The presence of an armor helmet on a tree of Life and two ornate rods may prove their symbolical relevance, and meaning, in this less known engraving.
Benedetto Mazzotta was a seventeenth century italian benedictine monk and wrote “De Triplici Philosophia Naturali, Astrologica et Minerali, or threefold natural, astrological and mineral philosophy. He had it published in Bologna in 1653. Early in the frontispiece we find a clueing image with a cherub, among others, holding two ornate rods and rushing to acclaim a very equipped tree of life.
The engraving appears not to be the usual publisher’s logo, that many books of the periods present. In fact very often a little image hermetically pregnant, accompanied all the editorial products of some important editors and/or publishers. A typical example is the Manutius anchor with dolphin. The image in Mazzotta book is instead a sophisticated engraving, even signed on the bottom by its engraver: Il Coriolano in. (a short for incisore, italian for engraver) and f. ( a short for the latin “fecit”, or did).
The whole scene centres around a tree of life-bearing a coat of arms surmounted by a plumed helmet. To increase the general heraldic allure is the presence of a little castle set on six tiny hills, and three lily flowers are in the coat of arms upper part.
Putti in ovation are standing on the ground. While two little winged cherubs are flying above, each of one carrying peculiar objects: two ornate rods and a plumed helmet. A third cherub is winging his way carrying a crown. Another crown is held by the rods holding cherub.
The key symbol of the scene is the plumed cap. Let’s start calling it with its real name. If we manage to identify it as a cap, and not as a heraldic armor’s headpiece, then the scenery will take an alchemical setting. In italian, as Benedetto Mazzotta was, an armor’s helmet is “elmo”, and an alembic’s cap is “elmo”as well. In fact we can find the sentence ” put an elmo to the alembic” quite everywhere in italian ancient chemistry treatises. If you look carefully at the helmet you can notice that the aperture strangely looks like a key hole.
One may asks oneself why the coat of arm is kept up by a tree. The latin motto unrolled by one of the putti should give us an answer. ” Altiora peto, ergo in excelsis“. Altiora is a plural comparative form of altus/high. Peto (1) is a multi-meaning verb signifying to head-claim-wish, thus: ” I wish for higher places, that’s to say for the exceptionally good”. And what may seem a nonsense strong feeling to acquire aristocracy ( the coat of arms) is instead a wish to see the accomplishment of one’s alchemical efforts.
Almost all of us are familiar with ancient alembic idea: a distilling apparatus, now obsolete, consisting of a gourd-shaped container and a cap with a long beak for conveying the products to a receiver. That’s to say a bottle with a cap, the most important alembic’s part. From Greek ambix, ambik meaning cup, cap.
In preparatory works ( see an Opus Magnum scheme) we have to raise an insoluble salt to the upper part of an alembic. Although these operations may involve different raw matters and consequently tools, the most recognized volatilizing system is the use of alembic. This is a key operation, whatever system you decide to perform. Then get the products to solidify ( stage represented by the little hills) and then have it sublimated, or distilled, over and over again. For at least six times (six hills). The seventh will appear different from the others and the construction-castle of our Mercurius Philosophorum will be achieved.
Another symbol for our Mercurius/Secret Fire is the white lily flower, since a shining white will announce the “crowning” of a successful operation. The cap’s plume is also another Mercurius synonym, which indicates its impalpable volatility. To this concern, it is not so easy to state if the putto with the trumpet is just taking part in the heraldic glory, or what (2). Never see an alchemical image in which a single detail run off the contest.
The whole process necessarily deserves to be crowned, since the product will announce the following creation of a king and a queen. And the Master of the operation will be entitled to hold the sacred rods, decorated as sceptres, but with a deeper meaning. In fact the rod holder has mastered the rock, as Moses did (3), and made the spring of our alchemical water/Mercurius/Secret Fire to flow (4). That’s to say to acquire a proper life, since very often we have to do with smokes and powders. And others with even strangers, and never seen, things.
Mazzotta’s engraving, but I should say Il Coriolano’s, puts on display an alembic apparatus, so that we can imagine a necessary solvent to force salts to circulate. In other dry ways, or paths, some difficult to believe little wooden rods may substantially take part.
- The capital P of peto is broken. In the case of a F, so the verb feto, we would have to spawn, fecundate. The difference would not have been so great, since the alchemical embryo is still in the higher par of an alembic. But, frankly, I don’t think a putto to be the perfect character to fulfill the task;
- See also Philosophia Reformata & the Angel with a Trumpet ;
- See also Cemetery of Priscilla and the Alchemical Rod Origin ;
- See also Santi Pupieni and the Raising Black-New Moon ;