An early manuscript witness to the Rosarium philosophorum, compiled by the alchemist Michael Cochem

Arnaldus de Villanova (Pseudo-) et al. Compilation of alchemical texts, including the Rosarium philosophorum.

[Austria, possibly Schwaz], 1529 [and ca. 1600].

8vo (157 x 105 mm). Decorated Latin and German manuscript on paper by two hands. (115) ff. (collation: 18 [of 10, i and x cancelled blanks], 27 [of 8, lacking ii], 37 [of 8, lacking ii], 46 [of 8, lacking ii and vi], 58 [of 10, lacking iii and x], 66 [of 8, lacking ii and vi], 76 [of 8, lacking ii and vi], 86 [of 8, lacking ii and vi], 96 [of 8, lacking ii and vi], 106 [of 8, lacking ii and vi], 116 [of 8, lacking iii and viii], 127 [of 8, lacking vi], 137 [of 8, lacking iv], 147 [of 8, lacking ii], 150-178, 186 [of 8, vii and viii cancelled blanks], with modern foliation in pencil (ff. 1-87): the earlier 16th century section ff. 1-86 with 17-20 lines of text, large initials and rubrics in red, capitals touched in red; the later German section with 18-19 lines of text, one full-page illustration for the Rosarium philosophorum. Contemporary blind-stamped calf. Worn and cracked, especially on spine.


This fascinating alchemical miscellany, compiled by the Tyrolean alchemist and humanist Michael Cochem in 1529, includes the earliest dated manuscript witness to the famous Rosarium philosophorum, an alchemical florilegium that was falsely attributed to the mediaeval physician Arnaldus de Villanova (ca. 1240-1311).

The compendium comprises: Lapis philosophorum, or Lapis hic ph[ilosoph]orum vere, incipit: "Si felicitari desideras ut benediction[n]em ph[ilosoph]or[um] obtineas [...]" ff. 1-1v; Arnaldus de Villanova, Epi[isto]la Arnoldi de novavilla ad rege[m] Neapolitanu[m], incipit: "Scias o tu rex q[uod] sapie[n]tes posueru[n]t" ff. 2-7; blanks ff. 8-9; Pseudo-Arnaldus de Villanova, Rosarium philosophorum, here "Rosella Philosophorum", incipit: "Qui desidera[n]t artis phi[losophi]ce scie[ntie] maioris cognition[n]em" ff. 10-83v; blanks ff. 84-86.

The later German manuscript is an alchemical treatise with chapters on the preparation of the Philosophers' Stone from antimony (f. 87), on the calcination of lead (91v), the extraction of Cypriot sugar (f. 92), its purification (f. 93) and fixation (f. 96v), incineration (f. 104v), trituration (the reduction of substances to a powder) and projection (in which the stone or elixir is tossed upon the molten base metal, here lead or tin, to transmute it).

The text of the Rosarium in the present manuscript matches the famous florilegium traditionally attributed to Arnaldus de Villanova (cf. an unillustrated copy in the National Library of Israel, Ms. Ed. 13, dated to the first half of the 16th century). Describing the preparation of the Philosophers' Stone, the text would provide the foundation for the hugely influential 1550 Frankfurt publication of the Rosarium Philosophorum in "De Alchimia Opuscula complura veterum philosophorum". The canonical illustrations of the Rosarium that are best known in the form of 20 woodcuts from the 1550 edition appeared in various alchemical works throughout the 15th and 16th centuries. The only surviving illustration in the present manuscript on f. 13 is an exquisite example of the alchemical fountain, the first illustration of the Rosarium. Framed by the the six-pointed star, the Sun and Moon, and the two-headed dragon, the fountain pours forth the three substances that supposedly flow from the centre of the soul: "Lac Virginis" (the Virgin's milk), "Acetum fontis" (the spring of vinegar,) and "Aqua Vitae" (the water of life). The confluence of these liquids that symbolize the male and female, solar and lunar forces, in the fountain's basin creates the water of Mercury that is central to all further stages of the alchemical process described in the text.

Provenance: 1) Michael Cochem, 16th century humanist and alchemist, his autograph colophon on f. 83v: "Explicit libello Rosella ph[ilosoph]orum i[n]titulata. Et unum per me Michaele[m] Coche[m] collectus atque appositus. Et scripta anno salute hu[m]ane 1529 Lucie virginis. De quo sit b[e]n[e]dicta s[an]cta dei t[ri]nitas. Amen. Amen". Little is known about Cochem, but a small number of alchemical texts datable from 1522-33 written and owned by him can be found in St Gallen (Kantonsbibliothek Vadiana, MSS 403 and 430), and it is from one of those manuscripts that we know he was from Schwaz, Austrian Tyrol; 2) B. Magnus Fässle of the Benedictine Abbey of Monte Maria (Marienberg), near Malles, in Val Venosta, Italy, with his ownership inscription on f. 1: "Possessor B. Magnus Fässle Profess[us] Marie Montensis in Tyroli Ord. S. Benedicti, 1600".

For Cochem cf. U. Gantenbein, Das Kunstbuch des Michael Cochem [Ms. Vadiana 407] aus dem Jahr 1522. Seine Bedeutung für die medizinische Alchemie, in: Mitteilungen der Fachgruppe Geschichte der Chemie der Gesellschaft Deutscher Chemiker 15 (2000), pp. 32-61.