Juan de Valdes Leal (1622-1690) was a Spanish painter of the Baroque era. His style was considered mature, often bordering on the macabre, with it’s flagrant brushstrokes. Most of his paintings dealt with the allegory of the transience of life and death. Two of his most famous works, Finis Gloriae Mundi and In Icti Occuli, translate roughly to ‘the end of the glory of the world in the blink of an eye’. With it’s subtle and apocalyptic overtones was there more to Leal’s work than what meets the eye?
Finis Gloriae Mundi was also the title of the master alchemist Fulcanelli’s unpublished third tome. The task of editing Fulcanelli’s books fell upon his adept, author and alchemist, Eugene Canseliet, who in his own words said, “it is only for Finis Gloriae Mundi that a few notes were actually written and they were not included in the parcel with the other notes. I don’t know why. I have used those texts, since they were outside, in order to get an idea of what the third book might have been like. What would it have been in actuality, I have no idea. But Fulcanelli wanted the parcel back and he took it from me. Perhaps there were very serious matters in there.” Canseliet continued, “the two texts that were published from these notes appeared in the second edition of the Mysteries of the Cathedrals and in Dwellings of the Philosophers. They are chapters dealing respectively with the cyclical cross of Hendaye and the paradox of the unlimited progress of sciences.”
Having personally read through these passages many times, one could easily say they contain dire warnings about the future of nuclear energy and the coming age of iron; the age of death.
The first edition of Mysteries of the Cathedrals was published by Jean Schmidt in 1926. Then, it was republished in 1957 with the added chapter on the cyclical cross of Hendaye. An account of the cross was originally written by Jules Boucher in 1936, but Fulcanelli took it one step further by identifying the base of the mystery cross with the four ages of a man: Creda Yuga, or the age of innocence, when innocence was firmly established on earth; Treda Yuga, corresponding to the age of silver; Trouvabara Yuga, or the age of bronze; and the age of iron, the fourth and last age, and the one that we currently live in, the Kuli Yuga, the age of misery, misfortune and decrepitude. These four ages in Hindu mythology can be attributed to the form of a cow that symbolizes virtue, and goes from standing on four legs, to a final and weakened state, barely able to balance on one leg.
Fulcanelli also left us with a mystery written on the cross, OXCRUXAVES PENUNICA, which could be read, ‘O crux ave spes unica’ (Hail, o cross, the only hope), but the translation should read unicus not unica. In using the ‘secret language of the birds‘ or the ‘green language‘, a phonetic wordplay with it’s origins in ancient Greek, by using a permutation of the vowels, Fulcanelli comes up with this sentence, ‘Il est ecrit que la vie se refugie en un seul espace’ (it is written that life takes refuge within a single space).
Juan Valdes Leal had a benefactor, Don Miguel de Manara, who was a knight of the Order of Calatrava, and who’s tempestuous life was rumored to be the inspiration behind one the many Don Juan myths of the time. Old Don Miguel even had an opera named after him, composed by Franco Alfano. The story goes that late one night, while stumbling home from a raucous party (or possible orgy), Don Miguel had a horrifying and life-changing vision. The vision consisted of a large funeral procession. When he looked upon the open casket, he realized the corpse inside was none other than himself — only as a dead man. After this he cleaned up his act and became a benefactor to the Hospital de la Caridad in Seville (a place dedicated to helping the poor) as penance for his previous life. Atoning for his sins doesn’t seem to have have left its mark on him as his epitaph states, ‘here lies the bones and ashes of the worst person who ever lived on earth‘. His last will and testament contained the most humble of self accusations, not only as a ‘great sinner‘, but also an ‘adulterer, robber, and servant of the devil’.
Finis Gloriae Mundi, the glory of the end of the world. The painting based off of Don Miguel de Manara’s vision of his funeral procession. Quite possibly, that is him lying with his eyes wide open, with no signs of decay, as though freshly dead — or undead. The herald of the Order of Calatrava readily visible on his arm and to his left lies the corpse of a bishop in a state of extreme decay, with bugs crawling all over it. In the background a female hand bearing the mark of the crucifixion, emerges from the clouds holding a set of scales: the words nimas (neither more) and nimenos (nor less) can be read together as ‘neither too many, nor too few‘. On the left set of scales there appears a snarling lamb of god (to me, it looks more like a puppy), and the skull of a goat, which could symbolize the ‘golden fleece’. This is interesting because Fulcanelli states the ‘art gotique’ or ‘argot’ was the secret language of the Argonauts, those who manned the Argo on its voyage to ‘the felicitous shores of Colchis‘. Hence, by the symbolic language, it becomes the vessel, the ‘argot‘, whereby the truth, symbolized by the fleece, is transmitted across the ages. Coincidentally, there was also an ‘Order of the Golden Fleece‘ that was closely connected to the ‘Order of Calatrava‘.
Also depicted in the painting is a toad (a familiar), a fan of peacock feathers (vanity), and a heart. Again a heart on the right set of scales, but with the initials IHS (Jesus Hominum Salvator), a closed book (subtext), a loaf of bread, and other religious adornments. Don Miguel appears to be staring glassy-eyed at the left set of scales. There is an ominous looking owl perched on the third of the seven steps that lead to the light, staring towards the bishop. The French word for owl comes from ‘chouette‘ from the old Occitan word ‘chòta’. In Greek ‘chous’ signifies the tumulus, or the mound above a tomb. In old Khem, ‘Shu’ or ‘Chou‘ is the light of the east that divides heaven and earth. The owl represents thought and consciousness. The nocturnal bird of prey also symbolizes Lucifer. In the painting its body is cast in the shadow of the stairway, while its head is in the light. Night is the symbol of death, and the head bears the light: the two aspects of Lucifer, at once the ‘guardian of hell‘, but also the ‘light bearer or light bringer‘.
In Icti Occuli, or ‘in the blink of an eye‘. The allegory of death presents the triumph of the grim reaper as he sweeps into the picture. He is an imposing figure, with one skeletal foot standing on the globe, while the other stands on armaments; the trappings of office and the insignia of power. Under one arm he carries a coffin and, in his hand, a scythe. His bony right fingers snuff out the life-light represented by the candle as he stares at the viewer from the depths of his empty eye sockets. The candlestick, and the bishop’s cross, form a radius over the bishop’s hat from where death puts out the flame. On the coffin rests pontifical robes, a bishop’s crosier, a papal cross and tiara. Close to the tiara two royal crowns rest on some purple fabric. From one hangs the chain of the ‘Order of the Golden Fleece‘, the pendant representing Saint Michael slaying the dragon. Notice the open book with the architectural drawing which looks to be the drawing of a cathedral? The same image is depicted in another of his paintings, along with images of open and closed texts: knowledge open and knowledge hidden. Printed on the spines of the three books are the words ‘history’, ‘science’ and ‘religion’ – the vanities of the material world.
In Mystery of the Cathedrals, Fulcanelli writes about the coming rotation of the earth’s poles and warns that every 12,000 thousand years, under the sign of Leo or under that of Aquarius, Saturn brandishes his scythe and, with his foot, tips the earth on its axis. He is, in alchemical terminology, the secret fire which purifies matter. In Dwellings of the Philosophers, Fulcanelli sagely writes, “… human evolution expands and develops between the two scourges. Water and fire, agents of all material mutations, work together during the same time and each in an opposing terrestrial region. And since the solar movement – that is to say the ascension of the star to the zenith of the pole – remains the great driving force of the elemental conflagration, the result is that the northern hemisphere is, alternately, submerged at the end of one cycle and charred at the completion of the following… One must await with sangfroid the supreme hour, that of punishment for many, and martyrdom for others.”
The curious portrait above, Leyendo la regla de la Caridad (Reading the rule of Charity), also hangs in the chapel of the Hospital de la Caridad. It’s quite possible the three together were meant to viewed as a triptych. Don Miguel ordered to have the painting done after his death in 1679. He’s featured once again sporting the emblem of the Order of Calatrava on his left arm. More open and closed books are shown – symbols of hidden or half-hidden knowledge (occult or esoteric). Then there’s the odd-looking child seated in the habit who seems to be saying, “shhhh – don’t tell anyone, it’s a secret, but I’ve been reading that somehow a 17th century Don Miguel knows exactly what a mushroom cloud looks like. In fact he’s pointing straight to it!”
And who would this potential new-born son of Horus, Harpocrates, whose feet are positioned on the black squares of a checkerboard floor, be to tell one to be silent? He who is the symbol of hope against the suffering of humanity. Perhaps the third painting was meant as the fulfillment of the promise of first two, or a warning of how one could truly bring the glory of end the world in the blink of an eye. “Behold I show you a mystery; We shall not sleep, but we shall all be changed in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trump: for the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall all be changed.” I Corinthians 15: 51-52
Gloraie to the End of the World (in the blink of an eye) – redux, published in The Heretic Magazine Issue 10.