A gorgeous early-16th century German manuscript combining the knowledge of Arab alchemy with the artistry of the Italian Renaissance

Aurora Consurgens

Germany — First quarter of the 16th century

Aurora Consurgens

Aurora Consurgens

Germany — First quarter of the 16th century

  1. The text is based on the work of the Egyptian alchemist Ibn Umayl (ca. 900 – ca. 960)

  2. It is still debated whether this commentary on the translation originated from Thomas Aquinas (1225-74)

  3. 31 miniatures represent alchemical principals in gorgeous metaphorical depictions

Aurora Consurgens

Aurora Consurgens
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  1. Short Description
  2. Codicology

Short Description

This fascinating alchemical treatise from Germany combines Arabic and Italian models to create a wonderful artistic program consisting of 31 enigmatic miniatures. The early-16th century manuscript is a fine copy of the Aurora Consurgens or “Rising Dawn”, a commentary on the Latin translation of al-Mā’ al-Waraqī or “The Silvery Water”, a classic of Islamic alchemy written in the 10th century by Ibn Umayl, who is called Senior Zadith in the West. Alchemical principals are metaphorically represented by pictures with masterfully drawn human and animal figures as well as masterfully depicted transparent glass bulbs.

Aurora Consurgens

This alchemical treatise is fascinating not only because of its enigmatic miniatures but because of its contested authorship, with some claiming that the famous philosopher and theologian Thomas Aquinas (1225-74). The particular specimen of Aurora Consurgens or “Rising Dawn” at hand originated in southern Germany during the first quarter of the 16th century. Metaphorical representations of alchemical principals, e.g. mercury depicted as a serpent, are presented in 31 stunning watercolor miniatures. It is distinguished from other similar manuscripts by its shelf mark in Berlin’s Staatsbibliothek Preußischer Kulturbesitz, MS. Germ. qu. 848.

Fascinating Imagery

Large, square-framed initials made of acanthus leaves and flowers and miniature scenes set on a grassy area sometimes featuring bizarre rock formations or trees. The figures are slender but well-proportioned and muscular with softly draped garments, fashionable hairstyles, and smooth movements. Glass bulbs are depicted with extraordinary plasticity and transparency and the flat color palette was created with soft gradations and details like blades of grass that are applied with fine brushstrokes. Both the text and the picture cycle are based closely on that of Ms. Rh. 172 in the Zentralbibliothek in Zürich and the miniatures point to Italian models, especially in the fashionable accentuation of the depiction of people. Human and animal procreation were used as alchemical metaphors and some manuscripts, like this, have had a scene of two lovers in bed scrapped off by a prudish past owner.

Based on an Arab Model

This entire group of manuscripts are copies of a commentary on the Latin translation of al-Mā’ al-Waraqī or “The Silvery Water”, a classic of Islamic alchemy written in the 10th century by Ibn Umayl, who is called Senior Zadith in the West. It was translated into Latin in the 12th or 13th century and was widely disseminated among European alchemists in a text often referred to as Senioris Zadith tabula chymica or The Chemical Tables of Senior Zadith. Evidence of this can clearly be seen when comparing miniatures in Latin and Arabic manuscripts of a wise old sage sitting in a sanctuary with two rooms and holding a tablet with symbolic pictograms. Both show a group of three people pointing in his direction and nine birds holding weapons fly overhead. The Arabic version shows him situated in an Egyptian temple, while the Latin version shows him seated in a church.

The Work of Thomas Aquinas?

Scholars debate whether or not the original text of the Aurora consurgens could be attributed to the great Thomas Aquinas. Those who classify it as a "Pseudo-Aquinas" manuscript claim that it is inconsistent with Aquinas’ writing style. On the other hand, arguments for Aquinas being the author point to the fact that the author was obviously well-versed in both the Bible and liturgy and rarely cites classical alchemical texts nor does he ever mention chemical recipes or technical instructions. The author’s praising of the poor also points to a Dominican friar. Furthermore, they counter the argument that the work is stylistically inconsistent by explaining the passionate style as reflecting the stream of conscious expressed by a dying man. This is consistent with the biography of Aquinas, who is said to have had a disturbing vision before his death and also interpreted the text on his death bed. As such, this work may represent the last words of the great theologian and philosopher – or not. Scholars continue to debate the point today, but it is a fascinating hypothesis nonetheless!

Codicology

Origin
Germany
Date
First quarter of the 16th century
Language
Illustrations
37 miniatures
Content
Alchemical treatise with a commentary by Pseudo-Aquinas on the Latin translation of The Silvery Water and the Starry Earth by Ibn Umayl

1 available facsimile edition(s) of „Aurora Consurgens“

Aurora Consurgens
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Aurora Consurgens

1 volume: Exact reproduction of the original document (extent, color and size)
Publisher
Millennium Liber – Madrid, 2020
Commentary
1 volume by Alejandro García Avilés and Carlos Espí Forcén
Language: Spanish
More Information
Reproduction of the entire original document as detailed as possible (scope, format, colors). The binding may not correspond to the original or current document binding.
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