Masters of Fire: Italian Alchemists in the Court of Philip II



“Also present at Philip’s court, and presumably a member of
Fioravanti’s circle, was an Italian aristocrat named Lorenzo Granita, a
native of Salerno. Fioravanti claims that Granita, who he says was the
equal of Ramon Lull, Arnald of Villanova, and John of Rupescissa,
showed Fioravanti a method for making a philosopher’s stone that would
transform any metal into the finest twenty-two carat gold. Fioravanti
does not claim that Granita actually made gold in his presence; instead, he
reports, Granita showed him a manuscript containing a Spanish poem that
held the secret of the philosopher’s stone.

Fioravanti, according to his
own admission, stole the manuscript and reprinted the verses at the end of
Della fisica so that anyone might learn how to make gold.
The poem has been recently studied by Elena Castro and José
Rodriguez, who identify it as the product of an adept from Valencia called
Luis de Centelles and written between 1550 and 1560. Although
Fioravanti calls the work a “recipe” for making gold, it is in fact an
elaborate allegorical poem that uses the analogy of courtly love to
symbolize an alchemical process that results in the “perfection” of matter.
The theme of the poem is the devotion of the poet to a woman—“who
dwells in the heavens and is, without doubt, the daughter of the Sun”

(Toma la dama que mora en el çielo | ques hija del sol sin duda ningua)—
which symbolizes prime matter. Just as, through a series of displays of

devotion, the poet’s love ascends and is perfected, the poet-alchemist

submits matter to a series of alchemical manipulations and converts it into
something ideal and perfect. The symbolic “matrimony between man and
woman” (matrimonio de hombre y muxer) becomes a metaphor of the
alchemist operating on matter. Strongly influenced by the alchemical
writings attributed to Ramon Lull and Arnald of Villanova, the poem
describes a progression of operations that parallel those detailed in the
Testamentum of pseudo-Ramon Lull—solutio, ablutio, congelatio, fixatio,
and multiplicatio—leading to the elixir, a “medicine” of transmutation and
universal healing It is far from clear whether Fioravanti understood
these obscure allegorical verses, for he made no effort whatsoever to
explicate them. Nevertheless, he could not conceal his enthusiasm for
having discovered—or, as he admitted, stolen—the secret that all the
alchemists had been looking for.”

Full article (pdf)



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