Raffaello takes the same rod-breaking iconographic theme from his master Pietro Perugino—a semantic survey on the 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 quite identical oil on the 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. Life-loving human beings inhabit Raffaello’s paintings, Perugino’s still by formal semi-divine beings. Nevertheless, the symbology is precisely 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 and the other the pupil, were 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 significant escamotage for art critics to deny a precise cultural will by these two artists is to invoke the chance of occurrence.
Perugino’s art is often spattered with weird details about hermetic and alchemic thought. I have already dedicated two articles to him, and I mean to increase one. And, unfortunately for contemporary art critics, Raffaello Sanzio’s monumental masterpieces sometimes seem hit by the same weirdness.
The episode of the marriage of Mary and Joseph is told in the apocryphal Gospel of James and 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 asked God for guidance on the future of Mary, who lived in the temple, where Joachim and Anne left her 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 God’s will. Then he, full of fear, took Mary into his own house. This is the unofficial tale. It is never entirely accepted by the church; it is a tale.
The Church codified only a few of these tales, 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 (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 that the breaking of rods, as a script, expresses the anger and envy of the losers who blame their wooden pieces for not producing flowers.
These are tales, indeed, but symbolic tales. Why would the Church have opposed them? The story itself seems harmless. But evidently, it was officially refused because of the expressed symbolism. Too much 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 (the same concept mentioned above), which Moses makes biblically springing from the rocks (2).
A high priest celebrates the marriage of the Virgin Mary with Joseph before a white and somewhat transparent temple. Why do I say it is a transparent temple? The building’s front and back entrance doors 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 complex making process of our white Mercurius, an exhausting work, to be also symbolized by Hercules’s 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 represent the achievement of our Mercurius/ White Doves/Universal Dissolvent, our Water par excellence. Only after this conquest can one reasonably think of a wedding.
In fact, before the temple, our virginal Mercurius is going bride with a traditionally male character, Josep, the male Mercurius. Who is just a partition of the female one (so himself of the 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 to being a symbol of our Mercurius, the Virgin is also of sacred knowledge, while Joseph the carpenter is of measurement, science, and geometry. Pythagoras, in renaissance paintings, is often depicted holding a rod.
The Church cannot reprove the semantics of Latin and Greek words, even if we know that the Greek language teaching was approved only in the fifteenth century before it was strangely forbidden. Philology and 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 mean rod-staff-baton merely. 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 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 drew his lines with the radius. Now we get why Pythagoras is often depicted holding a rod—Virgil in Eclog. III 40 writes the plowman in his work “descripsit radio….” draws with the radius; Servius, in his commentary on Eclogues, explains: No wonder, the radius is “virga philosophorum”, the rod of philosophers.
A further meaning is “shuttle for looms”, a 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” or “ray”, propagating in a right line, almost in reflection.
A final meaning, that exclusively of the Greek ράβδος, and not passed on to 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; they are all hidden in a common and safe rod.
Those who are breaking their useless rods suddenly become aware they haven’t any of the necessary knowledge 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. We can understand why Mary’s spouse must be the son of a royal line because Soul and Spirit are both descendants of the 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 different and uprooted from the context. He looks like an ancient hero; his iconography is undoubtedly Greek. Unlike we think today, in classic times, nudity was a symbol of sacredness.
Concerning Pietro Perugino, let me be 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”. Besides 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.
It is time to understand the importance of the rod: Remi d’Auxerre, in his commentary on the second book of the Marriage of Philology and Mercury by Martianus Capella, names the rod that only Hermes/Mercury can shake, that is, the rod of memory—Memorem Virga, the rod that makes us remember.
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 .