Splendor Solis - Sonnenglanz

Splendor Solis - Sonnenglanz – Coron Verlag – Cod. 78 D 3 – Kupferstichkabinett Staatliche Museen (Berlin, Germany)

Probably Nuremberg or Augsburg (Germany) β€” Ca. 1531–1532

A masterpiece of the German Renaissance commissioned by the Fuggers: the secret teachings of alchemy in beautiful full-page miniatures pregnant with meaning

  1. Probably the most famous treatise on alchemy from the Middle Ages, which survives in 20 manuscripts

  2. The text addressed the refinement of substances, the production of gold, and the ennoblement of the soul

  3. An unidentified master created the work at the behest of a member of the Fugger family of Augsburg

Splendor Solis - Sonnenglanz

Facsimile Copy Available!
Price Category: €€
(1,000€ - 3,000€)
  1. Description
  2. Detail Picture
  3. Single Page
  4. Facsimile Editions (1)
Splendor Solis - Sonnenglanz

The codex in Berlin known as the Splendor Solis – Sonnenglanz manuscript is the oldest surviving specimen on the basic teachings of alchemy and one of the most beautiful 16th century German manuscripts in existence. Although the artist’s identity remains a matter of debate among researchers, its artistry is truly masterful and the manuscript is believed to have been made for a member of the wealthy and powerful Fugger family of Augsburg. The artist managed to create an image program of incredible perfection, made all the more impressive by the challenge of illustrating such a vague and esoteric text. This manuscript was copied many times by trusted associates of the family who admired its artistry and wanted to possess its secret knowledge.

Splendor Solis – Sonnenglanz

How does one make gold from any substance? What is the philosopher’s stone and how does one manufacture it? And how can one also ennoble one’s soul in the process? These and other questions of alchemy are answered by the manuscript dated to 1531/2, which was probably made for the Fugger family in Augsburg and which is now stored in the Museum of Prints and Drawings in Berlin. This manuscript of the Splendor Solis is counted among the most beautiful German works of the 16th century. It is an important alchemical treatise written at the dawn of modern science accompanied by a series of elaborate images set in ornamental borders and niches similar in style to the decorative borders used in contemporary books of hours. The manuscript’s symbolic process follows the alchemical death and rebirth of a king, followed by a series of 7 flasks, each associated with one of the planets. Within the flasks a process is shown involving the transformation of bird and animal symbols into the Queen and King, represented by white and red pigment.

The Tenets of Alchemy

The richly illuminated luxury manuscript is the oldest surviving specimen of the basic teachings of alchemy. On the one hand, it is concerned with finding philosopher’s stone and the key to the changing and refinement of matter therewith, on the other hand, the profane pursuit of wealth and power plays a considerable role: the production of gold. Typical alchemical processes were described and congenially illustrated in full-page miniatures. The illuminator had the task of translating the descriptions in the treatise, which are not always easily comprehensible and often vague, in clear illustrations and pictorial narrative. In doing so, the unusual theme required a high degree of creative intelligence.

JΓΆrg Breu the Elder or Albrecht Glockendon?

The illuminator, whose identity remains contested to this day, must have interlinked his own world of imagery oriented on Christian and mythological art with the profane alchemical text, which he realized in seldom-achieved perfection. A comprehensive stock of motifs served his new inventions and compilations, which were drawn from extremely diverse contexts. In addition to older illuminated alchemical tracts, from which he was able to extract subject-specific hieroglyphics, he primarily had contemporary printmaking to draw on as a repertory.

Repeatedly Copied and All Over the World Today

Due to its fascinating theme and the quality of its miniatures, the Splendor Solis was already copied by hand many times and as such, ca. 20 manuscripts of this treaty are in existence. Aside from the Berlin specimen (the oldest), there are also a copies in the British Library in London, the Spanish National Library in Madrid, and the BibliothΓ¨que nationale de France in Paris. Nevertheless, it was no β€œbestseller” in the true sense of the word for a simple reason: the original manuscript was not sold by its owner for gold, but rather was only lent to high-ranking persons to allow them to copy it.


Alternative Titles
The Splendor of the Sun
Size / Format
80 pages / 33.1 Γ— 22.8 cm
Ca. 1531–1532
19 full-page miniatures, 43 headlines and initials in gold
Treatise on alchemy with a symbolic process tracing the alchemical death and rebirth of a king followed by a series of 7 flasks, each associated with one of the planets.
Artist / School
Previous Owners
Rodolphe Hirsch Kann (1845–1905)

Available facsimile editions:
Splendor Solis - Sonnenglanz – Coron Verlag – Cod. 78 D 3 – Kupferstichkabinett Staatliche Museen (Berlin, Germany)
Coron Verlag – GΓΌtersloh, 2005
Limited Edition: 998 copies
Detail Picture

Splendor Solis - Sonnenglanz

A Bathing Alchemist

Like most alchemical manuscripts, this German Renaissance work is filled with allegorical imagery in order to guard alchemy’s secrets from the uninitiated. An attendant fans the flames of a large brick bath wherein a bearded man is seated with a white dove on his head symbolizing the cleansing of the soul. The scene is a metaphor for the albedo, a stage of purification for both substances and for the purification of one’s soul to restore it to its original state of purity and receptivity.

Splendor Solis - Sonnenglanz – Coron Verlag – Cod. 78 D 3 – Kupferstichkabinett Staatliche Museen (Berlin, Germany)
Single Page

Splendor Solis - Sonnenglanz

Severing the Head of the King

Like the rest of the miniatures in this manuscript, this gruesome but masterfully painted scene is contained within a splendid frame reminiscent of a book of hours. These 22 scenes represent the classical alchemical death and rebirth of the king, including a series of seven flasks representing the planets of our solar system. This is the beginning of this symbolic process.

A decapitated and dismembered body is laying at the feet of a dark-skinned soldier, possibly a Turk, who is dressed in classically-styled armor. He holds an Italian longsword in one hand and the golden head of the king in the other. The violence of this scene is partially mitigated by its gorgeous setting with classical architectures, boaters on the river, and towering mountains in the distance.

Splendor Solis - Sonnenglanz – Coron Verlag – Cod. 78 D 3 – Kupferstichkabinett Staatliche Museen (Berlin, Germany)
Facsimile Editions

#1 Splendor Solis - Sonnenglanz

Coron Verlag – GΓΌtersloh, 2005

Publisher: Coron Verlag – GΓΌtersloh, 2005
Limited Edition: 998 copies
Binding: Wine-red leather with rich arabesque blind and gold tooling protective book case
Commentary: 1 volume (128 pages) by Ursula GΓΆtz, Michael Roth and JΓΆrg VΓΆllnagel
Language: German
1 volume: Exact reproduction of the original document (extent, color and size) 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. Painted gold of the original in facsimile as printed gold, the calligraphic initials and the beginnings of each text rendered in 23-karat real gold.
Facsimile Copy Available!
Price Category: €€
(1,000€ - 3,000€)
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