The frontispiece engraving from Basilius Valentinus book “ Azoth” is also an extensive allegory for Solve et Coagula, which designates cooking at large.
In fact Solve et Coagula is a sophisticated alchemical recipient of a lot of implications. I mean in Alchemical as well as spagirical sense. In Alchemy, because of Rule of three, ” Solve et Coagula” can stand at least for three quite different phases.
It can defines human activity in the Labors of Hercules, as well as the Main Work operated by Azoth, as we have seen in Basilius Valentinus, Salt, Azoth or Philosophers Gold, itself in second and third cooking. There is a ” Solve et Coagula ” in last cooking too.
Tree on the engraving is provided with branches. Like trees are expected to be. Sol et Luna, Sun and Moon, are hung on the most important branches, the engine of the entire work. They personify a basic example for rule of three (every symbol stands for at least three different concepts) and indeed by means of them we can illustrate a major part of alchemical processes (1).
Alchemy engine is admittedly Solve et Coagula. Some authors called “Solve et Coagula” only Main Work (2). In my opinion this is a confusing statement (see here for an Opus Magnum scheme.) Rule of three concerns also Solve et Coagula concept.
In Alchemy triangles usually stand for the three principles. Indeed Basilius Valentinus has inserted their canonical symbols at angles. Mercurius, Sulphur and Salt cannot be defined as products or offspring of solve et coagula, indeed they are solve et coagula. To have this operation the three principles must be metamorphosed into each other.
In the written part of Basilius Valentinus book we never encounter the words “ Solve et Coagula”, and Moon and Sun are neglected too. Inside the book, we can find fourteen engravings of great alchemical relevance , largely spread and known over the ages, and this in spite of their very difficult symbolic substance.
In “Azoth, or the way to make the hidden Philosophers’ Gold” it seems as though only pictures contain some hidden clues which can not be overtly written, neither in symbolic language.
But no one ever mentions a first picture, always neglected for it is considered as a mere incipit ornament ( picture on the left). An interweaving of a man and a woman forming with flowers. foliage, two vases and a head with a crown sparkling flames. It was not that strange to find books of the same age ( beginning of seventeenth century) actually decorated with similar hermetic grotesques. But, as one can imagine, in an Alchemy book ( moreover a Basilius Valentinus), mere ornament is very unlikely to happen.
A man and a woman, without featuring their colors or condition. Even the rule of three ( every symbol stands at least for three different concepts or action), would account very few alternatives. They unquestionably stand for solve et coagula operation, at large. Pay attention when handling this statement at large: never assume to exactly know if you are before an alchemical or a spagyrical process. Solve et coagula concept is not so user friendly. For our procedures are of course alchemical as well as spagyrical. For the simple reason that we cannot get out of spagyria, at least in the labors of Hercules. Back to the cover, we can see two triangles, an upward one with planet stars and a downward with three principles. Rule of three requires an open mind: mercurius, sulphur and salt usually represent the alchemist work or first cooking, the only point where an alchemist can intrude into nature, Labors of Hercules. Think of a sacred geometry axiom, which I repute very relevant to our case: only a triangle can compose and decompose a body. Indeed Solve is latin for dissolving, or precipitating, while Coagula for sublimating or calcinating. Below a common seventeenth century chemical lexicon example, here taken from “Pharmacopée Royale, Galenique et Chymique” By Moyse Charas 1676.
Indeed Labors of Hercules, preparatory works, are performed by alchemists in order to get changements of state to magnetize chemical salts extracted from raw matter or Materia Tertia. Rosarium Philosophorum: “ Remove the body where there is a body and provide a body to what is free of body”. The ultimate solve et coagula.
Then, once Azoth or Prima Materia has been prepared, we can go for Materia Prima or Sulphur or Soul. In this process, Main Work, Solve et Coagula is being performed by Secret Fire itself on itself during different phases, here represented by Star Planets on upper branches. Five stars help us to understand that we are before Mercurius of Wises (Mercurius Philosophorum) working and stunning with its metamorphosis. And movements are self, tiny and not perceivable, up and down
So the downward triangle may represent Labors of Hercules, upward one with star Planets may represent Main Work with its phases. As well as being appointed for Solve (downward) and Coagula (upward). Ubiquitous rule of three affects triangles too.
Rosarium Philosophorum: The Dragon died not unless he be killed with his Brother and Sister, not by one only, but by both together, that is by Sol and Luna. Alchemists, Secret Fire and Nature operate in Solve et Coagula. Spagyria, Alchemy and Nature. So wicked rule of three has put them together in the same symbols.