12 Keys of Basil ValentineThis work was first published in Ein kurtz summarischer Tractat, von dem grossen Stein der Uralten..., Eisleben, 1599 without illustrations and again at Leipzig in 1602 with some woodcuts of the 12 'keys'. A Latin translation of the text, under the editorship of Michael Maier was published by Lucas Jennis, under the title Tripus aureus, Frankfurt, 1618. This edition had the well known series of engravings.
Back to descriptions of sequences . Back to symbolism page .
First Key. A King on the left and Queen on the right, stand in an open landscape. The king holds a sceptre in his right hand, the Queen holds a three blossomed flower in her right and a peacock feather fan in her left. In front of the King a wolf or dog jumps over a triangular crucible placed on a basin of fire. In front of the Queen, an old man with a scythe and crippled leg (a Saturn figure) steps across a fire on which a vessel is being heated.
Second Key. A winged Mercury stands holding a caduceus in each hand. To the left is a Sun and to the right a Moon, and at his feet a set of double wings. Approaching him from the left is a man with a sword around which a serpent or snake coils, while from the right is another man with a sword, upon the point of which a bird perches.
Third Key. A winged dragon with coiled tail and pointed tongue stands in landscape with high mountains in the background. On the left behind the dragon, a wolf or fox, runs off holding a bird (possibly a hen) in its mouth and is attacked by a cockerel riding on its back.
Fourth Key. A skeleton stands on what appears to be a draped coffin. On the left a candle is burning, while on the right is a decaying stump of a tree. In the background is a church.
Fifth Key. On the right a woman stands beside a rectangular plinth or furnace. In her right hand she holds a heart out of which grows a seven-blossomed rose flower. A flask resting on the plinth or furnace has a layer of liquid within it from which fumes are rising. The top of this flask seems to merge with the woman's head. Beside this woman stands an alchemist with bellows, and flames emerge from his mouth and the top of his head. In front of the plinth or furnace a blindfold cupid aims an arrow with his bow at the woman. On the left stands a lion with a crown above his head. He raises his left paw as if to attack the cupid, or the woman. Above the lionŐs head a large Sun shines out.
Sixth Key. A bishop with right hand raised in blessing, performing the wedding of a King on the left and Queen on the right, under a dark cloud from which heavy rain is falling. Above the cloud a rainbow forms its bow, at the left of which is the Sun and on the right the Moon. On the left in front of the King a cylindrical vessel is being heated on a fire. On top of this vessel is a double-faced head, the mouths of which hold collecting flasks. Flames burn on the top of the head. Behind this in the distance is a swan or goose. On the right in front of the Queen, an alchemist with a trident tends a furnace, pouring water from a flask into a water bath in which an alembic or retort is being heated. The fumes which are emitted condense and are collected in a flask below, which already has a layer of liquid in it.
Seventh Key. A woman holding scales in her right hand and a sword in her left, stands behind a large flask on the neck of which is "the Seal of Hermes". Inside the vessel is "Chaos" and within that a circle with the four seasons around a square marked "Salt of the Philosophers", inside of which a triangle is inscribed with "Water".
Eighth Key. In a circular walled enclosure, two men with crossbows sit and aim at a square target with a circular bulls-eye, and a key standing above it. Seven arrows have already hit the target. Between these two men is a grave out of which a man or resurrected corpse is emerging. On the left beside this corn is sprouting. In the foreground a corpse lies in a ploughed field on which man on the left is scattering grain, and is greeted by winged angel sounding a trumpet and holding a sceptre. Behind the man four birds are eating the grain.
Ninth Key. In a circle at the bottom are three hearts out of which three serpents or snakes emerge, their heads arching round as if to seize one anothers tail. On top of this circle are a man and woman their bodies bent so that together they point in the four directions with their head and feet. At the womans feet (South) is a Peacock, at her head (West) a Swan. At the man's feet (North) is a crow or black bird, and at his head (East) is a Eagle with wings outspread.
Tenth Key. Around a downward pointing radiant triangle are the words "I am born from Hermogenes. Hyperion elected me. Without Iamsoph I am destined to perish". Inside the vertices of the triangle are the symbols of the Sun on the left, the Moon on the right and Mercury at the bottom. Within the triangle is a double radiant circle inside of which is written some Hebrew letters.
Eleventh Key. Two lions approach and attack each other from left and right. The Lion on the right has siezed the others muzzle in its mouth. On the back of each lion rides a woman holding in her hand a heart from which sprouts a plant with a Sun flower and a Moon flower. (The woman on the left holds this heart in her right hand, the woman on the right in her left.) Behind the woman on the left a knight stands with sword raised as if to strike her. Behind the lion on the right walk four cubs.
Twelfth Key. Inside a laboratory an alchemist stands with tongs in his left hand, while with his right he points to a triangular crucible on a bench behind him, with two rose-like flowers growing out of it and the symbol of Mercury above it. On the left is a barrel-like furnace from the top of which flames emerge. On the right a lion devours a snake. Through an open window behind, the Sun and Moon are seen.
Works of Nicolas Flamel
Works of George Ripley
Works of Sendivogius
Theatrum Chemicum Britannicum
Emerald tablet of Hermes
Texts from Musaeum Hermeticum
Spanish alchemical texts
German alchemical texts
French alchemical texts
Russian alchemical texts
Italian alchemical texts
Alchemical, astrological and
emblematic art prints
Alchemy and art
Art books Series
Study course on Bosch's
Garden of Earthly Delights
New Hieronymus Bosch Website