Philosopher's Stone

Maier, 1617

This portrait of Hermes Trismegistus symbolises the creation of the Philosopher’s Stone. The Sun and Moon represent Sulphur and Mercury which when united in the Sacred Fire of Wisdom produce the goods -  don't try this at home! (Image from Maier, 1617)

Famous Wizard cards are far too modern for inclusion in the RBLA, but there is in the collections a book about famous magicians and mystics, the Symbola Aureae Mensae, written by alchemist Michael Maier, a court physician of Holy Roman Emperor Rudolf II of Bohemia.Maier’s book, published in 1617 in Frankfurt, contains twelve portraits, of which perhaps the most famous is the image of the mysterious Egyptian priest and reputed contemporary of Moses, Hermes Trismegistus.

His name is derived from Greek Hermes and Egyptian Thoth, both gods of writing and of magic who guided souls to the afterlife, and who were worshipped as one in Hellenistic Egypt. There is in fact some doubt as to whether Hermes Trismegistus was a mortal, a god, or a figment of the imagination.The works attributed to Trismegistus, collectively known as the Hermetic Corpus, were among Greek, Hebrew and Arabic manuscripts recovered from archives and libraries by Renaissance scholars in the employ of wealthy collectors. The appeal of such texts lay in their antiquity and the perception that they had been neglected by previous generations.

Trismegistus, 1471

De potestate et sapientia Dei. Treviso, 1471.Translated into Latin by the great Renaissance scholar Marsilio Ficino. (Image from Trismegistus, 1471) The printing industry was in its infancy when this work was produced. Book design was still manuscript design. The page shown was left unfinished. It is missing a fancy hand-painted capital letter.

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