Splendor Solis: The World’s Most Famous Alchemical Manuscript (book review)

Splendor Solis: The World’s Most Famous Alchemical Manuscript Stephen Skinner , Rafał T. Prinke, Georgiana Hedesan and Joscelyn Godwin

Previously when I  I thought of alchemy it conjured up visions of gothic jewellery, you know the sort, pewter, swirly dragon’s tails and skulls. I remember loving Alchemy England rings so much at one point during my teen years (will not be inserting pictorial evidence here!). So before picking up this book I only had a vague idea of what alchemy was about (and that it might have something to do with dragons). Therefore I was excited to get to grips with ‘The World’s Most Famous Alchemical Manuscript’.

So first of all I have given the book ðŸŒðŸŒðŸŒðŸŒðŸŒ 5/5 globes. I couldn’t not. It is an excellent resource and I think anyone would enjoy exploring the images from Splendor, however there is a disclaimer, the info surrounding these it is for a specific audience and not something I’d necessarily recommend for everyone. 

Splendor Solis is known as the most beautiful alchemist treatise ever made. Apparently the last (now out of print) edition carries a price tag of £3000! . This latest, much more affordable version,  appears to have everything a budding Splendor Solis scholar could want in one place. The structure of the book is as follows:

  • An Introduction to Splendor Solis by Stephen Skinner
  • History and Authorship of Splendor Solis by Rafal T. Prinke
  • Inventing the Alchemical Adept: Splendor Solis and the Paracelsian Movement by Georgiana Heesan
  • Commentry on the text and plates of Splendor Solis by Stephen Skinner
  • Translation of The Harley Manuscript by Joscelyn Godwin
  • Glossary of Alchemical Philosophers and Works Referred to in Splendor Solis by Georgiana Hedesen.

From an visual perspective there are so many wonderful reference pictures, each plate has beautifully detailed imagery of nature and critters and a clear explanation. 


A particular favourite of mine (above) features an understandably red looking alchemist being boiled:

‘A naked bearded man (similar to the man in the previous plate), with a white bird perched on his head, is being cooked in water heated by a fire that is tended by an assistant with bellows, in an ornate Renaissance courtyard. The process seems voluntary, and the bird on the man’s head suggests the boiling off of vapour or spirit. A liquid is being drawn off into a flask at the side of the boiler. In two niches are statues of Jupiter and Mercury. A bas relief of Pygmalion and the sculpture he fell in love with is seen at the foot of the column.‘  – Location 1452

I showed my (then almost) two year old one of the images (below) and it went down very well, lots of pointing and positive noises, I think it was 100% the critters.


As mentioned I would not recommend this as a bit of light reading (and I’m sure this was not the books intended purpose!) it is very detail heavy on the authorship and I think assumes some kind of pre existing knowledge regarding the history of alchemy or other alchemical works.  So perhaps one to graduate onto once you’ve had a bit of an introduction. However this is an incredibly enlightening book for anyone who is interested in the Splendor Solis manuscript and are in need of an excellent analysis of the text and history. I know from my own research with early modern texts that it can be challenging to track all of the different versions of texts and who wrote what, or who added what and when. This book has all of that information and more in one place a super resource for those researching in this area.


You can see more of the text here:

Footnote, I started this review last year and I am very, very naughtily only just posting it now. I’ve had a busy year! 😭



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