AZOTH 18" x 24" acrylic on canvas, 2000.
Commentary by John Eberly
This painting is a hybrid of two emblems found in Johann Daniel Mylius Philosophia reformata (1622). According to Stanislas Klossowski de Rola in The Golden Game, Philosophia reformata was engraved by Balthazar, or Baltzer Schwan (d. 1627) and published in Frankfurt by Lucas Jennis. (See: The Golden Game p. 167. For more on Jennis and his relationship to the famous de Bry family of engravers, see the commentary for the painting based on Michael Maiers Atalanta Fugiens Emblem 21.)
The emblems in Philosophia reformata have enjoyed extraordinary popularity due to their excellence, and many would borrow them to illustrate alchemical works of their own. One worthy borrower was Daniel Stolcius, famous compiler of The Pleasure Garden of Chemistry (Viridarium chemicum, 1624). Stolcius used emblems from Philosophia reformata as well as emblems from works by Michael Maier and Basil Valentine in this famous anthology. Many of the emblems were recommended to him by Lucas Jennis, who, it has already been noted, published both Maier and Mylius works. Jennis also became the publisher of Stolcius various anthologies.
The addition of artwork in the form of emblems to already existing alchemical tracts was a practice already established by this time, for example, in the first of three sections comprising his own anthology of alchemical works entitled the Tripus aureus (1618), Michael Maier added engravings to the text of Basil Valentines "Practica" containing the famous Twelve Keys. (For the full text in English and the accompanying emblems, see A.E. Waite, The Hermetic Museum, pp. 306-357.) The re-engraving of certain series of emblems, and the outright appropriation of already existing artworks placed into a variety of configurations and settings, can be viewed as a natural evolution of the art of Alchemy. The idea of recombining imagery from originally engraved emblematic work in a painting such as "The Quintessential Unity" simply brings this evolutionary process into a contemporary context.
In his concluding remarks concerning the nature of the emblems found in Philosophia reformata, Stanislas Klossowski de Rola points out how, "they can be enjoyed independently of Mylius prolix and recondite text." (Alchemy The Secret Art, p. 98.) And, "They owe much to Maier and to Basil Valentine." (The Golden Game, p. 167.)
Considering that the emblems for Philosophia reformata are the only philosophical artwork Klossowski de Rola includes in both Alchemy The Secret Art and The Golden Game, we may sense the enduring importance of these works over the past 400 years for students and scholars of the alchemical arts. That they "owe much to Maier and to Basil Valentine" is more a statement of appreciation than an observation of plagiarism. Unlike Stolcius, who simply adapted his literary conceptions to the visual compliment of pre-existing original emblems in order to create a hybrid work, Mylius conceived of his own variations on accepted alchemical themes which are evident in masters such as Maiers and Valentine.
Undoubtedly, similarities between the works of Mylius, Maiers, and Valentine do exist. Within Philosophia reformata we find three series: the first 28 emblems are unique to Mylius; the second 20 are a reworking of the visual sequence found in the Rosarium philosophorum; and the third set of 13 emblems represents a re-engraved version of Basil Valentines Azoth series.
While this is neither the time nor is it the place to enter into an in-depth examination of the evolution of certain imagery, two of the more familiar examples taken from Valentine via Maier, and Maier to Mylius will be examined to illustrate this method.
The emblem heading the "Fourth Key" of Basil Valentines Twelve Keys in Maiers anthology Tripus aureus depicts a human skeleton standing atop a shrouded coffin. A candle burns to the figures right, while behind him a natural scene includes a man standing in a small boat upon the sea, a tree, a tree stump, and a castle enclosed by a wall. (See A.E. Waite, The Hermetic Museum, p. 331.)
The 9th emblem in the first section of Mylius Philosophia reformata depicts a standing human skeleton atop a flaming black globe holding a raven in its right hand. Angels hovering to the left and right of the figure point down to the globe. A naturalistic scene including a town and a grove of trees unfolds behind these figures and beyond we see a body of water. Both sun and moon fill the upper corners of the engraving, and a shadowy tree stump regenerates in the right foreground.
Two other emblems from Mylius Philosophia reformata are reminiscent of emblem 21 from Michael Maiers Atalanta Fugiens. (For a description of Maiers emblem 21, see the commentary for the painting based on the same emblem attached to the present exhibition). The first appears on the bottom of the title page of the work, where we find a man and woman encircled and squared inside a triangle surrounded by another circle. (The Golden Game, p. 168.) The second example is found in the 19th emblem in the first section. This emblem again depicts the same "squaring of the circle" geometry, however, here we find the man and woman standing on the sun and moon on either side of the outer circle, which is now the earth. The whole image is encircled by a ring of stars. In each upper corner, a larger sun and moon shine their rays down on the scene. (The Golden Game, p. 172.)
The degree to which an artist either roughly or seamlessly integrates his influences may reflect how well he articulates what is unique about himself. However, in the art of Alchemy, and the alchemical emblems under discussion, it is the goal of the artist of the Great Work to disappear within it, and so perhaps we do the adepts a disservice by discussing particularities instead of stressing common ground. After all, they all agree that this is "our Art."
The captions supplied by The Golden Game accompanying the emblems from Philosophia reformata upon which the painting AZOTH is based read:
"Mars aiming the arrow of the Secret Fire at the volatile Dragon, the Subject of the Art." (Emblem #294, The Golden Game, p. 169) and, "Here is the Quintessential Unity of our Work." (Emblem #343, The Golden Game, p. 178.)
Viewing the painting AZOTH one will notice that only the "dragon" has been reproduced from emblem #294. The fundamental composition is derived from the imagery found in emblem #343 (#5 of thirteen emblems of the re-engraved version of Basil Valentines Azoth series). There are, however, differences between the engraving and the painting. One will notice that the sun/moon headed figures main "head" is the sun, topped with the horns of the moon-globe. This figure holds its left hand over the area of tipareth, while its right hand points to the heart at the center of the winged globe. The same basic naturalistic scenery unfolds behind the figure, however, the five crowns have been deleted.
While researching the Philosophia reformata series, and specifically emblem #343 in The Golden Game reproductions of the series which, as we have seen, is actually #5 of thirteen emblems of the re-engraved version of Basil Valentines Azoth series, I made the error of attributing this emblem to the second series within Philosophia reformata, that of the twenty reworked engravings forming the visual sequence found in the Rosarium philosophorum. I spent a whole day tracking down various references, erroneously attributing this emblem to that of #10 in the original engravings in the Rosarium philosophorum (#328 in The Golden Game).
The emblems share certain similarities: both depict a figure of a hermaphrodite, or Rebus; in one version (both "original versions" which I have access to are listed as being published in Frankfurt in 1550, yet they are quite different) the King/Queen (Sun/Moon) stands upon a (three headed) dragon in a landscape reminiscent of #5 from the Azoth series.
Clearly, however, the Rosarium emblem, which is very similar to #17 (#335 in The Golden Game) in the same series contains different elements that are not present in #5 from the Azoth series. These differences include a "tree" with twelve moons crowned by a sun, and a raven (in the original, a pelican piercing its own breast with its beak, a symbol of the "Pelican" vessel used in the alchemical work known as Circulatio). There is also a "tree" in #5 from the Azoth series, and one could easily relate the winged globe to a bird, but what bothered me was the five crowns in #5 from the Azoth series, and the twelve moons crowned by a sun found in both #10 and #17 in the Rosarium emblem series. These numbers simply didnt add up, even when one is giving away much in the reinterpretation of engravings from Rosarium/Azoth to Philosophia reformata. I discovered my basic error was my initial reliance upon Jungs reproductions of ten of the Rosarium emblem series in his study entitled "An Account of the Transference Phenomena Based on the Illustrations to the Rosarium Philosophorum." (The Practice of Psychotherapy -Vol. 16 of the Collected Works of C.G. Jung, Princeton University Press, Princeton, 1966, pp. 203-323.) Out of the ten emblems reproduced in this study, only emblem #10 remotely resembles #5 from the Azoth series. Further research revealed that there are in fact 20 emblems in the complete Rosarium series.
A day after making the discovery of this blunder on my part, I found that I was not alone: in the Introduction, by Nathan Schwartz-Salant, to Jung on Alchemy (Princeton University Press, Princeton, 1995, pp. 35-36), I found the following commentary attached to Mylius re-engraving of #5 from the Azoth series:
In Mylius alternative engraving of woodcut ten of the Rosarium philosophorum there is a hermaphroditic figure, resurrected from a previous dead state, and supported by a crescent moon. (Figure 0.4) (Jung on Alchemy, pp. 35-36)
It would appear that Nathan Schwartz-Salant made the same mistake that I had made in my own research. It must have puzzled him that Mylius re-engraving of #5 from the Azoth series, which he reproduces in his Introduction in Figure 0.4 is standing upon the winged globe, not the crescent moon which he describes, which is found supporting the hermaphrodite in emblem #10 of both Mylius version and the original 1550 version of the Rosarium philosophorum.
Now that we have established the confusion that arises when researching emblems which have been re-engraved (and as we have seen, in some cases simply appropriated) from the original and placed into combinations and recombinations of new works, let us look at what little there is to report concerning the emblem numbered 343 in The Golden Game, based on #5 of the thirteen emblems of Basil Valentines Azoth series.
According to Websters Third New International Dictionary, the word azoth is derived from the Arabic word azzazuq meaning "the mercury." The third edition of The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language adds the Middle English azoc, from Old French, from Syraic ziwag, from Middle Persian zhiwak, from Old Iranian jivaka "lively," akin to the Sanskrit jivaka "lively," from jiva "alive." In the Appendix entitled "Indo European Roots," under the entry gwei we find, "1.a. QUICK, QUICKSILVER, from Old English cwic, cwicu, living, alive." (The American Heritage Dictionary, p. 2106.) Both dictionaries agree that this "mercury" is considered in alchemy to be the primary seed of all metals.
It is said that the great alchemical physician Paracelsus (1493-1541) carried upon his person at all times a sword with the word "Azoth" inscribed around the pommel, or base of the handle. The Azoth, or "the mercury," is the spiritus animatus extracted from metallic ores and refined into the universal medicine also known as the Philosophers Stone. "Our Work begins and ends with the Traveler, the Mercury" say the alchemystical philosophers. Why on earth Paracelsus would want to parade around the countryside advertising his possession of the Stone must be left to the mute testimony of the romantic engravers of his image. More likely they were simply stating that he was in such possession, otherwise, this might explain his untimely end!
According to Paracelsus biographer, Dr. Franz Hartmann, the Azoth is also representative of "...the Astral Light in its aspect as the vehicle of the universal essence of life..." (Paracelsus Life and Prophesies "The Life of..." section, p. 30.)
Under the listing "Azoc" (which is used interchangeably with Azoth) in "A Short Lexicon of Alchemy" found in the collection by A.E. Waite entitled Hermetic and Alchemical Writings of Paracelsus the Great we find the following definition:
"Azoc. Mercury of the Philosophers, not vulgar and crude quicksilver, simply extracted from the mine, but a Mercury extracted from bodies by means of argent vive. (Note: the Lexicon defines Argentum Vivum as a "drier, hotter, and more digested than common Mercury..." used to reduce metals into a more basic volatile form. p. 354) It is an exceedingly ripe Mercury. It is with this substance that the Philosophers wash their Laton; it is this which purifies impure bodies with the help of fire. By means of the azoc there is perfected that medicine which cures all diseases in the three kingdoms of Nature. It is made of the Elixir." (p. 355.)
We may recall here the caption from Emblem #343 in The Golden Game, "Here is the Quintessential Unity of our Work." The Golden Game, p. 178).
AZOTH Painting Research Bibliography
Allen, Paul M. A Christian Rosenkreutz Anthology. Rudolf Steiner Publications, Blauvet, 1968. "Daniel Stolcius And His Pleasure Garden of Chymistry" pp. 433-541.
Becker, Udo. The Continuum Encyclopedia of Symbols. Continuum, New York, 2000, top p. 144, Rosarium philosophorum emblem #17.
de Rola, Stanislas Klossowski. The Golden Game - Alchemical Engravings of the Seventeenth Century. Thames and Hudson, London, 1988.
Hartmann, Franz. Paracelsus Life and Prophesies. Steinerbooks, Blauvet, 1973.
Jacobi, Jolande. Paracelsus Selected Writings. Princeton University Press, Princeton, 1951.
Jung, C.G. The Practice of Psychotherapy -Vol. 16 of the Collected Works of C.G. Jung, Princeton University Press, Princeton, 1966.
(Jung, C. G.) Jung on Alchemy. Selected and Introduced by Nathan Schwartz-Salant. Princeton University Press, Princeton, 1995.
Waite, A.E. Hermetic and Alchemical Writings of Paracelsus the Great. Holmes, Edmonds, 1992.
Waite, A.E. The Hermetic Museum - Containing Twenty-Two Most Celebrated Chemical Tracts. Weiser, York Beach, 1991.