Splendor Solis

Splendor Solis Royal Couple, f. 10r


Royal Couple, f. 10r

In front of a panoramic landscape strewn with Late Gothic architecture a royal couple stands facing one another. The depiction of the couple is monumental. On the left is a blonde, fair-skinned queen wearing a silver crown. Clad in a long, light-blue dress with a broad silver trim and red lining, she stands atop a vitreous sphere embodying the watery moon. In her right hand the queen holds a blue scroll inscribed in gold letters with the words “Lac Viramium” (which should read Lac Virginum, virgin’s milk). Using her left hand, its index finger raised, she points towards the king. A dialogue of gestures ensues, for the king’s right hand is similarly held outstretched and open. Beneath a voluminous red cape with gold braiding and light blue-grey lining, the king wears a red, gold-edged tunic extending below the knee. With light-coloured stockings on his legs and red shoes on his feet, he stands in the midst of a blazing fire. The insignia of his power are the gold crown upon his head and the golden sceptre he holds in his left hand. The sceptre is entwined with an orange scroll bearing the words “Coagula Maaschculium” (which should read Coagulum Masculinum, masculine coagulation). Surmounting the monarchs are two animate celestial bodies illuminating the nocturnal sky. On the right is a red sun face with long, wavy golden rays, on the left a figure resembling the moon with a large silver face and wavy silver rays.
The miniature is framed by a floral margin. The painter added a plinth to the bottom margin which consists of three grisaille paintings, each an imitation stone relief. The panel on the left depicts the battle between Achilles and Hector outside the gates of Troy. The other two panels show scenes from the life of Alexander the Great, with the image on the right recognisably rendering the episode of Diogenes in his tub. On a small sign positioned at the apex of the arch is the inscription “Particularia” (particulars); a cartouche at the lower edge of the main miniature contains the words “Via Vniuersalis particularibus Inclusis” (The universal path includes the particular) from the Tractatus Aureus of Hermes Trismegistus.
The manner in which the royal couple is depicted here envisions the polarities in alchemy discussed in the second treatise of the Splendor Solis directly preceding the image. Beyond the personification of such polarities as woman and man, they are also present in the binary oppositions water and fire, heaven and earth, Luna and Sol (with the implicit connotations of silver and gold, mercury and sulphur). In alchemy their union, most palpably depicted in the form of two lovers copulating, is regarded as the way to overcome particular imperfect conditions and could also refer to the chemical penetration of the two arcane substances, sulphur and mercury. The motif of the royal couple in the Splendor Solis is based on depictions of the alchemical illuminated manuscripts Donum Dei and Rosarium Philosophorum, which each dedicate a sequence of miniatures to this theme. In contrast to these two manuscripts which, like the Aurora Consurgens, also feature illustrations of the couple in sexual union, the Splendor Solis only includes the first image of the couple where they are still standing, clothed and crowned. The painter refrains from any explicit depictions of sexuality, leaving it at the level of allusions, such as the rounded belly of the queen, as has been argued on occasion. There seems to be no immediate reference to the main image made by the three grisaille paintings, though they unquestionably mirror its theme, namely the battle of opposites and their reconciliation by union.

Jörg Völlnagel 
(Art historian, research associate at the Staatliche Museen zu Berlin)

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