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Hermeticism and Alchemy: The Case of Ludovico Lazzarelli

Author(s): Chiara Crisciani


Source: Early Science and Medicine, Vol. 5, No. 2, Alchemy and Hermeticism (2000), pp. 145-
159
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HERMETICISM AND ALCHEMY: THE CASE OF
LUDOVICO LAZZARELLI
CHIARA CRISCIANI
Department of Philosophy, University of
Pavia
1. There are various kinds of documentation
regarding
the al-
chemical interests of Ludovico Lazzarelli
(1450-1500).'
We have no
statements of his as to his actual
working
commitments; however,
Lazzarelli himself declares that he had been the
disciple
of a mas-
ter
alchemist,
namely
the
Burgundian John Rigaud
de
Branchis,
who was
certainly practicing
in Siena in 1494.
Moreover,
in some
texts,
Lazzarelli was
surely
connected with
alchemy
in a number
of
ways. Up
to now I have identified three such texts:
1)
The tran-
scription
of the Pretiosa
Margarita
Novella of Petrus
Bonus,
with a
dedicatory
verse written
by Lazzarelli,2
in which the latter offers
Petrus' text to
John Rigaud
and
fervently praises
both the author
('nomine
reque
bonus,'
the
pride
of 'inclita
Ferraria')
and the
1
On Lazzarelli
see,
in addition to the more remote studies
by
V.K.
Ohly
and
V.B.
McDaniel,
P.O.
Kristeller,
"Marsilio Ficino e Lodovico Lazzarelli. Contributo
alla diffusione delle idee ermetiche nel
Rinascimento"; id.,
"Ancora
per
Giovanni
Mercurio da
Correggio,"
in
id.,
Studies on Renaissance
Thought
and Letters
(Rome,
1956), 221-257; id.,
"Lodovico Lazzarelli e Giovanni da
Correggio,
due ermetici
del
Quattrocento,
e il manoscritto
II.D.I.4
della Biblioteca Comunale
degli
Ar-
denti di
Viterbo,"
in A.
Pepponi,
ed., Biblioteca
degli
Ardenti
della
cittda di Viterbo.
Studi e
ricerche nel 150"
della
fondazione (Viterbo, 1960), 15-37;
F.A Yates, Giordano
Bruno and the Hermetic Tradition
(London, 1964),
passim;
D.P.Walker,
Spiritual
and
Demonic
Magic from
Ficino to
Campanella (London, 1958), 60-72;
E.
Garin,
M.
Brini,
C.
Vasoli,
P.
Zambelli, eds.,
Testi umanistici su l'Ermetismo
(Rome, 1955);
D.B. Ru-
derman,
"Giovanni Mercurio da
Correggio's Appearance
in
Italy
as Seen
through
the
Eyes
of an Italian
Jew,"
in Renaissance
Quarterly,
28.3
(1975), 309-322;
S.
Sosti,
"Il 'Crater Hermetis' di Ludovico
Lazzarelli,"
in
Quaderni
dell'Istituto
Nazionale
di
Studi sul Rinascimento
meridionale, 1 (1984), 101-132;
C.
Moreschini, Dall'
'Asclepio'
al 'Crater Hermetis' Studi sull'ermetismo tardo antico e
rinascimentale (Pisa, 1985);
M.
Idel,
"Hermeticism and
Judaism,"
in
I.
Merkel and A.G.
Debus, eds.,
Hermeticism
and the Renaissance
(Washington, 1988), 68-70;
E.
Garin, Ermetismo del Rinascimento
(Rome, 1988);
F.
Bacchelli,
Giovanni Pico e Pierleone da
Spoleto.
Nuovi
frammenti del
'Commento
sopra
una canzona de amore'
(Florence, 2000).
2
Modena,
Biblioteca
Estense,
ms lat. 299
(the dedicatory
verse has been ed-
ited in
Kristeller, "Ancora
per," 257).
On Petrus Bonus see C.
Vasoli,
in
Dizionario
biografico degli
Italiani
(Rome, 1970), 1:287-289;
C.
Crisciani, ed.,
Pietro Bono da
Ferrara,
Preziosa
Margarita
Novella.
Edizione del
volgarizzamento (Florence, 1976),
Introduction; ead.,
"The
Conception
of
Alchemy
as
Expressed
in the 'Pretiosa
Margarita
Novella' of Petrus Bonus of
Ferrara,"
in
Ambix, 20
(1973),
165-181.
? Koninklijke
Brill
NV, Leiden, 2000
Early
Science and Medicine
5,
2
146 CHIARA CRISCIANI
recipient.
2)
A collection of
alchemical texts,3
known as the
Vademecum. These texts are all of a
practical
and Lullian tone. In-
deed,
the first
treatise,
which is
original
and
anonymous,
is defined
as
'ex
intentione
Raymundi';
one
text,
the De
investigatione lapidis,
is
part
of the
pseudo-Lullian corpus;4
there follow
'excerpta
ex
libris
Raymundi'
(in
Latin and in the
vernacular)
and various
prac-
tical
Tabule;
finally
it contains the
procedure
to obtain the
'arcanum
elexiris de inventione
magistri Joannis Rigaudi
de
Branchis',
which he had made in Siena in 1494 'in societate
magistri
Alberti
perusini phisici.'
3)
The
dedicatory
verse and the
prologue,
both
definitely
written
by
Lazzarelli,
which
preface
this
collection." The first few lines wish well to the "liber
collega
arcani
laboris,
fidus
perpetuusque
comes."6
The collection that follows
thus seems to be a true
guide
that aims at
involving
Lazzarelli in
practical knowledge
and works.
Moreover,
it is
right
in this
pro-
logue
that Lazzarelli delineates a
magistral genealogy
in which he
presents
himself,
disciple
of
John Rigaud
that he
is,
as the heir to
a line that
goes
back to
Lull,
and thence to
Arnold,
who
had,
in
turn,
learned "a
quodam magistro
Petro."
The alchemical books that Lazzarelli
surely
had at his
disposal
comprised
an extensive and
systematic
doctrinal
text,
the Pretiosa
Margarita,
and some short
operative writings
that refer to 'Lull.'
3 Florence,
Biblioteca
Riccardiana,
ms
984;
the edition of both the
opening
verses and the
prologue
can be found in M.
Brini,
"Ludovico Lazzarelli. Testi
scelti",
in E. Garin et
al.,
Testi
umanistici, 75-77;
cf. also
Chantilly, Musec
Conde,
ms 419
(919):
this
manuscript
contains texts in the Italian vernacular
and,
in
particular,
the
prologue
to the Vademecum,
the first
treatise,
the Secretum written
by John Rigaud
de Branchis.
4
M.
Pereira,
The
Alchemical
Corpus
Attributed to
Raymond
Lull
(London, 1989),
85.
5
Created in
1495,
this collection seems to be one of the results of the Lazza-
relli's
editing
activities: see also his 'Hermetic' collection with three introductions
for Giovanni Mercurio
(Kristeller,
"Marsilio
Ficino",
Appendix
with the edition
of the
introductions).
The
opening
Tabula
(ed. Brini, "Testi", 76-77),
written
subsequently,
attributes the first treatise in the collection to Lazzarelli
(Tractatus
de
alchimia),
but he
actually
wrote
only
the
prologue
and collected and edited the
works. The collection is not
explicitly
dedicated to
John Rigaud,
but it is
explic-
itly
linked to his
teaching,
as can be inferred from the
genealogy presented
in
the
prologue (ed. Brini, 76); moreover,
in the text on the
preparation
of the
elixir
by John Rigaud (f.33v),
it is declared that "hoc arcanum
ipse magister
Joanes
mihi ex maxima sui liberalitate ore
proprio
revelavit"; cf.
L.
Thorndike,
History of Magic
and
Experimental
Science
(New York, 1923-1950), 5:533-34;
6:437-
38.
6
Brini, "Testi",
75.
THE CASE OF LUDOVICO LAZZARELLI 147
There is
nothing surprising
in this modest but well-balanced
rep-
ertoire.
Indeed,
during
the
Quattrocento,
there was a
general
ac-
ceptance
of the two-fold tradition that derived from 'Geber'
(in-
deed
Bonus,
on several
occasions,
declares-truthfully-that
he
owes much to
Geber)
and from 'Lull'. So Lazzarelli is
fully
in line
with choices
that,
in the
Quattrocento,
were
widespread
and con-
solidated. The two traditions were often interwoven and under-
stood to be
complementary.7
However,
the textual choices made
by
Lazzarelli deserve some
further consideration. Bonus' treatise does not confine itself to
reformulating
'Geber"s
conceptions.
Its
importance
lies
(then
and
subsequently)
not
only
in its
thorough
definition of the relation-
ship
between
alchemy
and natural
philosophy
in an Aristotelian
and scholastic
context,
but also in Bonus'
thorough
treatment of
other issues that
may
have held a more
specific
interest for
Lazzarelli: the
underlying
reasons for the
concealing language
of
alchemists and its
forms;
the
initiatory
feature of the transmission
of alchemical
knowledge;
and,
above
all,
the
'partim
divina' struc-
ture of
alchemy
in
general
and of the
lapis
in
particular,
which was
also
interpreted
as a miracle and a 'donum Dei.' Bonus' consid-
erations on the
poets
who made reference to the alchemical
opus
in their
poems
and
myths,
on the
prophets
who
speak
mistice also
on the
subject
of
alchemy,
on the ancient alchemists
(in
the first
place
Hermes) who,
as witnesses of the marvellous alchemical
transformations and the
extraordinary
nature of the
lapis/miracle,
were
necessarily
also
prophets
of Christian events and
truths,s--all
of these are themes that Lazzarelli must have
particularly appreci-
ated.
Indeed,
his main interest seems from
quite early
on to have
been directed towards the
topic
of
transformation,
in whatever
way
it was
approached.
In
fact,
already
in his
youth (long
before his
'conversion
to Hermeticism' which followed his
meeting
with
Giovanni 'Mercurio' da
Correggio
in
1484)',
he wrote the short
7
C. Crisciani and M. Pereira,
"L'alchimia nella transizione fra Medioevo e
Rinascimento,"
in Storia della scienza Treccani
(Rome,
forthcoming),
IV,
part
C,
chp.13.1.
8
For these themes see Petrus
Bonus,
Pretiosa
Margarita
Novella
(ed. J.J.
Manget,
Bibliotheca Chemica
Curiosa, (Geneva, 1702), 2:1-80), 29-31,
50-54.
9
Lazzarelli describes the Hermetic
appearance
of Giovanni Mercurio and his
own reactions to it in the
Epistola
Enoch
(ed. Brini, "Testi", 34-50);
cf. also
Kristeller,
"Ancora
per",
256,
for the incunabulum and another
manuscript
of the
text; cf. Rudeman,
"Giovanni Mercurio."
148 CHIARA CRISCIANI
poem
Bombix,1o
where he set forth and
'concealed',
within the
story
of the
metamorphosis
of the
silkworm,
palingenetic
ideas on
regeneration
from flesh to
spiritual perfection. Amongst
other
things,
in his main work Crater
Hermetis,"
he describes the creation-
transformation of 'new men' in a context that stresses the conver-
gence,
if not
equivalence,
of Hermeticism and the Christian reli-
gion.
The close connection that Bonus had established between
alchemical and Christian truths and his
interpretation
that con-
crete alchemical
changes
embodied
religious
truths
certainly ap-
peared
to him of
great
interest within the framework of his
syncretistic approach.12
As for the texts collected in the
Vademecum,
few
explanations
are
needed in order to show the reasons for this Lullian
choice,
which
was not
only
Lazzarelli's
but,
first and
foremost,
John Rigaud's
(as
is clear from the text attributed to
him).
The texts of
pseudo-Lullis
convey
an extension of alchemical
theory,
which is
presented
as a
real
philosophy
of nature drawn
up by
alchemist
philosophers,
defined as
filii
Hermetis.
They
also broaden the
scope
of the im-
provements brought
about
by
the
lapis-elixir,
which acts not
only
on
minerals,
but also on
vegetable
life and on the
body
of
man,
for whom it
promotes long
life and
well-being.
Pseudo-Lull thus
proposes
a
general project
for the transformation and restoration
of both man and the cosmos which
ranges
from transmutation to
a universal
therapy.
The models and aims of
perfection
to which
the
Testamentum
refers
are,
on one
hand,
the
image
of the
perfect
body
of man as
represented by
Adam
and,
on the other
hand,
the
image
of the earth taken
back,
through
a
positive apocalypse,
to
the
pure
and immobile
perfection
of the
crystal. 14
In the
pseudo-
Lullian
corpus
there is also some account of
special
divine
revelations and of
initiatory
bonds
linking
master and
disciple.'5
10
Ludovici Lazzarelli
Septempedanis...Bombix...Joanne
Francisco Lancillottio a
Staphilo
auctore...
(Aesi, 1765), cf.
Brini
"Testi"; Garin,
"Ermetismo."
"
For the
complex
situation linked with the
printing
of this
text,
its editions
and
interpretations,
see the studies
quoted
above,
note 1.
12 A
significant
trace of Lazzarelli's
particular
interest in Bonus can be found
in De ratione
conficiendi lapidis philosophici by
Lorenzo Ventura
(Basle, 1571),
who
often
quotes
Bonus,
sometimes in connection with Lazzarelli.
1' See M. Pereira and B.
Spaggiari,
eds.,
11 'Testamentum'
alchemico
attribuito a
Raimondo Lullo
(Florence, 1999);
M.
Pereira, L'oro
deifilosofi. Saggio
sulle
idee di un
alchimista
del Trecento
(Spoleto, 1992)
and Pereira's
many
other studies on
pseudo-
Lullian
alchemy.
14 Testamentum, 254,
170.
15
Cf.,
e.g., ps.-Lullus,
Codicillus
(ed. Manget, 1),
908B. The first treatise in the
THE CASE OF LUDOVICO LAZZARELLI 149
These themes are
definitely
not in contrast with Lazzarelli's
characteristic Hermetic
philosophic approach.
2. The
style
of the Vademecum collection deserves a more in-
depth analysis,
as also do the features of the first
anonymous
trea-
tise
(Tractatus
de
Alchimia,
not attributed to
Lull,
and attributed in
the Tabula to
Lazzarelli).
The collection consists
purely
of
practi-
cal texts. These are
not, however,
simply recipes
or
instructions,
but
are,
from an
epistemological point
of
view, Practicae,
in other
words,
practical
directions
incorporating
theories.
Although
I have
no definite
proof,
I am inclined to believe that these
texts,
in
par-
ticular the
Tractatus,
the best
organized
of the
collection,
are con-
nected with the
teachings
of
John Rigaud.
In
any
case,
the Tractatus shows a
highly professional
alchemist,
who
carefully
and
thoroughly presents
technical
expedients
and
ingenious
contrivances
(clearly
the
product
of his effective and
innovative
laboratory
work,
as for instance tests for
measuring
fire,
devices for
sealing recipients, etc.)'6
and who also
pays
careful at-
tention to the social
repercussions
of his work.
So,
for
example,
the author
provides
careful instructions
regarding
the social crite-
ria
according
to which the elixir should be distributed and admin-
istered.'7
Moreover,
the author also
interprets
the
religious-
soteriological
nature of the
opus
in
very
concrete terms: the alche-
mist should donate a
part
of the
profit
from his work
(deriving
from transmutation or
therapy)
to the
poor, through
the institu-
tional channels of the seven works of
charity
of the Christian
pas-
toral.18
Finally,
the text ends with the
hope
that it
might
be
possi-
ble to convert the enemies of the Catholic faith with the aid of the
universal alchemical
remedy.'"
Vademecum refers
briefly
to these themes when the author declares
that,
for love
of his
disciple,
"hoc arcanum Dei
pono
in manum animae tuae.."
(f.3v).
16
See
especially ibid.,
ff. 4r-5r.
17 Indeed, it should be
applied
in a different
way
to the rich and the
poor:
ibid.,
ff. 5v-6r.
18 Ibid. ff. 5r-6r.
19
Ibid., f.
8r: "Imo erit
patriarca
mundi inmortalis convertens omnes suos
inimicos ad suam fidem catolicam." The
subject
of
pagan
enemies,
sometimes the
Turks, is a common theme in alchemical texts of the time:
see,
e.g.,
Cristoforo da
Parigi,
Elucidarius
(ed.
in L.
Zetzner,
Theatrum
Chemicum,
(Strasbourg, 1661),
6:199: with the alchemical results "Turcam ex Asia minore
fugare poteris";
Antonio
dell'Abbazia,
Revelazione
(Chantilly,
Mus6e
Conde,
ms 419
(919),
ff. 45r-
47),
f.46r:
"[...]
potresti
far
longhissima guera agli
infideli,
e
agiustar
il loco dove
il
Signor
nostro
pati
morte
per recuperare queli
che
perduti
erano";
f.46v: "con
questo potresti
fare
longhisima guerra agli
infideli e
aquistar
il loco nel
qual
fo
150 CHIARA CRISCIANI
The text
proposes,
as do various other
fifteenth-century
works,
a definite shift to the
therapeutic-medical goals
of
alchemy,
with-
out however
eliminating
the aim of transmutation. Here there are
two remarkable
aspects.
First and
foremost,
the medical elixir is
interpreted
as an additive which has a
special,
attractive
way
of
acting, partially
similar to that of theriac. These issues were
widely
debated over the same
period
of time also in other texts both al-
chemical and medical
dealing
with
potable gold,
the fifth
essence,
and the universal
remedy.20
In the second
place,
the author
pro-
poses
a reflection
(that
is rather
interesting
from the
epistemologi-
cal
point
of
view)
on the
possibilities
of
verifying
the transmuta-
tion of metals and the alchemical
therapy,
and concludes that the
latter is easier to
judge.
Indeed,
the
biological-medical paradigm
proves
to be
clearly
dominant,
from a theoretical
point
of
view,
also with
respect
to
transmutation.21
Finally,
the author of the
Tractatus also stresses the
contiguous
nature of
religion
and the
opus.
He finds it both in the aforementioned charitable acts which
are
required
from the alchemist
(the
alchemical
remedy,
a free
and divine
gift,
should translate into free
gifts
to the
poor),
and
also in his references to the
Scriptures.
Thus the brief
praise
of the
preparation
and
incorruptible
nature of the
lapis
is
expressed
in
terms of the
phases
of the Passion and Resurrection of
Christ,
as
dato
opera
de Iddio alla nostra salute."
(I
have transcribed
part
of the texts of
Antonio in C.
Crisciani,
"Fatiche e
promesse
alchemiche,"
in S.
Borutti, ed.,
Me-
moria
e scrittura
dellafilosofia, forthcoming).
This theme is
particularly emphasized
in the
alchemical
text attributed to Giovanni Mercurio da
Correggio,
De
Quercu
Julii Pontificis
sive de
lapide philosophico (London,
British
Museum,
ms
Harley
4081,
ff.
lr-40r), e.g.
f.2v:
"Ad turcorum
mahomethanorumque
ac
paganorum
omnium
exercitus
atque potentias
sine armatura et
absque
ulla multorum militia ilico
constringendum, fugandum exterminandumque,"
and f.31r: "Et vinces tu
quoque
paganorum atque
turcorum omnium turbas: non in virtute
corporis
nec in
armatura
potentiae." Already
Guilelmus Sedacer in his Summa
(ed.
P.
Barth61emy,
in
progress) complains
that
alchemy
is in the hands of the infidels: this knowl-
edge
must be
retrieved,
so
that,
with
it,
Christians
(prologue
to the second
book):
"[...]
illam terram sanctam
que longissimis temporibus
ab infidelibus et
nephandis
nacionibus fuit atrociter conculcata et hodiernis
temporibus
heretice
pretractur,
valeant hostiliter et viriliter
acquirere
et
possidere" (I
thank P.
Barth61emy
for this
reference).
20 Cf. C. Crisciani and M.
Pereira,
"Black Death and Golden Remedies: Some
Remarks on
Alchemy
and the
Plague",
in A. Paravicini
Bagliani
and F.
Santi, eds.,
The
Regulation ofEvil.
Social and Cultural Attitudes to
Epidemics
in the Late Middle
Ages
(Turnhout, 1998), 7-39; C.Crisciani,
"Oro
potabile
tra alchimia e medicina: due
testi in
tempo
di
peste",
in Rendiconti Accademia Nazionale delle Scienze detta dei
XL,
XXI,II,2 (1997),
83-93.
21
Tractatus,
ff.
5v, 6rv.
THE CASE OF LUDOVICO LAZZARELLI 151
John
Dastin had
already
done in his
Visio,
'Arnold' in the
Exempla,
and,
in
particular,
Bonus
himself.22
In the text at
hand,
the refer-
ence to the
topic
of
lapis/Christ
is
very
brief and hence not com-
parable
with the extensive treatment of it in the other texts I have
mentioned.
However,
the few remarks we find are sufficient to es-
tablish a definite connection between
lapis/Christ
and the defeat
of the enemies of the faith and
thereby
to imbue these
practical
instructions with an
eschatological tinge.
The Tractatus can thus in-
clude
expectations
of
reformatio
and
religious
unification,
topics
which Lazzarelli also
develops
in his
Crater,
although
he
obviously
bases them
philosophically
on a
thorough knowledge
and an
elaborate use of the
Corpus
Hermeticum and of the Cabala while
inserting
them into the irenic
hopes
for
peace
and concord
typi-
cal of certain
groups
of Italian
humanists.23
The Vademecum collection is thus
homogeneous
and
well-organ-
ized. It includes some technical texts and others that are more
theoretical. The Tractatus is
anything
but trivial.
Considering
the
work as a
whole,
we have here a
very interesting
collection,
which
is at the same time
quite
traditional. It contains certain
aspects
and
topics
that
are,
generally speaking,
in
harmony
with Lazzarelli's
philosophical perspectives,
but is does not
appear
to be even
slightly
influenced
by
the
radically
new ideas Lazzarelli sets out in
his
prologue,
which
provides
a framework and introduction to
these texts.
3. The
prologue opens
with three
quotations
from the Tabula
smaragdina,
the Secretum
secretorum,
and
Picatrix.24
At the
beginning
of the
text,
the name of
Hermes,
the father of
Theologians, Magi-
cians and Alchemists is
solemnly evoked.25
He had revealed 'uno
22
Ibid., f.8r.;
see
Bonus, Pretiosa,
29-30;Johannis
Daustenii Visio,
ed. in
Manget,
2:
324B-326;
ps.
Arnaud de
Villeneuve,
Tractatus
parabolicus,
ed. A. Calvet
(Texte
et
traduction),
in
Chrysopoeia,
V
(1992-96),
145-171.
23
Cf.
especially
Garin,
Ermetismo;
Bacchelli,
Giovanni Pico.
24
Lazzarelli considers Picatrix the author of the Clavis
sapientiae,
which is usu-
ally
attributed to Artefius. It is
impossible
to deal in this
essay
with the
complex
problem
of these
attributions;
suffice it to remember that Lazzarelli
may
have
known both texts
(Picatrix
and
Clavis);
both texts
speak
of the three coniunctiones
that Lazzarelli
uses;
both have been considered
magical
texts;
whichever of the
two texts he
uses,
Lazzarelli follows it
only loosely,
for he does not
quote
either
of them
faithfully
but elaborates to a
high degree. Probably (even
if this
question
deserves a more
in-depth treatment)
Lazzarelli is here found to
carry
out one of
his habitual textual interlacements.
25
See
Brini, "Testi", 75-76;
cf. Thomas Norton: "Rex Hermes
quoque
idem
fecit,/ Qui
fuit vir eruditione
celeberrimus:/
In
quadripartitis
suis
Astrologiae/
152 CHIARA CRISCIANI
verborum contextu' the secrets of
theology, magic,
and
alchemy
to his children in the first
aphorism
of the
Tabula,26
where he
pro-
nounces the
unitary,
circular structure of
reality.
In the
Secretum,
Lazzarelli
adds,
'Aristotle'
repeats
this
pronouncement
as if it were
the
product
of the
prophecy
of
'pater
noster
Hermogenes.'
How-
ever,
he
continues,
these secreta
(expressed
in a
single
sentence
which is fundamental for
alchemists,
magicians,
and
theologians)
are those
tria
arcana that
Picatrix
defines 'coniunctio
corporis
in
corpore,'
'coniunctio
spiritus
in
corpore,'
and 'coniunctio
spiritus
in
spirito.'27
Note that the one-three structure is much stressed and
surely
intentional: one Pater
legitimates
three
functions;
one
contextus of words
provides
a foundation for three
sciences;
three
texts are embraced in a
single
tradition and
by
a
single
basic sen-
tence;
a
single
circular
process
of
coniunctio
(expressed
in the
Tabula)
arranges
itself in three more
specified
forms of coniunc-
tiones between
high
and low. And
indeed,
following
once more the
one-three
rhythm (but
no
longer
the schema
proposed by
Picatrix
or in the Clavis
sapientiae),
Lazzarelli
specifies
that these three
coniunctiones,
which
correspond
to the tria arcana and the three
sciences,
are
actually
three
modes,
three declinations of one sin-
gle
field,
namely magic.28
These three modes are
magia
naturalis,
practiced by
alchemists in
making
the 'coniunctio carnis celestis
sive
quintae
essentiae cum
corpore
terrae
virgineae
et
purificatae'
(the
result of which is the
lapis
29);
magia
coelestis,
the coniunctio of
the
spirit
of the
planets
with suitable
corporeal images
that
pro-
duces
mirabilias3;
and
finally, magia
sacerdotalis et
divina,
which oc-
curs when the
spirit
of God unites with the
spirit
of man. All of
Scripture speaks parabolice
of this last kind of
magic,
and Christ in
the
Gospels
is the
principal
master of it.
Artis medicae
et
huius
Alchymiae,/Nec
non
magiae
naturalis,/Veluti
quattuor
scientiis
in natura existentibus
[...]" (Crede
mihi seu
Ordinale,
ed.
Manget,
2:
290).
26 Cf.
Brini, "Testi",
75:
"Quod
est
superius
est sicut
quod
est inferius
et
quod
est inferius est sicut
quod
est
superius
ad
perpetranda
miracula rei unius."
27 See D.
Pingree, ed.,
Picatrix. The Latin version
of
the
Ghayat
Al-Hakim (Lon-
don, 1986), 5,
and
Artefii
Liber
qui
Clavis
Maioris
Sapientiae
dicitur
(ed. Manget, 1),
503A.
I
Brini, "Testi",
75-76.
29 Note that one text of the
ps.-Lullian Corpus (the Compendium artis alchimiae)
appears
also under the alternative title Ars
magica
naturalis;
cf.
Pereira,
The Al-
chemical
Corpus,
69.
30 Lazzarelli does not intend to deal with this because it is abhorred
by
the
holy
Fathers
(Brini, "Testi", 76).
THE CASE OF LUDOVICO LAZZARELLI 153
Though
this
prologue really requires
an extensive
comment,
I
must confine
myself
here to a few considerations. First and fore-
most,
I would like to
point
out that Lazzarelli chooses not to refer
specifically
to the
Corpus
Hermeticum
(which
was
very
well known
to
him),
but instead to Hermes and to a wider and more
compos-
ite Hermetic
tradition,
which also includes
Alexander,
an 'Aristo-
tle',
Picatrix and
perhaps
the Clavis
sapientie.
In the second
place,
I would like to stress the
importance given
to the Tabula. In
Lazzarelli's
eyes,
this text has
undoubtedly
a technical and
practi-
cal
content,
but at the same time also a
highly philosophical
rel-
evance. It is a fundamental text with a manifold
meaning."3 Finally,
he stresses the
affinity
and mutual
permeability,
as it
were,
that
link the Christian
religion
with Hermeticism
(the
pivotal subject
of the
Crater),
in this case
by connecting
Hermes' Tabula
(the
root)
via a series of
steps
with the
Gospels
(texts
whose most di-
vine
magic
had
already
been
expressed).
This
prologue
therefore
offers
possible insights
into the
relationship
between the two
types
of
acquisition
of
perfection, namely religious
and
alchemical,
which could be seen as
interchangeable
due to the
'single
sen-
tence'
by
which
they
are revealed and established.32
Before
examining
this
possible opening,
let us consider what is
said here
regarding alchemy
as such. The
description
of the alche-
mists'
magic (connecting heavenly
flesh or the fifth essence with
the
body
of
virginal
earth)
is
very general
and
certainly
does not
describe
specific operations.
It is
general,
but in
agreement
with
the indications contained in the Tabula
regarding
the
relationship
of mutual inclusion and circulation between
high
and
low,
heaven
and earth.
Moreover,
although
it is
general,
it
expresses
a line of
31
The
polysemic radicality
of the Tabula is also
emphasized
in the De
lapide
philosophico
et de auro
potabili
ad summum
pontificem by Guglielmo
Fabri de Die
(mid-fifteenth century; Bologna,
Biblioteca
Universitaria,
ms lat. 104
(138),
ff.
245r-253v), especially
in the last
section: cf.
C.
Crisciani,
"From the
Laboratory
to
the
Library: Alchemy according
to
Guglielmo
Fabri",
in A. Grafton and N.
Siraisi,
eds.,
Natural Particulars: Nature and the
Disciplines
in Renaissance
Europe (Cam-
bridge,
Mass.,
forthcoming).
Note that references to the Tabula also
appear
in
the
Epistola
Enoch,
Lazzarelli's
description
of the Hermetic
appearance
of
Giovanni Mercurio da
Correggio (Brini, "Testi", 38,44). Here, Lazzarelli describes
other
experiences
of
transformation,
and in
particular,
his own
regeneration.
"
Bonus had
already closely
linked alchemical doctrines and
operations
with
Christian
truths,
through
textual
comparison, suggesting
that the
respective
writ-
ings
are
reciprocally metaphorical (Pretiosa, 29-30):
see B.
Obrist,
"Les
rapports
d'analogie
entre
philosophie
et alchimie
medievales",
in
J-C. Margolin
and S.
Matton, eds.,
Alchimie et
philosophie
a' la Renaissance
(Paris, 1993), esp.
56-58.
154 CHIARA CRISCIANI
doctrine that
undoubtedly
has Baconian and Lullian overtones. In
this
connection,
we
may
refer back to the
'heavenly corporeal
sub-
stance' and
'non-heavenly corporeal
substance' of
Roger
Bacon;
to
the
simple virginal
element at the center of the elementarized
earth of the
Testamentum;
and to the
correspondence
between the
first matter and the fifth essence which is
suggested
in various
ways
by
both authors.33
However,
leaving
aside these connections with alchemical
texts,
I
propose
to
compare
this
passage
on
alchemy
in the Vademecum
with the most
enigmatic
and controversial
passage
in the
Crater,
which concerns the creation of 'new men.'34 This creation is a
divinum
opus,
and
King
Ferdinand asks
Lazzarelli,
though
without
obtaining
a
reply, "quo
ordine
quave operatione
tantum
opus
perficitur."
These words have overtones that are
operative
and also
specifically
alchemical.
Moreover,
as far as the
process
of creation
is
concerned,
Lazzarelli uses Eleazar of Worms'
commentary
on
the
Sefer
Yezir&a,
where this
subject
is treated as a
recipe
for
making
a
Golem,
instructions that are
interpreted allegorically by
Lazzarelli. In
any
case,
the new man must be created out of 'terra
rubra et
virginea,' suitably
laid out and vivified. In this
respect,
I
agree
with Garin and
Bacchelli35
in
seeing
this not as an
allegory
of the
relationship
between master and
disciple,
but as a
magic
and cabalistic
operation,
which does not
give
rise to a
metaphori-
cal kind of
generation
of
entities,
but to a
real,
concrete
genera-
tion,
even if it is not
corporeal.
These concrete entities are
"Angeli
vite
soci",
doubles
projected by
one's own
soul,
personifications
of
the
'complete
Nature'
(a
significant concept
in
Picatrix),
and fac-
ulties that have turned into
persons. They help
man,
teach him
how to
keep
the
soul-body compound
sound and
healthy,
and
send him
prophetic
dreams and
sapiential teachings.
This crea-
tion,
which is
admittedly practical,
has concrete
results,
and is
S
For these themes see
Pereira, L'oro,
esp.
62-65, 184-85, 191;
see also her
paper
in the
present
volume.
Obviously
this
generic
indication could also be re-
ferred to more
precise
directions contained in the texts of the Vademecum
(see
here,
note
36).
3
Cf. Ludovici Lazarelli
Septempedani poetae
christiani ad divum Ferdinandum Ar.
Siciliae
regem
de summa hominis
dignitate dialogus qui
inscribitur via Christi et Crater
Hermetis,
ed. in
Moreschini, Dall'
'Asclepio,
29.1, 259-261;
for the
interpretations
of this 'creation'
cf. Walker,
Spiritual,
68-72; Garin, Ermetismo, 59-62; Bacchelli,
Giovanni
Pico, 75-82.
'5
Bacchelli, 70-75;
83-84
highlights
similar
topics proposed by
Giovanni
Alamanno and Pierleone da
Spoleto during
the same
years.
THE CASE OF LUDOVICO LAZZARELLI 155
based on
passages
from the
Corpus
Hermeticum,
cabalistic texts and
Picatrix,
is
definitely
not an
alchemical
opus.
However,
I would like
to
point
out the
contiguity,
at least as far as the terms and
espe-
cially
the
images
are
concerned,
between the 'terra rubra
virginea'
of the Crater and the
'corpus
terrae
virgineae
et
purificatae'
men-
tioned in the
prologue
to the Vademecum. There exists also a con-
sonance of both these
passages
with the
chapter
on vivification of
the
lapis
in De
investigatione lapidis by pseudo-Lull
(which
is in-
cluded in the
collection36),
where alchemists are
taught
to
prepare
a
purified,
white earth in which the
operator
should 'animam
seminare'
by
means of a
'germen spirituale.'
To sum
up: Although
we cannot
go
further than this on the
basis of such faint consonances and
generic
assonances,
we
may
at
least make the
following
assertions:
A)
In the
Vademecum,
divine
magic
and natural
magic/alchemy
are
definitely
connected be-
cause both are rooted in the first
aphorism
of the Tabula.
B)
In
the
Crater,
especially
if
compared
with the whole
Vademecum,37
we
can at least
recognize
in the creation of 'new men' terms and im-
ages present
in alchemical texts known to Lazzarelli.
C)
Lazzarelli's alchemical interests and
readings
are thus not the re-
sult of occasional
curiosity,
but act as
ingredients,
albeit less im-
portant
than his cabalistic
interests,
but nonetheless
specific,
which
are
operative
in the construction of his
highly syncretistic reper-
toire of
texts,
terms
and,
above
all,
images.
It is a
repertoire
that
he uses
(in
an often
tightly
interwoven
way)
to elaborate both his
conception
of Hermetic
magic
in the
Vademecum,
and also his
magic-Hermetic philosophy
and
theology
in the Crater.
4. The
problem
of the
relationship
between the
prologue
and
the texts of the Vademecum
and,
more
generally,
of the
possible
convergence
between alchemical
magic,
sacerdotal and divine
magic
and also between
religious perfection
and
alchemical
per-
fection,
which
(as
has been
said)
the
prologue appears
to consider
interchangeable, remains open."3 Why
do
the new ideas in the pro-
logue
not influence the texts in the
collection,
either in
style
or in
content?
Why
does Lazzarelli not
fully develop
the
complemen-
36
Vademecum,
ff.
12rv.
3'
This
reading
is at least
possible,
because the dates of the two works are
close,
as
they
were both written between 1492 and 1495
(the precise
date is un-
certain).
38 Cf.
above,
pp.
152-153.
156 CHIARA CRISCIANI
tarity
and
circularity
of
high
and low
pronounced
in the
aphorism
of the Tabula?
Why
does he not therefore affirm that the
highest
theological magic
(in
the Vademecum and in the
Crater)
is
'alchemy'
(in
other
words,
a concrete transformation of the
soul-mind),
and
that
alchemy
is the
'theology'
of bodies
(and
in this
case,
really
'what is above is like what is below' and vice
versa)? Yet,
in addition
to what Lazzarelli sets out in the
prologue,
the alchemical texts
that he
knew,
notably
'Lull' and
Bonus,
could also allow this inter-
pretation,
even
though
with some effort. As I see
it,
there are two
reasons
why
this is not the result: one is internal to Lazzarelli's
philosophical approach;
the other is connected with cultural trans-
formations
occurring
around the middle of the
Quattrocento
and
involving alchemy
no less than the overall reassessment of disci-
plines
and the status of the
practices
of transformation.
The first
point regards
a tension not
fully
resolved in the
pro-
logue
between a hierarchical and a circular
conception.39
It is true
that,
in the
prologue,
the
concepts
of
circularity
and
interpenetra-
tion of 'heaven' and 'earth' are often
repeated;
it is also true that
each of the three
types
of
magic proposes
it in its own
way,
and
each of them carries out the same
process
of unification of
high
and low and the creative and wonderful transformations
deriving
from it. The three
types
of
'magic'
are thus
structurally homoge-
neous and
corresponding.
However,
it is also true that the three
types
of
magic belong
to a
hierarchy
of levels
starting
out from
alchemy
and
ending
in divine and
sacerdotalis
magic,
a
hierarchy
in which the
interpenetration
of
high
and low is
increasingly
more
refined.
But it is
precisely
this tension between
circularity
and
hierarchy
that can
help
us to understand the
relationship
between the
pro-
logue
and the
subsequent
texts.
Indeed,
if one
places alchemy
on
a
specific rung
of the ladder in the
unitary sphere
of
magic
as a
whole,
as Lazzarelli
does,
it is not
necessary
to use the alchemical
project
and its
operations
to
convey
claims and
programs
that can
be better
developed
at other levels of
magic. Consistently,
texts
and doctrines elaborated
by
a
long
tradition are collected in the
Vademecum without
any
modification of their content or
style.
In-
deed,
it was sufficient to
provide,
in the framework of the
pro-
19
This tension can also be noted in the initial
dedicatory verse,
where Lazza-
relli declares
(Brini, "Testi", 75)
that "Res una alterius
gradus
est,"
and that
"Omniaque
esse unum."
THE CASE OF LUDOVICO LAZZARELLI 157
logue,
the foundations and the overall
meaning
of what the col-
lected texts contained. This
prologue
in fact aimed at
dignifying
natural
magic/alchemy by setting
it within the
unifying
framework
of
general magic.
It seems to me that the same
special relationship
between frame-
work and content can also
clarify
the more
general
link between
Hermeticism and
alchemy
in the
Quattrocento.40
We
may
once
more start from the
vantage point
offered
by
the case of Lazzarelli.
His Hermetic
approach
to alchemical texts
(which
surely
Lazzarelli
had chosen because
they
were consonant with his Hermetic inter-
ests for
religiously qualified operative
transformations)
does not
involve a
development
of the hints offered
by
those
texts,
or a
treatment of them in a more
explicitly
Hermetic
religious
sense.
For
example,
Lazzarelli does not turn
practical
instructions into
spiritual processes,
nor does he accentuate the
allegorical
and
initiatory language
of some alchemical works he knew.
Therefore,
Lazzarelli's Hermetic
approach
does not
imply
a
reformulation of
alchemical
terminology,
theories or
operations.
Rather,
his intention seems to subsume
completely
traditional
doctrines in the framework of a
high
Hermetic and
philosophical
evaluation of
alchemy
as a whole. In this
way,
he carries out a
dignification
of these doctrines from
without,
leaving
their content
unchanged.
In other
words,
this means that what in the
Quattrocento
was a
philosophically
consistent,
fully
restored and
culturally
enhanced
Corpus
(the
Corpus Hermeticum)
did not seem
to be "embodied" in a
necessary
or favored
way
in the alchemical
perspectives
of the "filii
Hermetis",
who
instead,
since the twelfth
century,
had
actually
embodied the instances of transformation
which the Hermetic
philosophy
had entailed since its
origin.41
Clearly,
the Hermetic framework of the
Corpus
Hermeticum was
philosophically
more
important
than the
particular, specific
disci-
plines
it dealt with.
A similar
interpretation
can also be
applied
to the
relationship
between
magic
and
alchemy,
which are now connected in rela-
tively
new
ways.
This is
particularly
noticeable in Lazzarelli's
pro-
logue,
but is also
present
in other coeval
texts.42
In
my opinion,
a
40
See,
in
general,
S.
Matton, "L'influence de
l'humanisme
sur la tradition
alchimique,"
in
Micrologus
3
(1995), 279-345,
and the
essays
collected in
Alchimie
et
philosophie
a
la
Renaissance.
4a
See Crisciani and
Pereira,
"Alchimia nella
transizione",
sections 5-6.
42 Cf., e.g., Guglielmo Fabri,
De auro
potabile
et de
lapide philosophorum;
Giovanni
158 CHIARA CRISCIANI
radical
rearrangement
of the sciences and
practices
of transforma-
tion is
taking place
here,
a
rearrangement
which involves
texts,
philosophical
commitments,
programs
for
renovatio,
definitions of
science and
knowledge, styles
of
thinking.
This
rearrangement
entails not the dilation of the alchemical
project,
but instead its
narrowing
and its inclusion as a
part-in
fact not even its most
important part-of
the overall
project
of
magic,
which now
ap-
pears
as a
philosophically
structured and
all-pervasive perspective.
Obviously,
this
rearrangement
does not exclude
alchemy,
but
attributes to it a different
(and
perhaps
less
important)
role than
the one it had
played
in medieval culture from the twelfth to the
fourteenth centuries.
Indeed,
during
that
period,
the alchemists'
texts,
theories and laboratories had
perhaps
been the most
appro-
priate places
for
proposing
transformations and vivifications of
matter. In the
Quattrocento (and
after
Ficino),
not the alchemi-
cal
laboratory,
but the whole cosmos was to be considered the
place
of
transformation,
animated
by
a
vivifying spirit
and
per-
vaded
by
influences that could be
governed according
to the rules
of the "Natura
maga"
43 and
by
the
spiritual power
of the
sage.
The
sage
could choose various
paths
and different
operations
(the
ef-
ficacy
of
music,
the force of
images
and
talismans,
the
power
of
words)
both to
perfect
himself and to achieve wonderful transfor-
mations in nature. It is no coincidence that Ficino and Pico-to
give
two
examples
whose connection with Lazzarelli is docu-
mented-paid
little, occasional,
or no attention to
alchemy
as
such.
They obviously
had no need to link their theories of trans-
formation to alchemical
practices.
But
precisely
because Lazzarelli
was
highly
interested in
alchemy,
he
inaugurated
and rendered
explicit
this kind of inclusion of
alchemy
in the vast theoretical
and
practical
fields of the new
magic.
At the same
time,
he con-
fined
alchemy
to a lower level of
magic, namely
to the one that
actually
involved a reduction of the
philosophical
and
operative
vitality
and richness of the alchemical trends of the late Middle
Ages.
Mercurio da
Correggio,
De
QuercuJulii Pontificis
sive de
lapide philosophico;
Antonio
dell'Abazia,
Revelatione.... The connection between
magic
and
alchemy
in the
Middle
Ages
is
quite
rare and is
mainly expressed
in criticism
expressed by
non-
alchemists: in
any
case,
it takes
quite
different forms
(see
the
positions
of Albert
the Great and
Roger
Bacon).
11
See A. Tarabochia
Canavero,
"Tra ermetismo e
neoplatonismo: l'immagine
della 'Natura
maga'
in Marsilio
Ficino",
in
Neoplatonisme
et
philosophie
mediivale:
Actes
Colloque
Int.
SIEPM
(Turnhout, 1997),
273-290.
THE CASE OF LUDOVICO LAZZARELLI 159
The definite decline in theoretical commitments and the start
of a
syncretistic popularization
which one
may
observe in the al-
chemical texts of the
Quattrocento,
are
perhaps
also due to these
profound changes
in the
philosophical
culture of that
century.
With the
progression
of
time,
we
may
observe the conversion of
alchemy
into a
relatively
static esoteric tradition which was acti-
vated
metaphorically
for
religious
and erudite
aims,
and also the
fragmentation
of its remains and their redistribution into diffe-
rent
fields,
notably
into a new
metallurgy,
a new
pharmacology,
and into the 'science of
secrets,'
the new reservoir of
operative
knowledge,
of
recipes, promises,
and arcana."
SUMMARY
This
paper
examines the
alchemical
interests of Ludovico Lazzarelli
(1450-1500)
and of some alchemical texts connected with his
name,
analyzing
them within the context of Lazzarelli's Hermetic
philosophical
position. Beginning
with an
analysis
of the
specific relationship
between
alchemy
and Hermeticism
expressed by
Lazzarelli,
this
paper proposes
for
discussion some
general hypotheses
on the link between
alchemy
and
Hermeticism and between
alchemy
and
magic
in the
Quattrocento.
44
Cf.
W.
Eamon,
Science and the Secrets
of
Nature
(Princeton, 1994)
and his
pa-
per
in the
present
volume.