Page 46: “…..The code is anonymous. On the Fol. (sheet) 28 recto one can find a name which could be that of the author, but being not accompanied with the last name it is impossible to identify the author with certainty. Ioannes says to be servant of learned men, as well as of skilled experimenters, he declares with an oath that all the alchemical art is within the Sun, the Moon and Mercury with its preparations and causes, as in the two bodies ( the Sun and the Moon) the Sulphur of the wise is to be found, that is to say white and red; in them the sapient nature has put its seed. Fol. 28r: “Ego Ioannes artistarum servus et recte laborantium, iuro in ordine meo quod tota huius artis pendet in tribus. Scilicet in Sole, Luna et Mercurio cum suis preparationibus et causis, quia in his duobus corporibus reperitur Sulphur sapientum: scilicet album et rubeum in quibus natura sagax posuit sementem sum et tamen insunt radi (?) tingens cum deo adiutorio nostro satis”.
It follows a thorough examination of hints in the manuscript heading to the correct dating. Which proves to be around or after 1311, Arnau de Vilanova’s death year, the less ancient among the authors cited in the code. After comes a deep scrutiny of fourteenth-fifteenth century alchemical authors whose name was Giovanni, Johann, Jean, Juan, John. In conclusion, according to Carbonelli: “……anyway all should be deleted, but Giovanni Andrea the venetian, for the origin, whom nothing is knew, Jean de Rupescissa, for the insistence on Quinta Essentia, and Johannes Teschmensis philosophus, for his writing in verses. Anyway, I believe the text is a very late medley taking from many authors and putting all under the name Ioannes.”
Page 48: “The code is surely Italian for the paleography and elegance of the ink and colors drawings. The text presents numerous writing errors later corrected by other hand. For this code I copy out the latin text, as the translation was not easy because of the burning and the very incorrect writing, although it underwent a later correction.”
We know how things developed: modern historians had the urgency to put a known name beside the gorgeous drawings and chose Johannes von Teschen-Ticinensis, because of his writing in verse. Neglecting the fact that in the Ashb. 1166 the author names himself as Ioannes and not Johannes, and that the last form was traditionally reserved to no Italian speaking. And almost, Johannes von Teschen-Ticinensis’s other works weren’t potpourris from other authors works.
That’s for the written part. Let’s go deeper into the artistic part, now. As it is this part to have given a precise date to the Ashburham 1166, that’s to say 1460-1475. Additionally, the art critics underline the unquestionable pictorial precision and harmony. He who drew and painted those images was a great painter. Such a painter who was impossible, in the Italian Renaissance age, not to have then pursued an artistic career, given the prestige and the economic revenue that a great painter could achieve. It would be enough to observe the venetian altarpieces of the same period, to realize that very few were the hands of the same level. The names of Bellini family, Jacopo the father, Gentile and Giovanni the sons, were put forward. So art critics agreed to attribute the watercolors to Bellini’s school. Probably a young apprentice who managed to take also the pictorial features of his master Giovanni Bellini, in fact, as we know, the pictorial features are as personal as the handwriting. Thus, this boy, or older and anonymous worker, draw and watercolored in a way not inferior to his master and then, suddenly disappeared without carrying out a career worthy of his talent.
I have worked in ancient art dealing in Venice and spent a lot of my time with ancient paintings experts and restorers. I remember that quite all of them relied on the rendering of hands to evaluate a painter with certainty. They told me: ” nothing is more difficult in painting than to give life to a human hand”. Let’s take a look at the hand drawn in Ashburham 1166. It radiates perfection. Not only, but it is a showing off of pictorial capacity. That painter was not inferior to Giovanni Bellini. Additionally, Giovanni Bellini is known not only for his delicacy and harmony but for the love and creativity he delineated his details: the hand, the egg’s section, the tree growing up from a dying man. All hits from a masterpieces painter. It was really impossible that his apprentice’s future works weren’t at least in some venetian churches. Because generally, unless they remained assigned to backgrounds, young apprentices did grow up into painters with an independent career. And Bellini family were not known to be jealous of their pupils. In fact they had apprentices like Andrea Mantegna, Vittore Carpaccio, Giorgione, Tiziano Vecellio and perhaps Lorenzo Lotto. This was their school. Below two kind concessions of Laurenziana from MS Ashburham 1166, to be compared with Giovanni Bellini’s ”St Francis in Ecstasy”, 1480 -1485 and “Holy Allegory”, 1490 -1500. Of course an ink drawing with simple watercolors on a folio 8, confined on the little space free from written verses, is like singing a cappella in comparison with the whole orchestra of oil on canvas.
Carbonelli pays attention to the poor Latin used by the anonymous author and the later corrections by another hand. The self proclaimed Ioannes seems to have been a boy who was given a rather meagre education, so neither an aristocrat nor a priest, nor a high functionary of the Serenissima, nor a man of law, nor a physician, nor a writer. But probably a merchant or a specialized artisan. A middle class man, with a basic education. The formula ” Ego Ioannes iuro in ordine meo quod tota huius artis…..”. I Ioannes declare with oath that all the alchemical art is within the Sun, the Moon and Mercury…” is certainly not an elegant, but rather popular terminology. Being Venetian myself, I can state it is still very common today among poorly educated people. So he was not an eye brow, but not a skilled lab technician either. I can say from experience they expressed themselves differently. Definitely, neither a particularly technical man, nor a poet. But with a stunning artistic talent. A man who can illustrate like that, could have painted Giovanni Bellini’s Holy Allegory. And only a stubborn ideological willing could totally repudiate the hypothesis.
But if we try to get back with our imagination to Venice of the fifteenth century, we could observe the town described by Solomon Trismosin as the starting point of an alchemical tour which could bring the most intrepid minds to the Greek islands and Middle East. Venice was the town chosen by Manutius, Bessarion, Gemistus Pletho etc. A town where the hermetic academies were not particularly hidden. Arrests and persecutions started only in the second half of the sixteenth century.
A trained eye can discern an impressive amount of alchemical and hermetic symbolism in Giovanni Bellini’s paintings. He actually is the venetian painter who filled his works with most symbolism. His Holy Allegory would be enough, but it didn’t remain a single, extravagant, case. He is known to have been attending the most learned and scholar persons, his name was associated with Aldus Manutius and Pietro Bembo. The last but not least: Giovanni Bellini used to sign his painting as Ioannes Bellinus.
Tiny details the historians of Alchemy have left behind. Used as they are to the poetic tradition that presents the painters interested in Alchemy and Hermeticism as cursed and outcast. But they ignored that Alchemy and Hermeticism was the culture of the cultivated Renaissance age classes. A culture to be hidden, anyway; in fact the manuscript’s author preferred not to reveal his last name. Ioannes was enough. The historians of Alchemy should instead tell us why Johannes von Teschen-Ticinensis would have been so cautious to omit his last name in Ashburham 1166. In fact, if he did the same in all his alchemical works, nobody would have ever heard of him.