Produced in the sixteenth century, the treatise called Splendor Solis (The Splendor of the Sun) is written in German and describes the so-called philosopher’s stone, a legendary alchemical substance which was said to have the power of turning metals into gold. The codex is illustrated by a series of nineteen illuminations of alchemical content, which made the book extremely influential in Medieval science. Indeed, it was copied in several manuscripts and printed books from the middle of the sixteenth up to the eighteenth century.
Among the Very First Alchemical Treatises
The treatise of the Splendor Solis was probably made in the years 1531-1532 and is today preserved in Berlin, Kupferstichkabinett, with the shelfmark Cod. 78 D 3. It is the oldest example of an alchemical treatise.
For a long time, the treatise has been attributed to the legendary Salomon Trismosin, apparently the teacher of Paracelsus. The name of Trismosin appeared in copies of the Splendor Solis later than the sixteenth century, the period when the manuscript was made in Berlin.
The author of the treatise cannot be identified with certainty; however, the text is of major importance because it provides clues on the ideas circulating in sixteenth-century Europe about the alchemic processes of transformation of matters and their meanings.
Incredible Illuminations of Dragons, Planets, and Alchemic Substances
The Splendor Solis in Berlin was probably produced in a workshop in Augsburg. The illuminations are set in ornamental borders and niches, showing a layout traditionally found in Books of Hours.
The extraordinary decoration of the book represents astronomic images with personifications of the planets, along with matters of alchemic contents. The rich iconographic display includes miniatures on the spiritualization of bodies, the process of drying materials, and a series of flasks filled with alchemic symbols such as peacocks and dragons.