No metaphoric at all, this Hieronymus Bosch painting is as realistic as it could be: there is a real concert inside the philosophical Egg.
The third part of our alchemical works is known as “Ars Musicae”, or art of the music, because we can clearly detect it with our ears. The “light which can be seen with the ears” is an astonishing natural phenomenon which represents a sort of “door” for the very few lucky ones who witness the spectacle. Hieronymus Bosch is the renaissance painter who, per antonomasia, has better described every possible overtone of this weird aspect of Alchemy.
With Bosch is not the case to make long turns of phrase on his being or not a painter well into the hermetic and alchemic symbolism. Bosch was undeniably immersed in the esoteric culture of his time. To an extent that there isn’t a single detail in his works which cannot be defined with a sapiential double sense. Furthermore, if not read through the alchemical lens, the work of Hieronymus Bosch appears to us as a mere childish divertissement, however with an amazing bottomless creativity.
Usually described alternately as a hymn to the stupidity of the human habits, or otherwise to salvation from the foolishness through learned brotherhoods who, to an external eye, could look like a clique of goliards, this oil on panel is just attributed to Hieronymus Bosch, as the original has been missing. The copy we are examiningis is currently exposed in Lille at Palais des Beaux-Arts and is probably late, in fact the verses in the musical score belong to a ribald sixteenth century song .
The melodic aspects of the “Concert in an Egg” has to be kept well separated from the celebrated “Musical Hell”, in fact I have not used the adjective “melodic” without a sense here: in the last part of the third work (see an Opus Magnum scheme), the Egg does literally sing, or emits clear musical whistles ( note the red whistling character in the painting). We have already seen it in the description Canseliet gave of his week of the weeks: the philosophical Egg (1) tends to increase in weight and, at regular interval of 24h, does discharge a high-pitched sound breathing through we don’t know what. The notes should be seven, and incredibly, set according to the most simple musical scale. In fact we can see the fool characters from within the inner of the Egg following a real music’s sheet.
Attributed to Hieronymus Bosch is also the preparatory drawing on the left, now at Kupterstichkabinett, Berlin. As you can see the fool characters are seven, like the note that should be emitted in case of a successful cooking. On a side, an eighth one is ready to make his way out. This would be the alchemic apotheosis, the eighth note which marks the appearance of the Stone.
The Apollo’s lyre certifies the sacred process, as well as the numeration of the seven notes. The hanging serpent attests the use of our “flowing ” first matter, or Mercurius. The presence of the owl, nightly bird, attests Hephaestus, Athena and Prometheus, gods of forge, sacred knowledge and Secret Fire, being there. The round building stands for a final rotation of color. The white stork means that our dissolvent is still useful in this final part, in fact there is a turtle in the bottom to be dissolved at every turn.
This is a cooking, indeed the last cooking, as the grilling fish does witness. By real fire, which is to be operated in a learned, or sensible way, the cat. Apart from that, this is a work eminently performed by nature, that’s to say the whistling monkey. The donkey, symbol of the patient and humble alchemist, can not be missed when this last musical task is involved.
The tiny characters in the bottom may represent the planets turning inside the tube-egg device. Bosch doesn’t tell us about the Planets order, this would not be an idle question, as a certain order may represent the colors, while another one the stairs of density, so the sounds. There is also a tiny light inside. The stone should appear in the end as a little vitrification .
Inside the Egg a tree seems to grow up, holding a basket with an egg, a cooked chicken and crows, an amphora is fasten, or suspended by a branch. A whole bunch of symbols to point to the construction and keeping of the oven, with the hanging of the remora, regimens of fire, and wastes to throw. This will be the cosmic oven of the philosopher, the Vas Hermetis. Another renaissance master, Piero della Francesca, will portrait the same Egg suspension (3).
Finally, if the fate wants, the purse-money box, beside the donkey-alchemist, will do a slit and one will see what’s inside.
Now we have just to look at the astonishing details on the mathematical proportions by which the philosophical weights tend to “compose” their musical score (3).
- See also Canseliet, the Art of Music & Weight ;
- Piero della Francesca and the Philosophical Pendent Egg , Nicaise le Febvre and the Egg inside the Egg ;
- Brouaut’s Frontispiece, the Organ Pythagorean Proportions , Atorène, Music Theory Course for Alchemists. Part 1 , The Secret Night Chant of a Stradivarius Tree;