Splendor Solis

Splendor Solis Arma Artis, f. 2r

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Arma Artis, f. 2r

The opening miniature features two bearded men engrossed in conversation. The men are standing at the threshold of a lofty archway with a hilly landscape and high skies opening out behind them. The portal is part of an architectural complex, a large portion of which is covered over by a long panel of gold-edged, crimson fabric. In front of the embellishing backdrop provided by the red material is an arrangement of the components of a coat of arms. At the bottom of this assembly is a blue escutcheon emblazoned with a golden sun, its corpus bearing a further three round sun faces. Above the shield is a silver helmet. Decorated with blue acanthus leaves, each studded with golden stars, it is surmounted by an imposing golden crown. Nestled into the top of the crown are three silver crescent moons arranged concentrically. These are touched in the centre by the tip of a ray of sunlight reaching down from the large golden sun hovering above. With its at once smiling and serious countenance, the sun completes the top part of the tightly composed structure of the heraldic insignia.

Although the opening pages of hand-illuminated manuscripts typically bear the heraldry of their commissioners, in this case the family coat of arms was supplanted by an imaginary emblem dedicating the codex to the sun. Indeed, as has been noted, the coat of arms is a meticulous copy of the opening miniature contained in the alchemical manuscript Aurora Consurgens. However, the motif was expanded for the Splendor Solis to take in the architectural surrounds as well. Here, the painter turned to a copper engraving by Hans Sebald Beham for inspiration.
The situation of the reader and viewer of the manuscript, poised to begin reading the book, is echoed by the opening miniature with its two inquisitive adepts lingering at the threshold to the world of hermetic alchemy, a realm ruled by the sun. Coupled with the designation of Arma Artis, which translates as “weapons of art”, the portrayal of suns and crescent moons serves to invoke the cosmic power of the planets, particularly of Sol, Luna and Mercury. For by virtue of their influence on the different metals, these are the natural tools of alchemy, or “weapons of art”, as stated here; and indeed, alchemy is also widely known as the “Royal Art”.

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


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