, , , , , , ,

“Splendor Solis” is the title of this manuscript in the British Library, which is an alchemical treatise by Salomon Trismosin. It originated in Germany and is dated 1582 [1, cf. 2]. The earliest version, considered to be that now in the Kupferstichkabinett in the Prussian State Museum in Berlin, is dated 1532-35, and was made in the form of a medieval manuscript and illuminated on vellum, with decorative borders like a book of hours, beautifully painted and heightened with gold. The later copies in London, Kassel, Paris and Nuremberg are equally fine.
The work itself consists of a sequence of 22 elaborate images, set in ornamental borders and niches. The symbolic process shows the classical alchemical death and rebirth of the king, and incorporates a series of seven flasks, each associated with one of the planets. Within the flasks a process is shown involving the transformation of bird and animal symbols into the Queen and King, the white and the red tincture. This echoes thePretiosissimum Donum Dei sequence which is probably earlier, dating from the 15th century. Although the style of the Splendor Solis illuminations suggest an earlier date, they are quite clearly of the 16th century. [3]

Jörg Völlnagel wrote in the Electronic Journal of the British Library “[this] is one of the most beautiful and well known illuminated alchemical manuscripts. The text survives in many witnesses dating from the early sixteenth to the nineteenth century, of which Harl. MS. 3469 is definitely the most famous and best preserved example. Yet the history of this codex, which is dated 1582, can actually traced back to south-eastern Germany at the beginning of the sixteenth century – back, in other words, to the region and era of the great masters of the German Renaissance such as Albrecht Dürer, Hans Holbein the Younger and Lucas Cranach the Elder.
Neither the author nor the commissioner of the Splendor Solis is known to us. Nevertheless, there is much that can be said about the conditions surrounding the production of the illuminated manuscript: we know of numerous sources that were drawn upon by both the text and the illustrations, which were to have a lasting effect. In looking carefully at the iconography we may gain a closer insight into the origins of the Splendor Solis which in turn leads us to an attribution of the original miniatures, followed by a brief discussion of the concept underlying the codex, which aspired from the very beginning to become the most beautiful of all illuminated alchemical manuscripts.” [2].


On folio 30v the Dark Sun is shown in a miniature. In the upper and left borders two snails may be seen. These are both illustrated with the shells in top view; the upper one shows the animal in side view. The snails are somewhat stylised, with two tentacles, and are both sinistral.


[1] BLL, Ms. Harley 3469, 49 [+ 3] ff. http://bit.ly/1ewYEqQ.
[2] Völlnagel, J. (2011). Harley MS. 3469: Splendor Solis or Splendour of the Sun – A German alchemical manuscript. eBLJ 8: 1–13. http://bit.ly/1iY5lj0.
[3] http://www.levity.com/alchemy/splensol.html (16.iv.2014). Another version may be found here.