The Tempest by Giorgione can be considered a real compendium for Secret Fire becoming Mercurius, becoming Mercurius Philosophorum, or Aqua Pontica.
Kicking off my Alchemy blog with the Italian painter Giorgione ( 1477-1510 ) is quite a natural choice to me. Mainly for two reasons: Giorgione was born in Castelfranco Veneto, just a few miles away from my own born place, and secondly because I have always regarded the Tempest as my first approach to Alchemy.
You have to know that, in Italy, Alchemy never officially died. For the simple reason that it never officially became visible. And so, Sacred Art has here spent the whole of its existence undercurrent. Just another Italian secret affair. I remember my high school art teacher sliding us this image and keeping his volume of voice very low, not to be understood outdoor.
So the Tempest. Painted by Giorgione on an uncertain date, perhaps in 1505, while living in Venice and being patronized by some learned aristocrats. Back at the dawn of the sixteenth century, Venice was a hermetic hotspot, Manutius was printing his daring books, and would-be alchemists, as confirmed by Salomon Trismosin, were going there to start their Alchemy tour. At first sight, Giorgione’s Tempest might simply appear as a fine renaissance landscape. However, why is a naked white mantled woman breastfeeding a baby near two outlandish half-columns? Why do these columns look different from each other? Still, why is the woman breastfeeding in stormy weather? Wherever is the lighted woman receiving irradiation from in such a stormy dark environment? And why does a white-red man holding a long rod seem to guard her and her baby? Why is a bridge arching over a pond and not over a river, as one would commonly expect? Why is another pond, or better a dark puddle, lying between the man and the woman? Should we make the two ponds being a sort of an interrupted river?
Unlike one could expect in any frivolous esoteric painting, in Giorgione’s Tempest any ideal connection between earth and sky is interrupted. Nothing like a stairway to heaven and return, I mean from a river to the clouds. For, in this scene, the river is nonexistent. Here only two separated ponds can be seen. Thus the scene is divided into two parts: a superior one with natural occurring stormy weather and an inferior one with a dark puddle. Very bizarre puddle indeed. It looks as though it were quite deep, a sort of natural well. Doesn’t it recall to you “ aqua foetida”? rotten water? That is to say putrefaction? The first appearance of perfect black? Here the dark puddle seems to perform an important role along with a man, a woman, and a child. Their shading into one another will be a long journey and lead to Mercurius Philosophorum.
There’s a sort of useless bridge dividing the scene in the middle of the painting. Dom Pernety, in his “ Dictionnaire Mytho Hermétique”, 1787, told us about the “ aqua pontica” eau pontique, bridge-ish water. Pontus, ponte, pont in Latin, Italian and french actually means bridge and is considered as an allegory for “ the Mercurius (Mercury) of the Wises falling from the Sun and the Moon”. Sometimes Fire, sometimes Solvent, sometimes Mercurius Philosophorum, and sometimes V.I.T.R.I.O.L. Pernety affirms that Iris ( all the colors) is the daughter of Pontus ( bridge) and Earth, that’s to say of Mercurius and a Dry Mercurius. The ubiquitous rule of three can give more than one meaning for every allegory, so the wording “falling from the Sun and the Moon” can verbatim stand for Secret Fire from the sky and/or a product of our solve et coagula ( Hermaphrodite/Rebis). The odd thing is that alchemically speaking, there is no difference between the two. As stated before, the presence of a bridge can suggest a connection, a union between two sides otherwise too far to be reached: sky and earth. “Philosophorum” and “of the Wises” is a verbatim translation from Latin. The bridge is intended to unify two Mercurii, to become single bridge-ish water. There is a Mercurius free in nature or Secret Fire and a captive Mercurius which has to be unchained by, of course, wises or philosophers or alchemists. We will see the meaning of Mercurius Duplicatus ( another kind of Mercurius, not to be identified with Aqua Pontica) in a coming post. But let’s look at the scene in the picture, for Alchemy is nothing but Nature.