imitators of the HYPNEROTOMACHIA POLIPHILI,
Italica, XXIV, March, No. 1, 1947, pp. 20 - 25
3. Thomas, Alan G. Great Books and Book Collectors, Chancellor Press,
London, 1975.

I have been preparing a Hypnerotomachia Bibliography and would appreciate
any further additions. This Bibliography is based on: Casella, Maria Teresa
e Pozzi, Giovanni, Francesco Colonna Biografia e Opere, in 2 Volumes.
Medioevo e Umanesimo, 1 & 2, Editrice Antenore, Padova, 1959. Vol. I is:
Casella, Maria Teresa, Biografia. Vol. II. Giovanni Pozzi, Opere.
Though slightly incomplete - the bibliographic material gathered to date of
about 200 items is available on request. Let me know email: and I will send it to you.

For example:
Heckscher, William S. in: Bernini's Elephant and Obelisk, The Art
Bulletin, Vol. 29, 1947, pp. 155 ff. explores the influence of the
Hypnerotomachia on Bernini's elephant on the Piazza della Minerva.

Blunt, A., The Hypnerotomachia Polyphli in 17th Century France, Journal of
the Warburg Institute, I (I937-38), p. 117 - 37 is a excellent overview of
the French influences, especially literary and in French Art.

Gombrich, E.H. Hypnerotomaciana, JWCI, Vol. XIX, (14), 1951, pp. 119 122.
looks at paintings by the Caracci Family, which used the Hypnerotomachia
as source material while: Liebmann, Michael, On the Iconography of The
Nymph of the Fountain..JWCI, Vol. 31, 1968.pp. 434 -437. shows an influence
of the Hypnerotomachia on Cranach, and Christiansen, Keith, Lorenzi Lotto
and the Tradition of Epithalamic Paintings, APOLLO Magazine, London,
Sept.1986.. Cupid peeing and Venusian symbolism. pp.166-173.

Please let me know what you think about this Project and let us pool our
resources in solidarity of the Hermetic Vision.

Yours Sincerely,

Samten de Wet.
P.O.Box 15438, Vlaeberg, Cape Town, South Africa 8018.
Cape Town Fax: (021) 762.2709

Date: Fri, 18 Apr 1997
From: Tom Willard

A very fine idea!

You don't mention, but may know,

Barolini, Helen, 1925-
Aldus and his dream book : an illustrated essay
New York : Italica Press, 1992.
Includes bibliographical references (p. 199-204) and index.
xxii, 221 p. : ill. ; 22 cm.
ISBN 0934977224 (pbk.) : $17.50

Nicely written, illustrated, and produced.

Tom Willard

Date: Wed, 30 Apr 1997
From: Gionni Di Gravio

On the subject of the Hypnerotomachia, does anyone know of an edition
that is currently in print? Is there a definitive edition?


Gionni Di Gravio

Date: Wed, 30 Apr 1997
From: George Leake

>From: Gionni Di Gravio
>On the subject of the Hypnerotomachia, does anyone know of an edition
>that is currently in print? Is there a definitive edition?

Obviously the definitive edition would be the original, but there have
been some facsimle copies, I have one checked out now:

AUTHOR: Colonna, Francesco, d. 1527
TITLE: Hypnerotomachia Poliphili, vbi hvmana omnia non nisi somnivm
esse docet, atqve obiter plvrima scitv sane quam digna
commemorat, Venice 1499.
PUBLISHED: Farnborough, Gregg, 1969.
DESCRIPTION: (469) p. illus. 25 cm.
NOTES: Italian text.
Reprint of 1st ed., (Venice, Aldus Manutius, 1499).
SUBJECTS: Incunabula--Facsimiles
ISBN: 0576159948

There were also 1973 and 1976 facsimiles I believe.

The Barolini book is widely available and is a simple straightforward
introduction to the topic and more importantly is infused with reprints of
images from this delightful book.

George Leake