Concerning the puzzling embossed symbolism, the same Fernanda De’ Maffei suggests the lion being a symbol of violence, griffin union of lion and eagle, sirens symbol of temptations, on the two doors two virtues personified, the centaur a man who does not master passions, and finally the infant in the basket a symbol of eroticism. To be honest the italian scholar employes another latin phrase word I refuse to paste to defend my site respectability. In no ancient greek iconography we can find a child so small treated or regarded in that perverted way, and the child represented in the ecclesiola is unquestionably quite a toddler, not an ephebe. I apologize to my readers for having summarized de’ Maffei wording and I try to justify her naïvety using as an excuse the fact that in 1996, the year she wrote her learned book, the problem had not yet reached the frightful levels of nowadays 2012.
Back to our main topic, also Hadjitryphonos and Curcic try to decrypt the Ecclesiola medieval embossed symbolism as images reproducing their sins. The two scholars even, too much dangerously in my opinion, propose the two little doors as moral virtues to help people during their fight against evil, in order to enter the “little ecclesiastical heavenly Jerusalem”. But at least Hadjitryphonos and Curcic treat the little child as a Cupid with his head in a inverted basket, failing to give any rational for a Cupid being with his head in a inverted basket. Nevertheless I must admit de’ Maffei has conversely seen the real scene of a a child with his rear protruding from a bucket instead of the same child nonsensically with his head in a basket.
But at last this lead us to my article main topic. Since I believe Ecclesiola being an incense burner. Both de’ Maffei, and Hadjitryphonos and Curcic, fail to explain how on earth a sacred tabernacle could have a series of sexual sins (in their opinions) represented all around the perimetral wall.
Often in Alchemy naked bodies are employed, but they never are a sexual target. We will excavate the concept deeper in a Tiziano painting, for the moment I can tell you that every time nudity is involved there is an operative process too. The Ecclesiola child iconographic theme is really unique, in the very sense I have never seen a similar allegory. When for the first time I spotted this figure a question spontaneously arose: “ and what if it were not an allegory?” . Did well F. de’ Mattei to take it seriously and literally. I mean a lion is an allegory for our fixed salt, a griffin for our volatile salt, to represent our Solve et Coagula alchemical engine. The siren is our female dissolvent, the man the dissolved, on the word “Centaur” Dom Pernety in his Dictionnaire Mytho-Hermetique wrote: ” it is the vessel with the fiery fixed and volatile mercurius and their combat. Before the meeting of two perfect, it is a fight of one and the other, which produces the dissolution and volatilization indicated by Lapiths, which means to rise arrogantly”. In these few lines we have resumed Alchemy in a whole. That’s to say in all the symbols embossed in Ecclesiola, but not yet a child rear in a bucket. And furthermore, why all that symbology for an incense burner?
There is no getting around, the Ecclesiola strange child’s posture is to indicate an anatomical part. If we have a closer look at the basket, we can observe that the unsual basket alternately approximates more a bucket. Everyone having been adjacent to an infant for a reasonable amount of time will notice the children’s tendence to spend a lot of their time ( and ours) in their physiological functions. As a matter of fact an infant tends to urinate more often than an adult.
From time to time, you may have seen some alchemical pictures representing a child in the act of urinating. Cabala mineralis is the most comprehensive ( as all the painted scenery in that collection does originate from an adolescent urine), Hypnerotomachia Poliphili gravure 85 with a suspended child to urinate on the first blackness ( just a drop of adjunctive Secret Fire) . So we have this concept of child’s urine together with Secret Fire.
Secret Fire is the Alchemy foundation, as I do repeat in quite every article, that’s to say an ineffable substance coming from stars and still dwelling in electronic clouds. We certainly do have Secret Fire in children’s urine. But this is not the real point here. Since children’s urine also contain some interesting chemicals: Secret Fire is extracted by means of chemistry indeed. Well……..it has never been a secret that children’s urine does contain an increased amount of benzoic acid/hippuric acid (1) than adults do (along with an increased amount of Secret Fire too). The point here is: “ together with Secret Fire may we also extract a very volatile salt from children’s urine?” (2).
On Amiens Cathedral external walls we can see a low relief putting on display a reverse situation than San Marco ecclesiola: here is the child’s body to protrude from bucket. I guess the significance is the same.
In the end I would like to get some indirect indication from the Ecclesiola incense burner original function. It would too much easy connect the child’s production of volatile salt with the incense volatility. In the case all the other embossed symbols would be out of place. My opinion is the symbology all around Ecclesiola to be a complete description of the alchemical basic operations, as I mentioned above. Concerning the child rear in a bucket, we can finally argue being the very “fountain” where to get some volatile Secret Fire, or merely an effective volatile salt to help lifting, or sublimating, more heavy minerals to achieve our Mercurius. But, as this explanation seems too much easy, was there a real hidden and indispensable reason to decorate without vagueness and positively an incense burner?
As we will see in next articles, vapor brings along vapors and smoke brings along smokes as gas brings along gasses. This is an operative truth very much used among ancient alchemists. And hermeticists too (3).
- To know something more on benzoic acid: Phantom Play’s Tribute to the raising Benzoin.
- On volatile urine salts see also Hollandus, How Urine Salts Extract a White and Red Dye , Lancillotti and the Magisterium of Urine on Caput Mortuum , Glaser and the Unladylike, but Volatile, Salt of Urine , Cabala Mineralis or the She Horse on Urine Work part 1;
- To introduce the topic go to my next article Disk Galaxy Formation, Fluid Mechanics and Alchemy , Symbola Aureae Mensae and the Supreme Purpose , Hortulus Hermeticus and Love Between Fumes , Orthelius Commentary on Maria Prophitissa. part 1 ;
- See also Pompeii Mysteries Villa: a Gentle Flowing with Mystica Vannus ;
Below some byzantine church-like boxes art comparanda.
- “San Marco, Byzantiun and the Myths of Venice” H.Maguire and R.S.Nelson editors, Dumbarton Oaks Research Library and Collection, Trustees for Harvard University, 2010;
- “l’Ecclesiola nel Tesoro di San Marco a Venezia. Indagine preliminare” in “Bisanzio e l’Occidente: arte, archeologia, storia : studi in onore di Fernanda de’ Maffei”, by Fernanda De’ Maffei and Claudia Barsanti, Viella, 1996. Arte documento, Volume 13 Università di Udine. Cattedra di storia dell’arte moderna I., Centro per la promozione e lo sviluppo del corso di laurea in storia e tutela dei beni culturali, by Giulia Grassi, Electa, 1999;
- “Incense burner in the shape of a domed building” in “Glory of Byzantium” by I.Kalavrezou, New York 1997;
- “Lamp or perfume-Burner in shape of domed buiding” in Treasury of San Marco by D. Gaborit-Chopin;
- “Il Tesoro di San Marco” by André Grabar, Florence 1971;
- “Architecture as Icon – Perception and Representation of Architecture in Byzantine Art” by Dr. Evangelia Hadjitryphonos & Slobodan Curcic (eds) 2009, European Centre of Byzantine and Post-Byzantine Monuments – ΕΚΒΜΜ.