Panacea: An Alternative V.I.T.R.I.O.L. Emblem


You can find an iteration of the V.I.T.R.I.O.L. abbreviation encircling an alchemical androgyne on this title page for Compendiolum de praeparatione auri potabilis veri, roughly Small Compendium on the Preparation of True Gold.

V.I.T.R.I.O.L. typically stands for “Visita Interiora Terrae Rectificando Invenies Occultum Lapidem,” or “Visit the interior of the earth, rectify what you find there, you will discover the hidden stone.” 

In this case, the emblem is V.I.T.R.O.L.V.M., which contains a dual set of added terms, Veram and Medicinam:

“Visitando Interiora Terra Rectificando Invenies Occultum Lapidem Verum Medicinam” or, “Visit the Interior of the Earth, rectify it, and you will find the hidden stone, the true medicine.”

This hearkens to a kind of panacea, or universal medicine. This is a quality often associated with the Philosopher’s Stone. A panacea, as a universal medicine, is a kind of all-encompassing cure for all maladies. The Latin word comes from the Greek Πανάκεια, or Panakeia. This derives from Panakēs, or Pan-Akos, meaning “all-healing.” In Greek mythological frameworks, Panacea is the goddess of universal healing, whose four sisters are associated with Apollo and his arts.

The visual aspect depicts the Hermetic androgyne, a symbol of the conjunction of oppositional principles in the cosmos. This is pertinent in regard to depth psychological modalities, in which a conjunction simultaneously reconciles, then transcends, opposing principles.

In the figure’s right hand, an emblem which is the Philosopher’s Stone itself in the guise of a triune Stone: Black, White, and Red. The Black Stone symbolizes the reconstitution or death of the earlier material into a vitalization. Next, the immature White Stone produces silver. Finally, a fully matured Red Stone produces gold.

In the other hand of the figure, what appears to be an egg is held. The egg typically symbolizes the four elements and the quintessence. For many alchemists, it is the metaphor par excellence for encompassing those qualities. The yolk, for example, represents the solar and fiery principle. The fertilized life within the egg itself represents the quintessence, which is constituted and fostered by the combination of the four traditional elements.

Compendiolum is attributed to Eugenius Bonacina. ca. 1790. It comes from a Yale University Beinecke Rare Book & Manuscript Library piece (Mellon MS 131) titled as an Alchemical miscellany. This miscellany is a series of “Two diverse cryptic alchemies written by one copyist and linked by two series of alchemical emblems. The first text, Philosophia hermetica, in Italian verse, is linked to Federico Gualdi. The second text, Compendiolum de praeparatione auri potabilis veri, is attributed to Marcus Eugenius Bonacina.”

While somewhat difficult to find biographical information on Bonacina, an alchemy forum I discovered while researching Bonacina notes:

“Marcus Eugenius Bonacina (1570-1621) grew up in Italy, his father was a lawyer. He studied medicine in Milan. During the years 1618 – 1621 he lived in Moravská Tøebová (Märische Trübau), now in the Czech Republic, where he was invited by an important nobleman in Moravian politics, Ladislav Velen from Zerotin. M.E. Bonacina’s alchemical tractate Compendium de praeparatione auri potabilis veri was dedicated to his benefactor. There is another tractate written by him, and copies of both are in the National Museum in Prague.”

Close detail of the emblem

In Brian Cotnoir’s work Alchemy: The Poetry of Matter, the traditional V.I.T.R.I.O.L. emblem is examined at length. For framing and context, Cotnoir discusses the emblem in light of his exploration of the alchemical Green Lion and its identity as “our vitriol.”

In a chapter devoted to this search for the identity of the Green Lion — or Leo viridis— Cotnoir says: “In continuing our search for the Green Lion, “our vitriol,” we find some direction in the following emblem. The emblem appears in Basil Valentine’s Azoth, Published in Paris in 1659.” 

Cotnoir’s depiction of the original emblem from Azoth can be seen here:

In the footnote for this passage, Cotnoir notes that:

“This emblem has been associated with the Emerald Tablet since 1588 and was joined to the text to elucidate or depict the teaching engraved on the Emerald Tablet. (S. Gentile and C. Gilly. Marsilio Ficino and the Return of Hermes Trismegistus.”

Cotnoir goes on to point out, “These images also represented the Holy Roman Empire whose emblem is the double headed eagle, and Bohemia with the double tailed lion. This also illustrates how existing icons and images are appropriated to signify other meanings, perhaps parallel meanings”

In multiple sources, the emblem is captioned simply as the Tabula hermetica.


Bonacina – L’oro potabile. Alchemy Discussion Forum. 17 February, 2008.

• Cotnoir, Brian. Alchemy: The Poetry of Matter. Khepri Press. 2018.

• Helvetius, John Frederick. Golden Calf. Outlook Verlag. 2020. (17th Century).

Image Credits:

• Gualdi, F. (0 C.E.). [Alchemical miscellany][Illustrations, Manuscripts]. Via Yale University Beinecke Rare Book & Manuscript Library.

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