Harley MS. 3469: Splendor Solis or Splendour of the Sun – A German Alchemical Manuscript
The Electronic British Library Journal (2011)
‘Splendor Solis or Splendour of the Sun’ is one of the most beautiful and well known illuminated alchemical manuscripts. The text survives in many witnesses dating from the early sixteenth to the nineteenth century, of which Harl. MS. 3469 is definitely the most famous and best preserved example. Yet the history of this codex, which is dated 1582, can actually traced back to south-eastern Germany at the beginning of the sixteenth century – back, in other words, to the region and era of the great masters of the German Renaissance such as Albrecht Dürer, Hans Holbein the Younger and Lucas Cranach the Elder.
Neither the author nor the commissioner of the Splendor Solis is known to us. Nevertheless, there is much that can be said about the conditions surrounding the production of the illuminated manuscript: we know of numerous sources that were drawn upon by both the text and the illustrations, which were to have a lasting effect. In looking carefully at the iconography we may gain a closer insight into the origins of the Splendor Solis which in turn leads us to an attribution of the original miniatures, followed by a brief discussion of the concept underlying the codex, which aspired from the very beginning to become the most beautiful of all illuminated alchemical manuscripts.