A hand holding a burning fire and pointing at a wound in a thigh. If you see all that in a renaissance altarpiece triptych this is not a chance occurrence.
Andrea di Giovanni, also known as Andrea da Murano, is a quite unknown venetian painter nowadays. But back at the turn of the sixteenth century he was widely taken into consideration by his venetian contemporaries, so much to shadow the Vivarini’s family, his colleagues from Murano Isle.
The triptych we are examining ( originally a polyptych) did beautify the walls of San Pietro Martyr da Verona church in the Murano lagoon isle. After the inglorious end of San Marco Republic the church was closed down and the painting brought to Gallerie dell’Accademia in Venezia (n. 28).
If not for the sign “Opus Andreae de Murano”, or work by Andrea da Murano, our modern critics would be more inclined to make other attributions for the canvas. Surely he was a conventional painter, and like his fellows painter in the isle, the Vivarini’s, he too was not so much attracted by the trends of his age. The altarpiece polyptych was probably ready between 1475-78, when very important artists were in Venice (Mantegna, Bellini), but to be honest Andrea da Murano’s painting denotes a fixity unknown to these big masters.
Nevertheless this triptych puts on display some details which the above mentioned big masters would have wrapped in mysterious mythological allegories, and what’s more, never placed in the central part of the work. In fact this painting is so culturally elementary to go unrecognized through the centuries.
In spite of the location (St. Pietro da Verona church), the central personages of the canvas are St. Vincent Ferrer and St. Roch. St. Pietro da Verona was only in the left panel, while in the right one St. Sebastian is surely the best known. Historians have taught us that in the original contracts made for altarpieces like this, commonly artists were free to choose the personages they consider the best for their symbolism to be put on display, often these agreements were limited to the number of heads, hands, personages to be painted ( all those different items had different prizes indeed). I said this because it is always amazing for us to see how many quite unknown saints and martyrs the renaissance artists succeeded to discover.
But let Andrea da Murano’s painting to tell us his effortless philosophy. I beg to differ from those saying these martyrs with their torture tools and martyrdom were to allow our spiritual elevation. But coincidently I notice St. Vincent handing a burning fire and pointing at St. Roch naked thigh. Why is that? And why did Andrea da Murano paint a wound like spot in St. Roch torn pants? We could have allowed to take the fire in St. Vincent’s hand as a generic “divine fire” ( as it is in fact, but generic). But we fail to understand why a burning fire then indicates a thigh. Because the thigh is the very detail that allow us to suspect some alchemical coincidences in the canvas.
As you may evince from my article “The Pythagorean Thigh in the Northern Sky“, a thigh may be a symbol of our North Star, Polaris. So the fire on the hand should not be a generic divine fire, but the sacred alchemical fire for antonomasia: the Secret Fire, or Philosophical Fire. The Alpha et Omega of our alchemical works. The secret and impalpable substance an alchemist does try to extract from earth mass and sky.
If my theory is true, also St. Sebastian and St. Pietro da Verona’s tortures are instead allegories of our destructing, or better dissolving, phases performed by our Secret Fire. Yes, because Secret Fire is also Mercurius and Sulphur, and consequently our Alcahest and Philosophers Stone. Definitely is our Spirit of Life. Our First Matter to perform all the alchemical operations
The personages here painted could be metals as well as humans to be worked to extract their Souls. The butcher knife half splitting St. Pietro da Verona on the left is an allegory of his dissolution, and the same can be said of St. Sebastian.
On the left we can see the upper part originally constituting the whole polyptych: an iconographic theme of the Virgin Mary we can notice quite everywhere in the Campi and Campielli (squares and very little squares before venetian churches), I mean the “Madonna della Grazia” or compassionate mother. I don’t have the intention here to suggest anything on this Madonna image, but the “Mother” is a symbol of Mercurius, indeed. Note the two vases at the end of the saints rows. They are not common vases, but threefold. Strangely enough like our threefold Mercurii. And, as a matter of fact, a vase in Alchemy is a symbol of our Mercurius. Why did Andrea da Murano add them?
Nevertheless all these considerations are quite pointless if we don’t try to discover why St. Vincent, with the fire burning in his hand, is indicating St. Roch, with the naked thigh. But we should say the wound in the thigh. Our Secret Fire at hand is a magnet for the thigh-Stars, or the Secret Fire from the Stars, Mercurius Sideribus in latin.
The wound does signify a “ slot” in the stars, a window in the stars: the period of the year we can try to perform this attraction between two magnets. Since one attracts the other. One Secret Fire/Mercurius does enthrall the other. The central part of the Andrea da Murano triptych does represent a mirror. Earth-Sky. Microcosm and Macrocosm. As above so below.