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School of Modern Languages & Cultures: Department of Italian

Staff in the Department of Italian

Go to the MLAC staff pages.

Mr James Russell, MA Dunelm

PhD Research Student in the School of Modern Languages and Cultures

Contact Mr James Russell (email at


PhD Thesis: The Hypnerotomachia Poliphili and its Annotators: 1499-1700

The Hypnerotomachia Poliphili, (The Strife of Love in a Dream of Poliphilo) printed at the Venetian press of Aldus Manutius in 1499, is among the most beautiful and enigmatic books of the Renaissance. Written anonymously in an artificial Latinate Italian, the Hypnerotomachia narrates the progress of the lover Poliphilo towards his beloved Polia. This journey serves as a framing device for ekphrastic descriptions of architecture and Plinian encyclopaedic passages on topics such as herbalism, optics, and lapidary. 

Previous Hypnerotomachia scholarship has centred on the attribution of authorship, the influence of the text on later art and architecture (e.g. Titian's Sacred and Profane Love and Bernini's Pulcino della Minerva), and the interpretation of the narrative as an alchemical allegory. However, these studies have not taken into account the agency of readers in engaging with the text, nor the importance of reception communities in shaping their interpretation. 

I am examining marginalia in surviving copies of the Hypnerotomachia as evidence for how period readers made use of this unusual book. Among the annotators included in this study are Pope Alexander VII (Fabio Chigi), Ben Jonson, the Marinist poet Francisco Pona, and a number of anonymous sixteenth and seventeenth century readers

Other Responsibilities

  • Middle Common Room President, The College of St Hild & St Bede
  • Resident Tutor, The College of St Hild & St Bede
  • Postgraduate Peer Mentor

Public Engagement

  • Bright Club Performance, 2011
  • Organised an exhibition of ecclesiastical manuscripts and early printed books from the Durham University Special Collections and Cathedral Archives for the Durham Medieval Archaeologists (DMA) Community Medieval Festival, 2010
  • Routes into Languages - North East

Teaching Experience

University Awards

  • Best Research Poster in the Faculty of Arts and Humanities
  • The Ustinov Bursary
  • Honorary Life Member of The College of St Hild & St Bede

Research Groups

  • Culture and Difference
  • Literature/History/Theory

Research Interests

  • Early Print Culture
  • Incunabula
  • Marginalia
  • Readership Studies
  • The History of the Book in the Late Renaissance and Baroque period (c.1450-1700)

Selected Publications

Conference papers

  • 2009 'The Purificative Power of a Woman's Name in Fra Francesco Colonna's Hypnerotomachia Poliphili'.


  • 2010 '& 2011 Marginalia in the Hypnerotomachia Poliphili'.
  • 2010 'Annotations to a Renaissance Dream Allegory'.

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