Not only a diagram of the Great Opera, but almost a compendium of the last cooking. The table by J. De Semlecque on Brouaut’s was long a musical conundrum.
How many times we have been presented this engraving as a typical example of the Ars Musicae, art of music, in Alchemy? We have also been told that the organ’s pipes in the picture were proportional, but the comparative relations were let unknown to us. If Canseliet unveiled the exact weights at every “whistle” (1), Atorène revealed the proportions in all their Pythagorean meanings.
Before having Atorène to explain the arcane, let me to examine the image. Taken from the frontispiece of Jean Brouaut’s “Traité de l’Eau de Vie”, Paris 1646, is signed by Iacobi, Jacques, de Semlecque, who wishes us to know that the composition is the result of his studies and work. The engraving is divided into two parts. On the left the preparatory and the main works, on the right the third work, or last cooking (see an Opus Magnum scheme).
The seven containers on the left part, under the seven books written by seven authoritative ancient alchemists, do symbolize the seven (six plus one) repetitions of salt volatilizations, from raw matter to the Mercurius Philosophorum, marked by the so called Seal of David, which is nothing more than the emblem of our Solve et Coagula (2) perfect accomplishment. Volatilizations or upward movements, the Sun and plant, and consequent downward or liquifying phase, the Moon.
The turtle stands for the “rock” raw matters to be opened with the black putrefactive phase, the first to let “Spirits” to come out. The same black turtle is on Basilius table, the chosen matters have to be reduced in black Saturn. Blackness will be a recurring cyclic phase till the last work.
In the end, and after the fixation, we obtain our Prima Materia, the symbol of the Sun inside the seal, or two intermingled triangles. The phases in between are really not so important to deserve symbols and definitions per se. The increasing of bottles dimensions is referred to the “quality” of the mercurial salt which is going to be formed inside, not to quantity, which is instead bound to be less as we go. May be the author needed seven increasing bottles to justify the seven increasing organ pipes on the right, these ones with a real operational reasons.
If a skilled, or lucky, alchemist can reasonably hope to go through the preliminary and main works, the third work is really set aside for the very few artists who have the knowledge and the courage to afford it (not me). So they have to chose the right time, the right week of the weeks (as the ecliptic globe seems to suggest). Then they have to build the philosophical oven and set the Egg, and operate the fire according to the increasing weight into the Egg. The black turtle on the grill does mean the need for a skilled regimen of fire.
Generally, to indicate the seven sounds from the Philosophical Egg, the alchemic symbolism relies on the representation of a seven strings viola, which is present in the image, indeed. But to give a hint of what really happen inside the Egg we need an organ, an instrument in which every pipe is different and peculiar in dimensions.
Under the viola a latin sentence can be read: “Harmonia Sancta, Spirituum malignorum fuga seu ( Saturn Symbol), intemperiei Medicina est”, the Sacred Harmony, also said place of banishment of the envious spirits, is the Medicine of arrogance.
Often we hear of a sacred octave, and we know a series of seven notes actually is an octave, but the alchemists of the past prefered to refer to the phenomenon of the last cooking as “Organ”, or a series of pipes manufactured in sizes according to the wanted notes. And this is not specifically what in music is called “Octave”. But we can build an octave on every note……..
Finally, note the series of Planets labeling the pipes: they are arranged differently from the series of planets meaning the rotation of colors. Here the series of planets ends with Saturn-Kronos who, in other alchemical stairs uses to be the starting point, not the arrival. In fact here we are dealing with music, so this is a density stairs, which can be found in the Empireum above the Elements. In this regard, the sentence over the organ gives a real clue: ” Psallite Domino in Chordis et Organo”…..let’s chant to the Lord with Strings and Organ. In musicology the strings are, per antonomasia, a symbol of mathematical proportion. It is time to let Atorène, who is much more learned than me in the topic, tell us about the weird proportions of the organ’s pipes, or better the Egg weights. My translation from “Le Laboratoire Alchimique”, Paris 1981:
The Cooking of a Master.
It was performed on May 1951, and sadly went to a stop; but the generous philosopher offered it as a gift to the Science’s lovers. He published a partial record in ” L’Alchimie Expliquée sur ses textes classiques”.
Tuesday May 15, inside the Athanor:
-Vase of the Art (crucible, etc) 148.90 g.
-Vase of Nature (2)
remora 4.15 g.
salt 160.55 g.
Total Egg weight 313.60 g.
At 9 p.m. the heating is started.
First Sound Tuesday May 15; at 10.32 p.m.
(duration: 100 seconds) Egg weight: 313.60 (unchanged)
Second Sound Wednesday May 16; at 10,10 p.m.
Egg weight: 333.65 g.
Third Sound Egg weight: 354.80 g.
Fourth Sound Egg weight: 368.60 g.
Fifth Sound Egg weight: 396.00 g.
Sixth Sound Egg weight: 423.50 g.
Seventh Sound Egg weight: 440.60 g.
Monday May 21. The cooking came to a stop. We are not going to know anymore.
Thus seven whistles has divided the time; seven musical notes whose pitch is crescent. To manage the cooking hasn’t the alchemist the most wonderful checking system? In the case the cooking was successful, an eighth whistle would have sounded, when the ponderal Octave would have been disclosed. We will get the meaning as we go.
Table of Weights
Now take a look at the variations of weights, not those of the device, but those of the philosophical vase instead; it is enough to subtract 14.90 g. to each measure. We get:
at first sound 164.70 g.
at second sound 184.75 g.
at third sound 205.90 g.
at fourth sound 219.70 g.
at fifth sound 247.10 g.
at sixth sound 274.60 g.
at seventh sound 291.70 g.
Now we will present the results with four decimals, without round them.
1) we will divide every weight by its initial weight, and
2) we will divide every weight by the previous weight.
Surely, at this point, the reader accomplished in music theory is going to open wide her/his eyes. For the other ones a suitable course is prepared at Atorène, Music Theory Course for Alchemists. Part 1.
- Canseliet and the Art of Music and Weight , Hieronymus Bosch and the Concert in the Egg , Piero della Francesca and the Philosophical Pendent Egg and Nicaise le Febvre and the Egg inside the Egg , The Secret Night Chant of a Stradivarius Tree ;
- The Vase of Nature is the Egg and is inside the vase of Art ;
- Jacques de Semlecque beautified the last page of Jean Brouaut’s Traité de l’Eau de Vie with another engraving of his own, widely known as “emblem”, with a conspicuous musical part in the lower part, but probably this time out of contest. In fact Canseliet uses a quite identical emblem from a XVII century manuscript about works of Philalethes other from Introitus, just to philosophize on the phoenix. The original diagram was a colored drawing. Apparently Jacques de Semlecque engraved a copy of it, and furthermore added the musical part in the bottom. As well as a baby phoenix and engravers tools as small hammers and chisels at side of the Phoenix. So the musical score with diatonic scale seems here a mere decoration.