Lightning in the sky is suggesting us a name for this very axiom, real key and most wanted secret in Alchemy of all times: the painting itself is appropriately named after this real “ verbum dismissum”. Mercure of Sages falling from the Sun and the Moon has a lot to do with clouds, tempests, flashes of lightning, thunders. Because of the rule of three, sun and moon can signify a lot of different meanings. When speaking of Secret Fire, Sun and Moon are likely, and literally, to be intended as the common sun and common moon. As far as clouds are concerned, aren’t they attending every sublimation inside a closed unit? And isn’t Secret Fire introducing itself among clouds during these operations? Just like lightning appearing among watery clouds in the sky in dark stormy weather. A well-known quote from Die Sonne von Osten 1783 states: “ That is why the Hermetic Philosophers say that their Materia is being born like the thunder and leaves behind similar signs”.
In Alchemy, according to the aforementioned rule of three, a man and a woman can actually stand either for different colors, or phases, or operations. Allow me an off-topic which is not an off-topic at all: at first, Giorgione painted the second woman in the place of the man. Not surprisingly, hermetic symbolism sometimes introduces women turning into men.
Back to the definitive painted scene, why is Giorgione’s Tempest divided into two parts: the superior and the inferior one. Explanations like “ as above so below” can mean nothing and all and might become pure evocative poetry. Hermetic symbolism has been taken from the laboratory process. So the superior scene may be the natural and effortless process outside the vessel ( nature actually is an alchemical laboratory) as well as being the volatile part inside a closed vessel. While the inferior scene, not lower in rank, has just been the site for a wild fight. The dark puddle between the couple should draw our attention and provide a hint. Here we are not dealing with an easily perceived intercourse leading to natural childbirth. But a strained metamorphosis from the dark puddle-well through the woman and the man to the child. For in Alchemy only males strangely produce real offspring and this should provide some further hints at the outlandish sexuality of our performers.
The man in the scene is holding a wooden shaft, which can be either a piercing or a thrashing weapon ( do you remember Fulcanelli’s Latin quote “ si non percussero terrebo”? If I am not to beat at least I am to frighten you?) In hermetic symbolism, there’s quite a difference between the two terms. The thrashing action is an allegory representing at some extent what is going to happen when chemistry ends and Alchemy starts. Piercing has something to do with Cadmus and the dry way wooden spear.
According to the woman’s white nakedness, we have already successfully achieved Mercurius and now can afford the second cooking or Main Work. ( see an Opus Magnum scheme) Once again the dark puddle, the putrefaction, has born the white naked woman, who stands for Mercurius ( this time not extracted from Materia Tertia, rough matter) The woman represents the light coming out of the dark. Indeed all light currently enlightening the scene is stemming from the white naked woman, who bears…….. surprisingly not the child but the grown-up man in red. Stop for a while, here. You should have already heard about four or five Sulphuri and Mercurii. That does not mean we are before different substances coming out of different operations, but that, to mix things up, a single name has been applied where different names had been more suitable. So, back to the man in red, he can stand for coagula phase as well as for redness, gold, rubedo, earth, and Sulphur, of course, the sky is the limit.
Look at man’s clothes now: they are not totally red, they are white and red. Now he is male, but with some records of his previous feminine existence. A real metamorphosis now does from white to red. Let’s then focus on the breastfeeding scene: in Alchemy the same agent who causes a solution can feed too. For our Sulphur needs to take food to grow up, just like a child. The baby’s nourishment is made out of a white matter not dissimilar from the thunder. But we all know that, in nature purple, is the real color for lightning.
The newborn baby cannot be here taken as an allegory for our Sun Stone. In this scene, we lack other allegories standing for the last cooking, while lightning’s presence will give a Mercurial relevance to the scene. The first Sulphur after the first Mercure can provide the basic earth-sky connection and this is the child, the living rock. Indeed they cause the river to find its uninterrupted way. The plant growing on a rock is just another allegory for the newborn baby and the living rock. A deep well and high towers are also existing in the scene. The tower well allegory is a very ancient standing for our Sun Stone, but here the well is filled up with dark water and towers are so far and unconnected to the well yet. So the long journey to Mercurius Philosophorum is not attained until the present.
The ruins in the middle left are a common symbol for tradition as a whole, an ancient name for Alchemy, our Tradition. Two columns stand for another hermetic axiom and key “Solve et Coagula”. Differences in column size do point to differences in operations, indeed just opposite. Columns are standing on a piece of wall, a sort of piece of the foundation, so they clearly stand for the foundation of our Work. Very easy operation indeed, due to the presence of fire-air-water-earth in the painting, our ancient four elements. That’s all we need.