Splendor Solis

Splendor Solis Knight of the Royal Art, f. 7r


Knight of the Royal Art, f. 7r

A giant knight stands on the rim of a double fountain which is situated on a promontory entering the picture from the right. He is clad in a magnificent silver suit of armour decorated with gold appliqués and a breastplate striped black, white, yellow and red. His helmet is decorated by a ring of seven stars of different colours. In his right hand the knight holds a sword with a curved blade, using his left hand to lean on a large red shield. The surface of the shield is inscribed in gold letters with the following message:
Ex duabus acquis / unã facite Qui / quæritis Sole et Lu / nã facere. et date / bibere inimico urõ / Et uidebitis / eum mortuum / Deiñ de aqua ter / rã facite. Et Lapi / de multi / plicas / tis”.
The two octagonal basins of the fountain contain different fluids. The silver pool of liquid on the right flows via a narrow conduit into the liquid gold contained in the left basin from whence it gushes forth into a vast body of water. Though the water in the foreground is saturated in gold, it grows lighter and lighter in colour as it wends its way towards the hills and mountains on the horizon.
The gold and silver liquids in the fountain evoke the manifold polarities alchemy seeks to unite as an integral part of the purification process. As the enigmatic sentences upon the shield convey, “From two waters, make one, all those who seek to create sun [gold] and moon [silver]. Give it to your most fervent enemy to drink. And you will see his corpse. Then make earth from water and multiply [distribute] the stone.” The liquid that flows into the water meadow or swampland is generally interpreted as a depiction of the alchemical process of putrefaction, this being the content of the passage of text directly preceding the image. The knight, shown straddling the two basins of the fountain, is a linking element embodying alchemy. And the different colours of the opus magnum, the “great work”, comprising his breastplate symbolise transmutation. Indeed, the seven stars surmounting the helmet refer to the planets and the metals with which they are associated, and thus to the various stages of the transmutation process leading from prime matter, prima materia, to the purest form of matter, gold.
The knight in armour, initiate of the Royal Art, depicted as he is here with one foot on each basin of the double fountain, can be viewed as an example of the reception of several different alchemical illuminated manuscripts in the Splendor Solis. The knight is a recurring motif throughout the Aurora Consurgens, yet there is a miniature from another manuscript that might well have informed the painter’s choice of position for the figure, the Alchemical or Mercurial Hermaphrodite from the Buch der heiligen Dreifaltigkeit (Book of the Holy Trinity). The manner in which the knight holds his sword aloft is in keeping with the Book of the Holy Trinity’s depiction of the Luciferian Hermaphrodite.

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

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