Thursday, July 23, 2015

The SB and Two Alchemical Mss.

Gnaccolini's essay describes two alchemical treatises that were part of the exhibition. In this post I am going to ddiscuss how she relates them to the cards. Be advised that in this post I will not talk about Lazzarelli at all. His writings, in so far as they have been translated, I have not been able to relate to the deck, except very generally to the last two trumps, as I explained in my previous post.

One of the manuscripts is a pseudo-Lullian miscellany, loaned by the Nazionale Centrale di Firenze (Banco Rari 52). One illustration (Gnaccolini only describes it) shows Lull giving his book to a cleric dressed in white, obviously a Benedictine. Gnaccolini even identifies the place (p. 88): monastero camaldolese di San Benedetto fuori Porta Pinti ovvero il monastero olivetano di San Miniato al Monte.

(the Camaldolese St. Benedict monastery outside the Porta Pinti or the Olivetano monastery of San Miniato at Monte.)
This Camaldolese monastery was under the jurisdiction of the same Monasterio of Maria dell'Angeli where Ficino occasionally gave lectures, as early as 1469, I see by Googling it. She dates the illustrations to between 1468 and 1471.

If nothing else, the dating of the manuscript, a transcription of 14th century texts, shows an interest in alchemy among the Benedictines and their friends in Florence in the 1460s. It is a logical extension of Traversari's translations of pseudo-Dionysius and so on, about the ascent to God. If the tarot in general at that time (beyond the Sola-Busca) has anything to do with an ascent to God, this manuscript is relevant. It would be of interest to know the origin of the manuscript that this one was copied from. Was it one already owned by the Benedictines there but deteriorating? Or did it come from some other source? One possibility is Barbara of Brandenburg, Marquesa of Mantua. The miniaturist, Giralomo da Cremona (by resemblances to his known work), had illustrated a missal for her, Gnaccolini says. Barbara's father was famous for his sponsorship of texts in spiritual alchemy, notably the Heilege Dreifaeltigkeit.

I found 6 images from this work online:,,,,, (I got one of these from ... chodenasor, which has a short description of the manuscript.)

One illumination,, shows a man sowing seeds. Here is the detail:


Another one, with a plow (not part of the previous six), is below.



Gnaccolini relates them to the cards as "agricultural" imagery. Here is what she says about the suit of Batons. I have added links to Tarotpedia's scans of the cards:
In fact, in addition to the avowedly rural setting (2 of Batons ; fig. 1.66) [], there is located in card 3 (Fig. 1.67) [] a clear allusion to secrecy in the transmission of alchemical knowledge (recommended for a long time by pseudo-Lull), of which he became the emblem, his head pierced by three sticks (gold, silver, and mercury?) with his mouth sealed by a garland and the presence of the usual wings of an eagle (the mercury of the philosophers).

To the rural world alludes the gourd of the five of Batons(fig. 1.69 [], frequently used to transport water, but to an astute reader is immediately reminiscent of the the "cucurbit" (Pereira 2001, p. 59), that is, the alchemical vessel where he realizes the opus, a real gourd used by the alchemist, as appears for example from illustrations of the aforementioned superb Veneto manuscript (Florence, Library Medici Laurentian, Ms. Ashburnam 1166 f. 5r); it appears to govern the sowing of the youth on card 7 (Fig. 1.74 []), which now have blossomed as sheaves of grain on the background of the Page (Fig. 1.75 []), who carries gold coins in his bag, the result of the opus.
She does not in fact show us f. 5r, to compare the "gourd used by the alchemist" to the gourd on the card. However presumably it is much like the one on f. 4v, which appears next to the card in question:


Here are my questions for Gnaccolini:

In the 2, that it is a rural setting conveys what about the alchemical meaning of the card?

On the 3, what examples are there of a boy with wings on his head as representing an eagle? I might agree that it was alchemical Mercury, but only because Mercury was frequently depicted with wings on his cap, looking as though they were coming out of his head. And what is the alchemical meaning? Is it just to introduce the substance?

On the 5, in alchemy the various processes are produced by heating and cooling, either of solids or liquids. The gourd of the 5 would not work very well; the gourd-shaped vessels in alchemical illustrations are most likely glass. That does not stop the similarly shaped gourd that the youth on card the 5 of batons from being such a vessel. But again, what is the alchemical meaning? What operation? Where is the heat, liquid or smoke?

And is the youth on the 7 bent low because he is sowing or because of his burden? The horizontal lines somewhat suggest furrows, but they are on the 3, too, where they apparently do not.

And what role do the Ace, 4, 6, 8, 9, and 10 play in this interpretation?

There is much missing. Perhaps I can help. The Ace of Batons ( might represent the peace of Eden before the Fall, since it has a suit of armor without its warrior. The 2 ( would then be Adam outside Eden looking at what he has lost. The 3 ( has secrecy and the suffering of life in this world, as well as the important transformative element Mercury. In the 4 ( we have the guardian of the secret operations, a silent warrior. In the 5 (, we have the apparatus needed (; in 6, the fire (; in 7, the insertion of a crucial ingredient, or perhaps a cooling (; in 8 the heating (, in 9 the desired transmutation--crossing a stream as symbolic of transformation--or washing and cooling (, in 10, waiting for it to mature ( Well, I am guessing. They correspond to no alchemical images that I know of, but could represent an alchemical process all the same.


In the suit of Coins/Disc, the images in the second manuscript, an anonymous "Secreta secretorum", Laurenziana Ashburnam 1166, become relevant. As I have said, Gnaccolini situates the artistic style of the illustrations to Padua or Venice in the 1460s, and also one manuscript in the 1480s.

First we need to notice the agricultural motif (from the first manuscript), present also in this suit of Discs.
La donna pingue della carta 4 potrebbe infatti raffigurare la Terra madre dei metalli, che viene ingravidata grazie all'azione dell'alchimista e produce un frutto di perfezione...

(The fat lady of card 4 ( could in fact be seen as the Earth, mother of metals, who is impregnated by the action of the alchemist and produces a fruit of perfection...)
It seems to me that the lady's four discs would most naturally be taken as the four elements, not metals; they did not come in fours.

Perhaps this card should be seen in the context of one of the alchemical illustrations that she shows from the second manuscript, that of a woman with a tree growing out of her head.


I think that this in fact does represent "producing a fruit of perfection". But since the tree with the fruit grows out of the woman's head, it would appear to be an intellectual impregnation.

I found a discussion of this image in the works of C. G. Jung, who cites a text that seems to relate to the skull. He thinks it is quite old, in its Arabic version no later than the 10th century. What was to be extracted from matter was called the "cogitatio". He continues (Psychology and Alchemy p. 269, paragraphs 375-377):
The "Liber Platonis quartorium" accordingly recommends the use of the occiput (Fig. 135) as the vessel of transformation, because it is the container of thought and intellect. For we need the brain as the seat of the "divine part."
The reason is, as Jung quotes the treatise, that:
the operator must himself participate in the work ("oportet operatorem interesse operi"), "for if the investigator does not remotely possess the likeness [i.e. to the work] he will not climb the height I have described, nor reach the road that leads to the goal."
It is the "causative effect of analogy", Jung explains (p. 270). As in the skull matter is transformed, so by means of his own head the operator is likewise transformed.

However, the lady on the 4, because of her corpulousness, to me does not suggest intellect. I think a better parallel to the alchemical illustration is to trump II POSTUMIO ( He/she is at least looking at the skull. The tree is perhaps on the shield.

On the next card in Discs, the 5, Gnaccolini finds confirmation of her sexual interpretation of the 4 (impregnation of the fat lady);
Una conferma dell'uso della metafora sessuale come allusione al procedimento alchemico del quattro di denari (fig. 1.44) si esplicita nel cinque di denari (fig. 1.45), dove il ragazzo travestito da uccello (chiaro simbolo sessuale) 85, con un fallo disegnato sullo scudo, rappresenta il compimento dell'opus alchemicum, che si realizza tramite l'azione del calore 86 (il fuoco che gli lambisce un piede).

(A confirmation of the use of the sexual metaphor as allusion to alchemical procedure in the four of Coins (fig. 1.44) is explicit in the five of Coins (fig. 1.45), where the boy disguised as a bird (a clear sexual symbol) (85), with a phallus drawn on the shield, represents the fulfillment of the opus alchemicum, which is realized by the action of heat (86) (the fire that licks his foot).
The card is at I would suggest that this card be seen in relation to another illustration from the second manuscript (not shown by Gnaccolini), of a man lying on the ground, similar to the woman (Jung, fig. 131). I expect that they are meant to be Adam and Eve.


Both the card and this illustration have rather conspicuous phallic symbolism. But seeing either man as "fulfillment of the opus alchemicum" is for me a stretch. If it's the fulfillment, what is it doing as number 5 out of 10? To me it might suggest the impregnation that will eventually result in the fulfillment of the work, but it is not yet there.

The 7 ( shows seven discs in a vase "which symbolizes the seven metals and the seven stages of the work", she says. But 7 has multiple significances, not just in alchemy. Moreover, there is a specific action being depicted. It looks to me like the boy is regulating the heat. It could well be one of the stages in alchemy, that of applying gentle heat.

I would have thought that the 8 of Discs ( was clearly parallel to the image in the manuscript with the skull and tree. But she skips over it without comment.

In 9, the boy in the fire ( represents the nigredo, she says, the first step of the process. So is this the beginning of the work? Then what does the 10 represent, which shows a putto putting the last coin into a box that holds 10 ( That would seem to be some sort of completion!

She has nothing alchemical to say about the Ace, Two, or Three of Discs. That is probably just as well. Everything is mixed up as it is. But the Ace does show two of the four humors, the melancholy and the sanguine, corresponding to nigredo and rubedo stages of alchemy, making the third putto stand for the third major stage, the Albedo. See Tarotpedia at The 2 might show the cooperation between the ruler and the alchemist (Ercole and Michele). The 3 could show the bringing of metallic ore. But again I am guessing; really, the sequence in this suit makes no alchemical sense to me.

Tarotpedia sees a possible allusion in the 3 to the "triple sun" of Ripley's "Scrowle" ( ... Sola-Busca), at the bottom of the "Scrowle" and hence at the beginning of the work.

Gnaccolini finds the Cups mostly decorative, although admitting there might be a deeper meaning in some. But she does get an interpretation of the 10 of Cups ( by comparing it to one of the alchemical illustrations:
In fact she goes so far as to call the man on the card "Hermes Trismegistus". Another from the same manuscript, supposedly the Muslim alchemist "Geber", with a somewhat similar face and beard, is at

She also has a wild idea for the 9 of Cups, so wild it's in a footnote, number 96:
se così fosse il tritone della carta 9 potrebbe essere il cuoco Andrea che beve l'acqua dalla fonte miracolosa e si trasforma in un demone marino, conservando un po' di acqua "per comperare con l'immortalità l'amore di Kalè-Bella figlia di Alessandro che diverrà Nereide-Acqueterna, anch'essa immortale divinità del mare", cfr. Centanni 1992, p. 198

(The triton of card 9 could be the cook Andrea who drinks the water of the miraculous spring and is transformed into a water-demon, saving a little water "in order to buy with immortality the love of Kalè-Bella, daughter of Alexander, who will become the nereid Acqueterna, also an immortal divinity of the sea"; see Centanni 1992, p. 198.)
In Swords, she says that the swords on the 3 are gold, silver, and mercury, or (in footnote 81), sulfur, mercury, and salt. I see nothing to suggest such a thing except the number 3 ( I would have thought it was the Trinity, comparing it to paintings of Augustine's vision of the trinity, especially the one by Fra Lippo Lippi, Florence 1437 ( ... tioned.jpg, in color The heart, she says, is an alchemical symbol for fire, which presumably melts them down. While the heart is a common religious image, I myself have not seen a heart pictured in alchemy until Jacob Boehme, 1689, where indeed it is associated with fire, probably meaning "burning desire". She cites a 1612 Frankfurt alchemical dictionary,by M. Rulando. She also thinks that the heart has the connotation of a "vital process" and so makes of the alchemical process something alive.

Tarotpedia has found the heart mentioned in Ripley's "Scrowle", in a long passage where "parting in three" is mentioned 18 lines later, referring to the philosopher's stone, which is then "knitted" as a "Trinity": ... Sola-Busca


In the trumps, Gnaccolini sees alchemical allusions in several cards.

II POSTUMIO ( he looks at a skull, a symbol of the nigredo. (Yes, it might be that, among other things, e.g. thought and the putrefactio.)

VI SESTO ( is Mercury, she says. Presumably that is because there are wings on his shoes. If so, she should identify VENTURIO with Mercury, too; he has wings in the same place.

XVI OLIVO ( has the sun, alchemical gold. She also relates the basilisk at his feet to gold, saying that it represented a substance which in powder form could bring out the gold, a doctrine she finds in the 12th century writer Theolopholus. The basilisk has a negative side as well, which she does not mention. It could kill with its fiery breath, like a dragon.

0. MATO ( The crow symbolizes the beginning of the work. This is confirmed by Adam McLean
The phase of Blackening which usually marked the beginning of the work, was brought about either by heating the prima materia in the process of Calcination (the 'dry way' of the alchemists), or by the process of Putrefaction, a slow rotting or digestion over a period of weeks or months (the so-called 'wet way'). The Black Crow or Raven was often associated with this Calcination, for on vigorous heating the calcined material would usually carbonise and layers would flake off and move like a crow's wings in the flask.
The bagpipes, she says, signify music, which works in a way parallel to alchemy. This use of music would seem to be illustrated in the plowing scene of the first manuscript, where a man playing a horn stands on the plow.

She has no comment on the other trumps.

I would add:

0 MATO. The tree is just beginning to grow leaves, again signifying the beginning . The bagpipe might also allude to alchemical vessel.

III. LENPIO ( might be the lighting or stoking of the fire, preparatory to the work.

IV MARIO ( The tree with leaves symbolizes growth and life.But the wings on his helmet and the red clothing suggest Mars. I do not know what that would mean alchemically, except some kind of strengthening.

XI TULIO (, again shows fire.

XIII CATONE ( The severed head is an alchemical symbol in the Splendor Solis, where the one severing it holds it up as a trophy. I suspect that it has to do with thought, cogitation. But Catone is not holding the head but pinning it to the ground.

XVII. IPEO ( Tarotpedia ( notes that the wings are similar to those on the hermaphrodite of the Rosarium Philosophorum.

XX NENBROTO, XXI NEBUCHODENAZOR. I have discussed their symbolism in my previous post.


I see no systematic progression of alchemical stages in the suits, except possibly for Batons, or in the trump sequence, although a few are in the right place to be in an alchemical sequence--0 MATO, II POSTUMIO, III LENPIO, XVI OLIVO, XX NENBROTO, XXI NEBUCHODENAZOR. In contrast, the "Marseille" trumps seem to me abundantly interpretable in terms of alchemy, as I have explained in the "Tarot and Alchemy" thread, even though they have no inherently alchemical imagery whatever. It seems to me that the few clear alchemical allusions in the Sola-Busca there are have probably been put in to create the illusion of a hidden alchemical meaning to the sequences when in fact there is none. However I could well be missing something.

Gnaccolini has one amusing tidbit (footnote 98) that I cannot resist passing on: the man on the 2 of Batons might have been a caricature of Cosimo de' Medici the Elder, she suggests ( Compare to his portraits: It is believable.

That to me is another sign that the inspiration for the Sola-Busca might have come from Florence. The other signs are the Fra Lippo Lippi inspiration of the 3 of Swords, a Lullian manuscript in the right social context from the late 1460s, the required knowledge of Roman history (Poliziano was the expert), and the off-color playfulness that is characteristic of Florentine carnival songs in the time of Lorenzo. But it could also be a product of one of the Academies in other cities, i.e. Rome or Naples, or humanists in Bologna, Ferrara, or Venice.


On a visit to Italy in October 2014, I saw in Florence the book "Secret of Secrets" that was in the Brera's exhibition. It was in the Academia Gallery (in Florence), open to two pages near the beginning. One of them was the same as a page repreoduced in the Brera's exhibition catalog, so it is clearly the same book (as the manuscript number also indicates). The other page was also an illumination, and it was not reproduced in the Brera catalog. So I give you both pages below:

I have discussed the image on the left already at length. The image on the right is new to me. On the one hand, the stylized horns and round middle suggest the sign for Mercury. the figure resembles the astrological sign for the planet. Horns and hooves suggest the Devil--Mercury's destructive side, in other words--as well as the god Pan, for undifferentiated nature, as "Phaeded" suggested in a comment on THF ( Pan also had a bagpipes, as he shows by a link to the Hypnerotomania of 1499 Venice. So the flask of transformation is configured like a bagpipes. In the Sola-Busca, the massa confusa  corresponds to the Mato, card 0. He, too, holds a bagpipes, i.e. the flask by which he will be purified and raised up--or if nothing else, contained, as is shown in the last card ( The circle containing the starry sky is also the hermetically sealed container of the terrible dragon of chaos.

So we have a bagpipe player at the beginning of the Work, and at the end a dragon, among the stars but also confined there, behind bars, at least temporarily. Here is Jung on Mercury (
Mercurius stands at the beginning and end of the work: he is the prima materia, the caput corvi, the nigredo; as dragon he devours himself and as dragon he dies, to rise again in the lapis. He is the play of colours in the cauda pavonis and the division into the four elements. He is the hermaphrodite that was in the beginning, that splits into the classical brother-sister duality and is reunited in the coniunctio, to appear once again at the end in the radiant form of the lumen novum, the stone. He is metallic yet liquid, matter yet spirit, cold yet fiery, poison and yet healing draught - a symbol uniting all the opposites." (Part 3, Chapter 3.1).
 I did not know Pan as an image employed by the alchemists early on. Yet it is right there on the page, as "Huck" points out, the word "Pan".  .The image also combines three other basic symbols, he points out: Star, Moon, and Sun. I would add that Moon and Sun are also female and male; their combination is the hermaphrodite Mercury, the Devil of the tarot.

"SteveM", in further discussion, posted some quite a propos alchemical quotes amplifying this theme of Mercury, Sun, Moon, and Pan, from
what appears to be a version of the same alchemical work as the image appears. These quotes are well worth looking at, at
and his posts immediately following.

In addition, Phaeded amplifies the SB Mato card's imagery by comparing it with imagery associated with Marsyas, the satyr who challenged Apollo to a music contest. at and his post following.

Of interest also is the artist to whom these illuminations are given, a Venetian.

This information is consistent with what I reported earlier, that according to Gnaccolini the style is Paduan-Venetian of the 1460s, but also corresponds to the watercolors in an illuminated printed Petrarch Trionfi/Canzioniere of Venice 1488. But she didn't go so far as to name a specific artist (viewtopic.php?f=11&t=988&p=15884#p14771).

But if the artist is Venetian, what is it doing in the Laurenziana? It is possible that the manuscript was produced in Florence, with the artist coming there at the time. Also, the text might have been done in Florence and the illuminations in Venice: it was a common practice to do the two parts in different places. Most likely, however, both parts were done in Venice, and the book acquired later. Since one of the 16th century Medici "grand dukes" was a practicing alchemist (see ... of_Tuscany), that is the likeliest alternative. That of course puts it very much in the ambit of the Sola-Busca and Leber decks, as well as of the interests shown in Lazzarelli's later works.

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