The Splendor Solis is one of the most interesting and beautiful Renaissance manuscripts from Germany. Written and illuminated in the last quarter of the 16th century, the codex features 22 superbly illuminated full-page miniatures. As well as its artistic features, what is significant about this manuscript is the content – a treatise on alchemy attributed to Salomon Trismosin – which illustrates with wealth of details the secrets of alchemy, kabbalah, and astrology.
Splendor Solis: Complex Art and Complex Text
The iconographic apparatus of the Splendor Solis is certainly exquisite as it exhibits beautiful borders characterized by the typical motifs of Flemish art, such as floral ornaments and animal figures scattered alongside the text.
The manuscript certainly bears a complex text, and just as difficult to comprehend are the illustrations which were not created to be of easy readability and interpretation. One of the most significant elements in the iconography of the codex is the Glaskolben (glass flasks) which embody and represent the mysticism of the author of the text, Trismosin.
A Beautiful Example of Gothic Script
Created in 1582, the codex was written in German Gothic script featuring sumptuous decorated initials and a text characterized by the use of shading. Some of the features of the script are abbreviations, bitings, delta-shaped d, two forms of r and s, long ascenders and descenders, and most importantly, the feet of the minims are curved upwards.
A journey from Germany to England
The life of the manuscript, in modern times known as Harley 3469, is certainly interesting. The Splendor Solis was noticed by John Evelyn, court painter of Charles II, as he visited the library of Whitehall Palace.
The manuscript was then sold to Johann Cyprianus, a theologian, whose heirs made sure to keep it safe entering it in the private collection of the Harley family. Eventually, the manuscript ended up in the British Library in 1753 and it is still safely kept there.
- Images courtesy of the British Library