The frontispiece engraving from Basilius Valentinus’ book “Azoth” is also an extensive allegory for Solve et Coagula, which designates cooking at large.
Solve et Coagula is a sophisticated alchemical recipient of a lot of implications. I mean in the Alchemical as well as spagirical sense. In Alchemy, because of the Rule of three,” Solve et Coagula” can stand at least for three quite different phases.
It can define human activity in the Labors of Hercules and the Main Work operated by Azoth, as we have seen in Basilius Valentinus, Salt, Azoth or Philosophers Gold, itself in the second and third cooking. There is a “Solve et Coagula” in the last cooking too.
The 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 the rule of three (every symbol stands for at least three different concepts), and indeed through them, we can illustrate a significant 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 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, despite their tough 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 or in symbolic language.
But no one ever mentions the first picture, always neglected, for it is considered 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 strange to find books of the same age ( beginning of the seventeenth century) decorated with similar hermetic grotesques. But, as one can imagine, the mere ornament is unlikely to happen in an Alchemy book ( moreover, a Basilius Valentinus).
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 actions) would account for very few alternatives. They unquestionably stand for solving et coagula operation at large. Pay attention when handling this statement at large: never assume to know exactly if you are before an alchemical or a spagyric process. Solve et coagula concept is not so user-friendly. Our procedures are alchemical and spagyric because we cannot get out of spagyric, 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 one with three principles. Rule three requires an open mind: mercurius, sulfur, and salt usually represent the alchemist’s 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 is for sublimating or calcinating. Below is a typical seventeenth-century chemical lexicon example taken from “Pharmacopée Royale, Galenique et Chymique” By Moyse Charas 1676.
Indeed Labors of Hercules, preparatory works, are performed by alchemists to get changes 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 the body“. The ultimate Solve et Coagula.
Then, once Azoth or Prima Materia has been prepared, we can go for Materia Prima, Sulphur, or Soul. In this process, Main Work, Solve et Coagula, is performed by Secret Fire during different phases, 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 the Labors of Hercules, upward one with star Planets may represent the Main Work with its phases. As well as being appointed for Solve (downward) and Coagula (upward). The ubiquitous rule of three affects triangles too.
Rosarium Philosophorum: The Dragon died not unless he is 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. Spagyric, Alchemy, and Nature. So wicked rule of three has put them together in the same symbols.