Raffaello takes the same rod breaking iconographic theme from his master Pietro Perugino. A semantic survey on Latin word radius and Greek ράβδος.
Raffaello Sanzio paints the detail in the “Sposalizio della Vergine”, or marriage of the Virgin, in 1504. The same year Pietro Perugino does a quite identical oil on table. Raffaello’s superb talent in rendering the organic and aesthetic fluidity of his characters of course outclasses and overcomes the hieratic stiffness of the master. Raffaello’s paintings are inhabited by life loving human beings, Perugino’s still by formal semi divine beings. Nevertheless, the symbology is exactly the same. Under the usual Christian veil, Alchemy shows off for those who can discern it.
Quite hilariously, many contemporary art critics have tried to demonstrate that the two painters, one the master the other the pupil, in the same Perugia town, during the same year 1504, in a period in which artists loved to visit each other, gathering together and attending the same cultural circles, did not know they were painting the same work, but with different talent and generation. Raffaello was already an independent artist at the time, no more living by his master. Yet, the symbols are the same. One of the major escamotage for art critics to deny a precise cultural will by these two artists, is to invoke the chance occurrence.
Perugino’s art is very often spattered of weird details belonging to hermetic and alchemic thought. I have already dedicated two articles to him, and mean to increase. And, unfortunately for contemporary art critics, Raffaello Sanzio’s huge masterpieces seem sometimes hit by the same weirdness.
The episode of the marriage of Mary and Joseph is told in the apocryphal Gospel of James, and in the “Golden Legend”, while the “official” documents talk about it very little. Joseph, a widower and already at an advanced age, joined other bachelors of Palestine, all descendants of David. The priest Zechariah had in fact asked God for guidance on the future of Mary who lived in the temple, where she was left by Joachim and Anne as a gift to the Lord, she was brought up like a dove and took food from an angel’s hands. God commanded Zechariah to call all the sons of royal lines to look among them for a husband for the young Mary, who was twelve years old. For divine indication, these bachelors would lead their rod to the altar, then God would have given rise to one, so indicating the chosen one. Zechariah went into the temple, to ask response in prayer, then gave up the rods to their rightful owners: the last, that of Joseph, was in flower and a dove came out placed on his head. Joseph demurred pointing out the age difference, but the priest warned him not to disobey the God’s will. Then he, full of fear, took Mary into his own house. This is the unofficial tale. Never fully accepted by the church, in fact it is a tale.
Of these tales, the Church codified only few of them, which became the official gospels. The others were rejected and circulated only as an expression of popular faith. Of this story attributed to the apostle James ( the story was written between 140 and 170 AD and directly in Greek) the Church accepted only the dogma of Mary’s virginity and some episodes of her parents Joachim and Anne’s life. The rods episode was not accepted. So it remains in popular faith the breaking of rods, as a script, to express the anger and envy of the losers who blame their wooden pieces for not having produced flowers.
These are tales, indeed, but symbolic tales. Why the Church would have opposed them? The story itself seems harmless. But evidently it was officially refused because of the expressed symbolism. Too much clearly alchemical-magical.
The rod symbol is extensively employed by Pietro Perugino (1) in his cycle of frescoes inside Collegio del Cambio in Perugia, so you can be not new to this symbol being together with our Mercurius, or light coming out of the putrefactive darkness. We have already seen the same rod associated with our Mercurial Waters ( which is the same concept above mentioned) which Moses makes biblically springing from the rocks (2).
The marriage of the Virgin Mary with Joseph, are celebrated by an high priest before a white and rather transparent temple. Why I say is a rather transparent temple? The front and back entrance doors of the building are open, with no doors. To give an impression of lightness, at least not of a bulk pile of stones. In Alchemy a magnificent white building generally means the difficult making process of our white Mercurius, an exhausting work, so to be also symbolized by Hercules labors. The achievement is a white, but not bulk and steady, substance. Mercurius, indeed. An all female substance, produced in the vessels top parts.
Before Pietro Perugino and Raffaello, only another italian painter rendered the same scene: Giotto, in the Cappella degli Scrovegni in Padova. In his fresco we can see, as well as one loser taking it out on his rod, Joseph’s rod “emitting-discharging” a white dove. A highly dangerous topic, if not for the assonances with the alchemical White Doves, so strangely emitted-discharged by our putrefactive black matter and so important to mark the end of the preliminary works. They really represent achievement of our Mercurius/ White Doves/Universal Dissolvent, our Water par excellence. Only after this conquest, one can reasonably think of wedding.
In fact, before the temple, our virginal Mercurius is going bride with a traditional male character, Josep, the male Mercurius. Who is just a partition of the female one (so himself of royal family), but with something more inside to be dissolved and reduced to seed. We all know, that Josep is not going to be the natural father of Christ. The generating divine seed is coming from the sky. But who is Josep? He is a square holder, a carpenter. In Addition of being a symbol of our Mercurius, the Virgin is also of the sacred knowledge, while Joseph the carpenter is of the measurement science, geometry. Pythagoras, in renaissance paintings, is often depicted holding a rod.
What the Church cannot reprove is the semantics of Latin and Greek words, even if we know that the Greek language teaching was approved only in the fifteenth century, before was strangely forbidden. Philology, semantics can not be guilty in themselves, they can reveal without saying.
The word rod-staff-baton, as the vulgar italian bacchetta-bastoncino, derives from the latin “radius” which in turn derives from the Greek “ράβδος”, and both, of course, don’t content themselves to merely mean rod-staff-baton. The circumstance that one of the other meanings is “spoke” is not so intriguing, if not for the fact that often, In Alchemy, we find the symbol of the wheel spoke to designate our Mercurius, sometimes even red Sulphur, to make the wheel to rotate, or change colors. The passages from black, to white and red, are symbolized by a “Rota”. Wheel. And rotations are nutritional phases (3). Nothing new.
Another meaning is “spur of a cock”. And we can remember to have already seen this symbol in our alchemical iconographies.
A further meaning is ” geometry”. And now we understand why only Joseph, the carpenter/measurer, can make his rod to blossom: because he knew the geometrical measures to suit the sacred knowledge. Cicero writes: ” powder/pulvis and rod/radius define the scholar in mathematics and geometry” (4), the abacus was filled with sand and the wise draw his lines with the radius. Now we get why Pythagoras is often depicted holding a rod. Virgil in Eclog. III 40 writes the ploughman in doing his work “descripsit radio….” draws with the radius, Servius in his commentary on Eclogues explains: No wonder, radius is “virga philosophorum”, the rod of philosophers.
A further meaning is “shuttle for looms”, pointed rod basket to which the weaver winds the thread of the plot and that he passes through the chain, see Lucretius V, 1352 ; Virgil Aen. IX, 476; Ovidius, Fast. III, 819.
A further meaning is “light beam”, “ray”, propagating in right line, almost in reflection.
A final meaning, that exclusively of the Greek ράβδος, and not passed on Romans, is “ingot”, more specifically “gold ingot”.
Wheel spoke, spur of a cock, master in geometry and mathematics, shuttle for looms, light ray, gold ingot. These symbols alone might sufficiently describe Alchemy, and they are all hidden in a common, and safe, rod.
Those breaking their useless rods, suddenly became aware they haven’t any of the necessary knowledges to marry a Mercurius, in the mineral world, or to have their Soul dissolved from the body and saved in the Spirit, in the human. Now we can understand why Mary’s spouse must be son of a royal line, because Soul and Spirit are both descendant of royal line. Not to mention our royal metallic gold new spouse, he must be divided from the dissolvent. Look at this Perugino’s detail: the loser breaking his rod is beside a character totally different and uprooted from the context. He looks like an ancient hero, his iconography is surely Greek. Unlike we think today, in classic times, nudity was a symbol of sacred.
Concerning Pietro Perugino, let me an off-topic, which is not an off-topic at all: in the Vatican, in the room of Heliodorus, Raphael paints the “Meeting of pope Leo the Great with Attila”. Beside the pope, three knights are represented. The one with the red robe, the Mazziero, holds the “Virgula Rubra “, or red rod with a silver tip. Strangely enough, Raffaello puts the appearance of his master Pietro Perugino on the Red Knight.
To end, do not worry: the number twelve was just an operative number, not the age of an unlucky little girl.
- Pietro Perugino and the Moon, Lady of the Rood ;
- Cemetery of Priscilla and the Alchemical Rod Origin ;
- See also Heiligen Dreifaltigkeit and Secret Iconography of the Wheel and kamala Jnana, an Introduction to a Live Secret ;
- See also my series of articles on Arturo Reghini and the Pythagorean Tetraktys .