"Hypnerotomachia Poliphili,"


Venice, 1499.








An Assistant Keeper in the South Kensington Museum





Reproduced for the Department of Science and Art in Photo-Lithography

By W.Griggs. - 1889.




("Poliphili Hypnerotomachia," Venice, 1499.)


THE following pages contain brief descriptions of 168 woodcuts in the "Dream of Poliphilus," reproduced by the photo-lithographic process from the first Aldine edition. They have been prepared in order that the fac-similes may not to many appear as a collection of unintelligible and extravagant, though beautiful, designs; and those readers who may wish to know something more about Colonna's singular romance, are referred to the annotated literal French translation by Claudius Popelin. We have found this translation helpful. We must, however, also acknowledge that we are much indebted to Albert Ilg for the valuable hints he gives in his ingenious treatise on the Hypnerotomachia, although some of our explanations differ from his.


I.- Poliphilus entering, "with great feare, into a darke obscure and unfrequented wood " (as the old English version of 1592 hath it.) He wears a round skull-cap upon his richly curled head, and has the lower part of his long gown tucked under his right arm.

"He wanders on and on, and suddenly finds himself in the midst of a wild, dark forest (Fig.1). This can be none other than the Harz (Hercynia silva), which, as he knows, is swarming with beasts of prey."


2.- Poliphilus, who has emerged from the dark wood, is kneeling by the side of a rivulet, and upon the point of refreshing himself from its waters, when his attention is suddenly arrested by a wondrously sweet song.


3.- Poliphilus sleeping under a tree; in the background wooded hills. This woodcut is marked .b. in the right hand corner at the bottom.


"He thinks over all his wanderings, and in doing so, falls asleep under the tree.Thus his first sleep is followed by a second, in which the action moves on to another plane." It is an oak tree.


4.- Poliphilus surrounded by remains of classical antiquity - a richly ornamented fragment of an architrave, a corslet, a Corinthian capital, and the base of a column. Behind Poliphilus, near a group of palm-trees, we see a ferocious wolf which, however, is flying before him. In the foreground, a lizard and some plants.


5.- A huge pyramidic temple, of white Parian marble, with 1410 steps, dedicated to the Sun; it is surmounted by a marvellous obelisk of Syenite marble, with a winged female figure at the top, holding a cornucopia in her right hand, and with her robes floating in the air. This figure is made so as to turn with the slightest breeze.


"Awestruck, Poliphilo approaches the largest building, which occupies the whole space between the rocky heights. Above its broad front there rises a wonderful step-pyramid, 3000 paces in circumference and 1410 steps high. It is surmounted by a cube with sides four paces long which serves as a plinth to the obelisk. The obelisk is crowned by a winged nymph of gilt copper. There is a profusion of curls on the nymph’s forehead, but the back of her head is bald.

The entire plinth of the pyramid is hewn out of virgin rock. It is entered by a huge porch surmounted by a great head of Medusa, whose open jaws form the entrance to the pyramid. "

"In my wanderings in the Strange Land, this did I see:

A Temple built like a Tower rising to a great height, surrounded at its base by a circular colonnade. ...I passed under the mighty Gateway of the Temple. When I had entered the precincts of the building I saw that a stately colonnade ran in a circle round the triangular Tower, which seemed to rise to a giddy height above me; and presently as I looked I perceived that the wall behind the colonnade was covered with representations of human figures, and my Guide spoke: ‘Behold, the Cycle of Human Life! See Man as he appeareth to the human eye!’."


6.- A colossal and large-winged bronze horse, upon a pedestal, with charming little genii climbing upon its back or tumbling down from it.


7 and 8.- The two ends of the pedestal of the bronze horse; one decorated with a garland of marjoram and ferns, the other with a garland of orpine. The inscriptions are - Deis Ambiguis dedicatus, and Equus infœlicitatis.


9.- one of the sides of the pedestal of the bronze horse, with a relief of two-faced youths and nymphs dancing. The Front-faces of these dancers are supposed to be laughing, the back ones weeping.


10.- The other side of the pedestal. A similar representation. A young man, in the costume of a Roman warrior, crowned with a wreath, distributes flowers among the young couples, which another youth is plucking for him.


11.- Saddle-cloth of the elephant (No. I2), with inscription in Greek and Arabic, meaning - Labour and Industry.


12.- A colossal elephant of black stone, with gold and silver dots. Upon the back of this prodigious animal is placed an obelisk of Verde-antique.


13 and 14 - Two sarcophagi, the covers decorated with scales, surmounted by the nude figures of a King and Queen.


I5- A cut representing so-called hieroglyphics; among these devices is a decorated casket of great elegance.


I6.- An ancient gate of wonderful construction, which is minutely described in the text. In the right and left corners of this woodcut are the medallion busts of a man and woman in antique drapery.


17.- The terrified Poliphilus flying before the dragon.


18.- Emblematic devices.


19.- Architectural frame, part of a marble fountain, with two Corinthian pilasters ; in the tympanum, a laurel-crown encircling a vase out of which two birds are drinking. (In the original this frame encloses a relief representing a sleeping nymph and satyrs.)


20.- Poliphilus meeting five nymphs.


21.- A weather-cock, with a genius blowing a trumpet.


22.- Part of the second fountain.


23.- The third fountain, with groups of harpies and griffins. The figures of the three Graces


crown the whole. They hold in their hands large cornucopias from which, as well as from their breasts, water is spouting.


24. - Ornament of a frieze, composed of two somewhat full-bodied but gracefully moving genii, dolphins terminating in foliage, vases with masks placed upon them, and two winged angel’s heads in the corners; in the centre, the skull of a sacrificed bull, its horns entwined with laurel-branches.


25.- View of a panelled wall in the Queen's palace, with a throne-chair and benches. The panels between the pilasters are tastefully decorated with foliage, encircling medallions within which the names of the planets are inscribed.


26.- Poliphilus rendering homage to the Queen Eleuterylida, who is seated on her high and magnificent throne; the ladies of her court are ranged on both sides. Upon the back of the throne are the figures of two naked youths, with their arms resting on their hips, standing in a proud posture, just - remarks Ilg, in his treatise on the Hypnerotomachia, p. 101 - as the artist may have courtiers in attendance on a prince


27.- Medallion in the canopy above the Queen"s throne. Within a closely twisted wreath the bust of a youth draped in a chlamys, with a nimbus round his head; below, an eagle with laurel-branches.


28.- A richly ornamented tripod: it deserves particularly to be noticed for its exquisite beauty and purity of style.


29. - Basin of gold, upon wheels.


30.- Tripod, with three naked boys standing upon a pedestal, supported by lions' feet.


31.- Another splendid vessel, surmounted by a Coral-tree. Coral was frequently used in decorative works of this period.


32.- A large and magnificent vessel of the noblest shape and decoration, with a shrub of gold, and water spouts. It rests upon a single wheel, and is twice as high as the tall nymph who carries it into the festive hall. Albert Ilg considers this splendid piece to be the flower of all the ornamental designs in Poliphilus.


33.- The triangular obelisk of the mystic are three sphinxes, female figures, with horns of plenty, and so-called hieroglyphics.


34.- Cameo, set in oval frame of pearls, representing Jupiter, with a cornucopia in his right hand, and the flame of lightning in his left. At his feet are the vanquished giants. The god occupies a throne, very much like those upon which the enthroned Virgin is pictured by old Italian masters.


35.- Architectural frame, surrounding an emblematical (so-called hieroglyphic) piece of sculpture. A woman seated upon a stool, stretching out her left leg, and holding in her left hand a tortoise, whilst her right foot is resting on the ground: she holds in her right hand a pair of wings (Velocitatem sedendo, tarditatem tempera surgendo.)


36.- Another architectural frame, with an emblematic circular bas-relief, representing two half-length figures of winged genii holding an apple between them. (Medium tenuere beati.)


37.- Poliphilus in a rocky place conducted by two nymphs to the three gates, which are cut in the living rock, with the inscriptions - gloria dei; mater amoris; gloria mundi (the inscriptions are also in Greek, Hebrew, and Arabic.)


38.- Poliphilus meeting at the gate the venerable matron, followed by her six young female attendants.


39.- Poliphilus receives the crown and palm -branch, fixed upon a sword, from the hand of another matron, of large frame and severe mien.


40.- Poliphilus among the nymphs; the flight of Logistica.


41- Poliphilus embraced by the nymph.


42.- Poliphilus looking through the bower while his mistress Polia is approaching at a distance.


43.- Poliphilus and Polia retreating from the bower.


44.- Triumphal car, ornamented with reliefs. The relief on the right shows Europa and her maidens crowning the herd with flowers.


45.- Relief on the triumphal car. The Rape of Europa.


46.- Reliefs on the front and back of the triumph car. On the front is represented Cupid shooting at the stars in heaven, to his right and left groups of astonished bystanders. The relief on the back shows a king, with sceptre and crown, upon his throne. This figure is intended for Jupiter. Mars stands before him, and accuses Cupid of having rent his impenetrable cuirass. Jupiter holds in his right hand a tablet, inscribed Nemo, above Cupid's head, thus intimating that there is nobody who can resist the god of love.


47 and 48.- The triumph of Europa--the first of these beautifully designed processions, in honour of the great Jupiter, which form one of the most interesting and splendid features of the Hypnerotomachia. The triumphal car is drawn by six centaurs, their heads crowned with oak-leaves. The first two pairs of these are blowing large bronze horns (cornua) and straight trumpets (tubae); the two nearest the car are bearing antique vases. Three nymphs are carried upon the backs of the centaurs, the first of them playing- the Greek double flute (diaulos), the second the viola, and the third beating the tambourine. 0n the top of the car we see the figure of Europa seated upon her bull. There is a joyous crowd of maidens, walking by the side of the car, and carrying laurel-branches, standards, and trophies.


49.- Two reliefs on the car belonging to the Triumph of Leda. To the left, Leda lying-in, waited upon by four female servants. To the right, the two eggs presented to her husband, Tyndareus, King of Sparta, by the waiting-women.


50.- Relief on the same triumphal car. The King and three women offering upon their knees the two eggs in the Temple of Apollo at Delphi. From one of the eggs are rising two stars; from the other a flame--an unmistakeable allusion to the Dioscuri and their sister Helen. Two priests of Apollo are standing on the right. A tablet bears the inscription of the oracle--Uni gratum mare; Alternum gratum mari.


51.- Reliefs on the front and back of the car belonging to the Triumph of Leda. One presents Cupid tracing with his golden arrow figures of animals upon the vault of heaven, whilst the wondering people are looking up; the other, the Judgment of Paris.


52 and 53.- The Second Procession. The Triumph of Leda. Six elephants are drawing the triumphal car; and there are again nymphs playing upon musical instruments, and an accompanying crowd. Upon the car we see Leda and the swan.


54.- Reliefs on the car belonging to the Third Procession,the Triumph of Danaë. In one compartment, Acrisius, the King of Argos and father of Danaë, kneeling before the statue of the god of prophecy (Apollo). In the other, the tower in which Danaë is to be shut up in course of erection.


55.- Scenes from the story of Perseus. He is seen receiving the mirror from Athena, and also sheathing his sword after having struck off the head of Medusa. In the background is Pegasus, the offspring of Poseidon and the monster.


56.- Three reliefs on the front and back of the triumphal car. The first relief represents Venus and Mars who have just extricated themselves from the net in which they were caught by Vulcan. The angry Venus has taken hold of Cupid, and plucked some feathers from his wings. Mercury appears to protect the crying little god against the violence of his mother. The second relief shows Jupiter on his golden throne, and Mercury before him with Cupid, whom the great father of the gods is comforting. In the third relief we see Cupid darting an arrow at the starry sky, from which drops of gold are raining.


57. and 59.- Third Procession. The Triumph of Danaë. The triumphal car is drawn by six unicorns.


58.- The first two reliefs on the fourth car (Festival of Bacchus)--Jupiter appearing before Semele as the god of thunder; her child, the new-born Bacchus, put into a bath.


60.- Jupiter commits the infant Bacchus to Mercury. In the same compartrment, Mercury is carrying the child to the nymphs of Mount Nyssa in Thrace, who bring him up in a cave.


61. Venus and Cupid before the tribunal of Jupiter. Psyche, with her lamp in the right hand, is present. In another compartment appear Jupiter, as the lord of heaven, and Cupid.


62.- Relief of a large and precious vase carried upon the fourth triumphal car (Festival of Bacchus.) Jupiter standing upon an altar; a chorus of seven nymphs--the Heliades, who art already changed, more or less, - into trees incline themselves before him.


63.- The second relief of the same triumphal car. A charming vintage scene. A group of little genii are joyously employed in gathering the grapes, around the stout young Bacchus on whose head is entwinedd with two serpents; others busy themselves about a large vessel.


64.- and 65.- The Fourth Procession. (Festival of Bacchus.) The triumphal car is drawn by six panthers; upon it stands a richly decorated and tall vase (see Nos. 62 and 63), out of which a vine is shooting. Old Silenus on his ass rides behind; and nude Bacchantic women, their heads adorned with garlands of vine or ivy-leaves, and bearing

in their hands thyrsus-staves and trophies, accompany the car.


66.- Triumph of Vertumnus and Pomona. The car is drawn by four satyrs; Vertumnus, an elderly figure, with flowers in his lap, his left hand raised, as if in the act of blessing, and Pomona, holding a cornucopia in one hand, and a branch of fruit in the other, are seated upon it. A crowd of nymphs is walking alongside the car ; the foremost plays the lyre, the next one blows the tuba ; their companions are bearing trophies of fruit and flowers and gardeners' implements; and two half-nude female figures, girt round their hips with leaves, like savages of the New World, and carrying branches or fruit,bring up the rear.


67 - 70.- Reliefs, in architectural frames, with allegorical representations of the Four Seasons.


67.- Spring. Venus,a draped figure,attended by Cupid.


68.- Summer. Ceres, with a naked boy, holding ears of corn in his hands, at her feet.


69.- Autumn. The God of Wine, with a horn of plenty in his right hand, and bunches of grapes in his left, and a ram near him.


70.- Winter, figured as Jupiter Pluvius.


71.- The Worship of Priapus, with nineteen female and five male figures, surrounding the terminal figure of this divinity. In the middle of the foreground is an especially fine group of priestesses, sacrificing an ass. (In the original copies this woodcut, which occupies the entire page, is usually torn, or disfigured by ink.)


THE Temple of Venus Physizoa.


72.- Section and ground-plan of the temple, described by Poliphilus - a rotunda, with a cupola, in the style of the early Renaissance.


73.- An elegant piece of ornament. A nude female half-figure, with wings terminating in foliage.


74.- A lamp of globular shape, hung in chains.


75.- Crowning of the lantern in the cupola, with bells.



114.- The bark of the god of love.


115.- Water-work in the garden of the island of Venus.


116.- A tree, clipt in ring-shape.


117.- Box-tree, clipt in shape of the figure of a man, with his feet resting upon two vases, and supporting an ornament, composed of two towers, which are surmounted by an arch.


118.- Box-tree.


119.- Box-tree, clipt in shape of a centre piece.


120.- Box-tree, clipt in shape of a mushroom.


121.- Peristyle in the pleasure-ground of the island of Venus.


122.- Plan of the island of Venus.


123.- Ornament of a flower-bed.


124.- Square ornament of a flower-bed.


125.- A clipt tree, upon an altar, ornamented with a bull’s skull, and festoons.


126.- Pattern of a flower-bed.


I27.- Box-tree, clipt in shape of three peacocks, &c, growing out of a vase, which is placed upon an altar.


128.- A flower-bed, laid out in shape of an eagle.


129.- A flower-bed, laid out in shape of two birds perched upon a vase.


130.- Trophy of Roman arms, with a winged genius’ head.


I31.- Trophy consisting of a tunic, with a winged genius’ head and laurel-wreath at the top.


132.- Trophy of arms, with a tiger-skin, and bull’s head.


133.- Trophy. It is composed of a disk, with wings, surmounted by a tablet on which is inscribed - Quis evadet? and another disk at the top.


134 and 135.- Two trophies, with wings made of thin plates of gold, and with floating ribbons. No. 134 has a tablet bearing the word - Nemo.


136.- Trophy. A laurel wreath, with strings of precious beads dangling from it, and tied with floating red ribbons, encircles a tablet, bearing a Greek inscription, which means - Gained by the spear. At the top, a charming figure of Cupid.


137.- A superb figure of a nymph, not in antique costume, with a javelin in her right hand. A. Ilg, in his treatise on the Hypnerotomachia, p. 121, points out how tastefully and correctly the ornaments of the dress are fitted to the shape of her body.


138.- A vase, the neck and rim decorated with foiiage, the lower part fluted; the handles are in the shape of dragon-like monsters.


139.- A small vase, made of precious stone, decorated with foliage and flutings;the handles descend from the rim of the mouth in shape of indented leaves. Fiery sparks, dancing and crackling, were flying out of this vase, with a very agreeable effect, as our author relates.


140.- An earthenware vessel, in shape of an amphora, with perforated neck from which issued ordoriferous fumes.


141.- A terminal figure, with three male heads.


142.- Trophy, with the three heads of Cerberus, encircled by a serpent.


143 and 144.- The Triumph of Cupid. The procession is headed by two nymphs playing the flute; a nymph with a censer, and other nymphs carrying aloft banners and trophies follow; and then come two satyrs bearing three-headed terminal figures. Two dragons, richly caparparisoned-monsters apparently full of life and mirth--are drawing the triumphal car, on which the blindfolded god of love, with mighty wings, and his bow and arrow in his hands, is enthroned. Behind his chariot, amid a group of nymphs, Poliphilus and Polia are seen as captives, enchained with festoons of roses. The female figure, holding an arrow in her right hand, and a lamp in her left, is meant for Psyche. Among the trophies we recognise one with the three heads of Cerberus (No. I42. )


145.- Base of a column, ornamented at the two upper corners with rams’ heads, from the horns of which a festoon of flowers is suspended by tastefully twisted strings. In the centre, a medallion, with a relief representing a sacrifice in a sacred grove. Around the flaming altar stand two nude nymphs, and two satyrs, with writhing snakes and amphorae in their hands, and also two nude infants, each of them holding a vase (lecythus.)


146. Ornament or a frieze. A bull, terminating in arabesques, with a nude female figure on its back, and two satyrs.


147.- The Ampitheatre in the island of Venus.


148.- Ground-plan of the fountain of Venus.


149.- The Fountain of Venus. The water streams into the hexagonal basin from a large trought, which stands within a bower grown over with rose-trees. This trough is in fact a sarcophagus - The Tomb of Adonis; and its sides are ornamented with reliefs. On the right hand side is represented the jealous Mars striking Adonis ; on the left, the nude Venus hastening forth from her bath to protect her favourite, the skin of her "divine" leg being torn by the rose-tree.


150.- The Statue of Venus, of precious sardonyx, placed upon the Tomb of Adonis. The Divine mother (‘la Diuina matre’) is seated on an antique chair of state, with Cupid as a babe at her breast. A nymph with long flowing hair, devoutly kisses the foot of the statue ; and five other nymphs, their arms crossed upon their breasts, are kneeling before it. The sarcophagus of Adonis serves as the pedestal of this figure. It is here adorned with two other reliefs-one representing the dead Adonis, lamented by three nymphs, and the other, Venus, in her bitter grief with three nymphs attending her.


151.- Poliphilus and Polia among the nymphs at the Fountain of Venus. The background of this romantic scene is formed by trellis work, with a gabled gate, and some high trees overlooking it. In the middle is seen the fountain, and within the bower the Tomb of Adonis, surmounted by the seated figure of the goddess, her back turned towards the spectator. Nymphs in various attitudes, with harps and other musical instruments, are reposing on both sides among the flowers. The two figures in the foreground are Poliphilus and his mistress; and a tall handsome nymph - the only one who is standing - offers a laurel-wreath to the united lovers.







152.- This woodcut is the first of the Second Book of the Hypnerotomachia, in which Polia and Poliphilus relate the story of their love. - Polia had been attacked by the plague raging at Treviso, and taken the vow to Diana. We behold her in the temple of the maiden-divinity - which is like a Christian chapel dedicated to the Holy Virigin-kneeling before the altar,with the prayer-book in her hands, while the woe-begone Poliphilus has lost his consciousness, and lies on the floor by her side.


153.- Polia drags her prostrate lover by his feet out of the sanctuary.


154.- The Dream of Polia.- Cupid punishes two women that resisted his power.Standing on his chariot, he drives before him through the rough thicket these hapless nude females, who are chained to the car, and unmercifully flogs them with his rod. Polia, hidden behind the trees, watches this terrific scene.


155.- Continuation of the Dream of Polia.- The irritated Cupid has on the verge of the forest descended from his chariot, and brandishes a sword above the head of one of his victims who kneels before him, with her hands tied. The mangled limbs of the other woman, whom he has already hewn to pieces, are lying in the grass. Polia is again an unseen witness of this act of revenge.


156.- Continuation of the Dream of Polia.- Polia sees with terror and fright three ferocious beasts of the forest, a lion, a mighty dog, and a dragon, devouring the limbs of the two slaughtered women; a large eagle is also hovering about. Above, the god of love appears, with his naked sword, taking his triumphant flight in the air. "O spectaculo did incredibile acerbitate," - says the author - "& di crudelitate insigne, O inaudita & insolente calamitate, scena daspectare horrenda," &c.


I57.- Poliphilus lying as if dead, on the floor. Polia's heart is moved towards him. She kneels by his side, stretching out her arms in her compassion and grief.


158.- Poliphilus has been brought to life again in the lap of his mistress; and they are

fervently embracing each other.


159.- Two priestesses drive our lovers away from the Temple of Diana; they are beating Polia with thick sticks. The high priestess, ordering Polia’s ignominious expulsion from the chaste sisterhood, is standing on the left.


160.- Polla In her bed-chamber. The floor is strewn with roses. She is sitting on a cushion; and beholds in the sky, through the open window, the vision of the fierce triumph of Love. Diana is put to flight by Venus, accompanied by Cupid, with his large flaming torch. The chariot of Diana is drawn by two white stags, and that of Venus by two swans.


161.- Polia in the Temple of Venus. She kneels before the priestess, accusing herself of her former impiety, and avowing that her heart is now filled with burning love for our hero. Poliphilus stands beside her. Four nymphs are in attendance behind the chair of the priestess. In the background is the flaming altar.


162.- The enamoured couple kneeling before the priestess of Venus.


163.- The priestess enthroned, with five nymphs surrounding her. Poliphilus and Polia are kissing each other in her presence.


164.- Poliphilus writing to his mistress. In his pleasant room he is sitting at a finely carved wrinting table, and with a thoughtful mien looks at the nib of his pen.


165.- Polia reading her lover's letter; she is in her bed-chamber which is only furnished with a four-post bed. A little dog is sitting to the left of her. Through the two windows we get glimpses of the landscape.


166.- Poliphius before the great goddess of love. The scene is now laid in the upper regions. The soul of our hero has during his fit been taken up to the presence of Venus who appears with crown and sceptre, half in the clouds. He complains to her of the cruelty of his mistress. On the left stands the listening Cupid.


167.- Here we meet again Poliphilus and Venus and Cupid above the clouds. Cupid carries the portrait bust of Polia which he, at the command of the goddess, is going to pierce with his arrow - an incident that is in accordance with the superstitions of the age.


168.- Cupid has shot his arrow at the bust of Polia, and hit her right in the heart.


On the last plate fifteen initial letters of the first edition of the Hypnerotomachia are reproduced.


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