An alchemical garden

The earliest  followers of this blog know how much I’m freaked with old villas and buildings and old palaces, so I could not lose the opportunity to visit Boboli gardens in the very center of Florence. For some strange coincidence/synchronicity  a couple of days later I started to read Dan Brown’s Inferno (too much frantic for me) and I discovered that Boboli is the initial location of the novel, so it seemed to me one of the meaningful coincidences which I should write about it.

This garden is something between Classicism and Mannerism, tradition and subversion, classical gods and Egyptian wisdom. An ancient obelisk (1500 b.C.) from Heliopolis at the very entrance of the garden reminds the visitor of the antediluvian wisdom of Hermes, who lived in Egypt before the Flood, then in Babylon and again in Egypt,  under the name of Mercurius, the Three times Great.


As many of Renaissance gardens Boboli is a metaphor of the macrocosm, an image and mirror of the soul and an initiation path, which is however closed for those who cannot walk inside and follow Nature’s footsteps.


The sixteen century garden is modeled on the greatest best-seller of its age, a strange and anonymous book about the adventures of Poliphilus in a wild forest in the search of Polia, his beloved and still personification of Wisdom. The vegetal architectures of the forest are the steps of an initiation path which will eventually lead Poliphilus to the alchemical wedding with Polia, according the Renaissance idea that Nature is the best road to God(s).

Nature had made it for ostentation and to demonstrate her artifice through an  excellent masterpiece,filled with beauty, grace, richness, certainty, blessing, happiness and perpetuaI duration.….In passing on my way, I turned to look back, and saw written on the frieze above the gate an inscription saying this: THE WEALTH OF NATURE.

Architecture is nothing else than the Artifice of Nature and the Architect is the Magician……

The heart of the garden is the Cave of Buontalenti, started by Giorgio Vasari, but built by Bernando Buontalenti, and it is a masterpiece of Mannerist art. Mannerism is characterized for the breaking of the rules and the harmony of classic art (in effect it was a kind of Surrealism ante litteram ).  Art becomes a mirror of a parallel world, where monsters, ghosts, pagan gods can be glimpsed for a moment, and it is possible to cross the door to the deepest Self.

The cave is divided into three rooms:  the first, the greater one, is the image of the artifice of the Nature. The second, the square one, is dedicated to the four elements with in its the center the statue of Paris carrying off Helen. The inner one, the oval room, as the cosmic egg, contains the statue of Venus emerging from the water: the eternal, perfect, universal love.

That’s the place where any division between conscious and unconscious is eliminated, and the Self is integrated again into Nature, a kind of rite of initiation, a pagan mystery cult.  (….  the text goes on after pictures)





The progressive sexual metaphor of the cave is evident: in the first room people are shocked and scared by senses, in the second there is a more physical approach, in the third they are completely under the spell of the Goddess.

But the cave is much more than this.  Well known are the cave of Nymphs in Homer’s Odyssey where Gods and human beings enter and leave this world (and Porphyrus’ comment) but  Venus place in Boboli’s cave is the fountain of Venus of Poliphilus’ dream – the place where the alchemical wedding between Poliphilus and Polia, the initiate and his soul, takes place.

In a way Poliphilus’ Dream and the Florentine cave are an implementation of the Platonic idea of love and are more similar to Dionysian cults rather apt to  Renaissance courts.  HINC APPELLATA MYSTERIA: NEC MYSTERIA QUAE NON OCCULTA.


Written by Margherita Fiorello, CIDA certified member, for heaven astrolabe blog @ year 2012. If you want to be notified the next time I write something, subscribe to my RSS feed.



A detailed description of Boboli’s garden can be found here:


Francesco Colonna, Johannes Baptista Scytha, Andreas Maro, and Aldo Manuzio. Hypnerotomachia Poliphili. [S.l.]: [s.n.], 1499.


Aldo Carotenuto, Il fascino discreto dell’orrore, Bompiani, 1997

Alessandro Grossato, Del sogno iniziatico di Polifilo e di alcuni suoi paralleli orientali,


Paola Maresca, Giardini incantati, boschi sacri e architetture magiche, Pontecorboli,  2004

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s