Sacred and Profane Love

Sacred and Profane Love

Monday 2 May 2011

The Women, Fountain and Child: Ceres, Proserpine and Cupid/Mercury. First level of allegory

Q. What is a doorway that is both tomb and fountain ?
A. The Doorway that is symbolically both tomb and fountain, in classical mythology and in context with Proserpine, Ceres, Mercurius/Psychopomp and Pluto is:  
The Fountain Cyane.
 The Hypnerotomachia Poliphili was published in 1499 at Venice. In that obscure book the form of a sarchpagus can be found from which the form of the fountain/sarcophagus of the Sacred and Profane Love has been sourced. (Scroll down to see the detailed explanation below: The Sarcophagus/Fountain:The Fountain Cyane).
As the historian Erwin Panofsky intuitively suggested, the Sacred and Profane Love is an allegory that emphasises the concept of the Twin Venuses as outlined by the influential Florentine philosopher Marsilio Ficino (1433-99). One Venus was 'earthly' (Venere Vulgare) while the other was 'celestial' (Venere Celeste).

But what has remained stubbornly silent for over five hundred years is the classical identity of the three figures draped around the odd fountain that shares the unusual form of a classical sarcophagus. Who are the figures in a classical sense; what is the meaning of the strange fountain; and why has it taken so many years to discover the identity of the two women? This post will begin to unravel these complexities, but such an undertaking cannot be achieved in a single post. Each post participates in the unveiling of the Sacred and Profane Love and will always (with associated visual references) form a background to other posts on this site.

The Identities of the Figures at the Fountain Cyane.

In terms of Classical Mythology the clothed figure is intended to represent Proserpine, while the semi-nude is her mother Ceres. Only when these figures are embraced as archetypes do they correspond with the notion of the Twin Venuses as postulated by Panofsky. Archetypally Proserpine is an equivalent of the Venere Vulgare (so vulgar or Profane love) while Ceres is an archetypal equivalent of the Venere Celeste (therefore celestial or Sacred  love).

According to the Metamorphoses of Lucius Apuleius (c.155 CE) all of the Great Mother (and some of the lesser Goddesses) are participants in a lineage encompassed by the Great Mother Goddess Isis (see the intertwined and various names of the Goddess Isis as presented by Athanasius Kircher (1601/02 – 1680) which is based on (Book Eleven) of the Metamorphoses - otherwise known as the Golden Ass)Although written more than one hundred years after the production of the Sacred and Profane Love, the Kircher link (below) is presented here to visually & contextually introduce the syncretism of attributes which link the various identities of each of the goddesses. 
In Kircher's woodcut all godessess come together as aspects of the one Great Mother in the well known visual arrangement designed to illustrate the text of Apuleius. There the woodcut portrays Isis as the one; a singular Goddess arrayed with those select emblems and attributes which describe each individual goddess. Kircher's woodcut illustrates and describes the attributes each goddess then incorporates the many into the one, so becoming the grand motif image of the Great Mother in that woodcut

On the left side of Kircher's chart are the words Nomina varia Isidis (the various names of Isis) and looking down the list are the three names relevant to this argument of identity: 'Venus...; Proserpina; Ceres...' indicating the direct and shared lineage from the one - Isis. It is this last book of the Golden ass which is relevant here:
"In the last book, the tone abruptly changes. Driven to desperation by his asinine form, Lucius calls for divine aid, and is answered by the goddess Isis. Eager to be initiated into the mystery cult of Isis, Lucius abstains from forbidden foods, bathes and purifies himself. Then the secrets of the cult's books are explained to him and further secrets revealed, before going through the process of initiation which involves a trial by the elements in a journey to the underworld." Wikipedia: The Golden Ass

The Renaissance reception to the Golden Ass might be considered as relevant to the development of the Sacred and Profane Love as was the Hypnerotomachia Poliphili and should therefore be held in the same analytic regard. (Critically, the writings of Apuleius were known to the humanist circles of the Este-Gonzaga courts at Ferrara and Mantua which should be reserved as this may well indicate an historical link to the conceptual origins of the Sacred and Profane Love as an invenzione (a paintings programme or plan)). 

In the above Wikipedia quotation the two keys relevant to the Sacred and Profane Love are those of Isis and the underworldAs a funerary deity Isis was considered the wife of Osiris who was 'lord of the underworld' just as Proserpine was the consort of Pluto. It is relevant then, that the women are seated on a sarcophagus because the underworld journey is of great importance to the myth of Isis and equally important to Proserpine and Ceres (the players vary but the essence of the myth continues). In terms of seasonal and agricultural cycles bear a relation to the grander cosmic cycles of astronomy (the position of the women when placed over a map of the South Celestial Hemisphere will indicate Cosmic Night (Proserpine) and Cosmic Day (Ceres). It is a very exiting selection of information and it is present in the painting.

The Sacred and Profane Love is a pictorial form of a constantly metamorphosing narrative that is intended to be read allegorically. For example the narratives regarding the child at the fountain metamorphose to reference four distinct identities: 1. Cupid -son of Venus. 2. Mercurius/Hermes - Roman/Greek deity 3. Mercury - quicksilver (the magical element in alchemy). 3. The planet Mercury (astronomical). 4. Hermes/Mercury psychopomp - the guide of the newly dead souls to Pluto's underworld - the doorway of which is the fountain Cyane itself. So to say the work is intended to be read on a multiplicity of levels and be intellectually challenging (as per a game or entertainment). It is not a work to gloss over but a repository of information meant to be conceptualised through repeated engagement and consideration. 
edit 22-2-21

(The painting should be considered in imaginative, spatial visualisations, perhaps as four CD discs where each disc is transparent and located in space, one above the other. The first transparent disc is the pictorial image with its allusions to Alchemy; mercury stirring the waters of the mixts, the colour of the cloths representing the red & white sulfurs etc. On the second disc the circle contains the pentagram which whose horizontal lines form the upper and lower boundaries of the sarcophagus. The third disc has the represented signs of the zodiac (the rider on horseback represents Taurus, the twin hares Gemini, the head of a dog or cow seen by Harold Wethey was a dog - the dog star representing Leo etc., all described in their represented forms as the diminutive iconologies that surround the grand suite of figures (there are four other zodiacal signs represented and each sign is described by Firmicus in the Matheseos Libri IIX )).  The fourth and final disc is the most important of all as it is a Celestial map of the Southern Hemisphere with the point of view located directly above the South Celestial Pole. This has as its axis point the mouth of the spigot at the fountain. Clearly this disc has been sourced from ancient catalogues and is the work of a scholar which I strongly speculate was designed for Alfonso de Este and could well fit an astrolabe... Did Alfonso have ambitions to make the port of Ferrara the rival of Venice by discovery of the unknown Southern Lands? Certainly the Venetian ferocity in thwarting de Este of this prize the had no bounds. Was Giorgione murdered? Who told them of the content of the paintings program? I suspect it was Titian who would finish Giorgione's painting for Aurelio (and how many other paintings of Giorgione's paintings?) to eventually succeed Bellini as Painter to Venice (unfortunately for Titian though, Bellini would live a very long time after these events had transpired). And Aurelio... how fortunate to have a friend near the Council of Ten. Titian would much later sell(?) this zodiacal part of the program used in the Sacred and Profane Love to Giulio Romano as Romano's guide to decorate the walls of the Sala dei Venti in the Palazzo del Te. Romano's interpretations of the text of Firmicus inform the zodiacal selections in the Sacred and Profane Love zodial sequence - indeed they inform each other. 
This interpretation of the Sacred and Profane Love forces one to reinterpret history using the painting as the guide. Moreover the use of geometrics, a map, and the plastic figurative to 'speak', allows a maximum amount of data to be invested into the painting: The Sacred and Profane Love's program displays a basic form of quantifiable information stacking (similar idea to 'bit's' & 'bytes'). It is this physically retraceable program which makes this paintings contents the stimulating equal of the paintings figurative surface. 
The painting was likely a collaboration between Bellini, Giorgione and Titian - and an unknown scholar. (Dare we suggest Laura Bagarotto's father? What is the dramatic link there? Someone made the map especially..). The Sacred and Profane Love is one of a kind and so incredibly valuable to the renaissance scholar.

The Fountain Cyane is presented as an open capped spring which is contained by the immediately recognisable form of a rectangular sarcophagus. In this open lidded fountain/sarcophagus the arm of the child Cupid (son of Venus) is immersed in water play. But read at an alchemic level now this indicates the metamorphosis of the child from Cupid to the child Mercury and this action of the child's immersed arm indicates that the 'mercurial water' is being mixed in the Athanor of the alchemist. At further allegorical level the Fountain Cyane will again jump in meaning and represent the entrance to Pluto's underworld realm of Hades. At that point Mercury - who previously indicated the alchemical element mercury, is to become Mercury psychopomp, the guide of new souls to Hades, the realm of Pluto otherwise known as the abode of the dead. The conversation is pagan; agricultural; ontological; cosmological; philosophical; Hermetico/Alchemic - and therefore the thrust of the work is undoubtedly allegorical. Again, it is a work to ruminate upon.

The only two horizontal lines found within an upright and inverted pentacle determine the upper and lower boundaries of the fountain/sarcophagus presented in the Sacred and Profane Love. The circles circumference is determined by the line beginning from the mouth of the spigot and extending to the 'rider on horseback' which represents Taurus and is the first of nine anti-clockwise zodiacal representations that surround the central suite of figures, each described according to the texts of Firmicus from the Matheseos Libri IIX.

The fountain/sarcophagus  - the Fountain Cyane - is mythologically located between Olympus and Tartarus. Hades - otherwise known as the realm of the dead - is actually this terrestrial globe which is positioned halfway between the celestial realm of Olympus and the 'geographic' opposite of Tartarus. This is to say that esoterically, this terrestrial globe - this planet Earth - is actually the 'underworld' to that incorruptible spiritual (causalworld of Enna (Eden). Proserpine has been torn from Enna (Eden) and entered this physical sexualised world of matter and of death (the mundane Eden). Proserpine is the Queen of the Dead because in this hermetically sealed physical environment life feeds upon life and all must eventually die. In a hermetically sealed environment death sustains life as no life assisting nutrient is ever lost and death feeds the life that springs from decaying matter in a constant cycle of death and regeneration as observed by Leonardo (Book IV, The Notebooks)
"Our life is made by the death of others." 
This is to say that awe are sustained by death and live amongst death we are subject to the idea of death as the abiding principle of phenomena: 
"To the ignorant the body is supreme and they are incapable of realizing the immortality that is within them. Knowing only the body which is subject to death, they believe in death because they worship that substance which is the cause and reality of death." 1.
Although Proserpine as the consort of Pluto is the Queen of the Dead she herself is not actually death (as is Mors) but rather the moisture found within all living things and the moist vapour which encompasses the planet and sustains all life. Her role is often associated with with dread because of the frightening aspects of decay and those associated images of rotting flesh which without the notion of moisture death would simply appear as a dried mummification. Sensually she is a humid muskiness: 
"I love that sweet smell of decay that surrounds me in forests and woods. A kind of mulchy, deep, rich rot that has no connotation of death or ending, but rather of life and age. A sense of perpetual destruction and rebirth."                                                                                                                                                         (Anon).
There is a star (the sun) which emits ultraviolet rays beyond the terrestrial globe but there is also one within (the fallen star Vulcan/Lucifer/Pluto) which participates in rendering the global environment fertile.  Pluto's radiant infra red heat emanates from Hades - Pluto's realm (aka the planets central 'star') warms the moisture sealed within the subsurface of the globe and the humidifying result is as a hermetically sealed eco-system where these two principles combine and form the conditions for sustaining and regenerating life. For this reason Vulcan & Venus are parallel gods to Pluto & Proserpine. Vulcan the fire god works the infra red forge where the moisture of Venus 'tempers' the 'dry' male principle in the 'moist' female principleProserpine's cool moisture encompasses the ardour of Pluto and from the their archetypal union the principle of life is seen to be generated and sustained (see lingam - yoni of the Hindu tradition). When understood in terms of Hermetic principles this union indicates the power of generation and regeneration, and from this perspective it is a very small step to advance into the language of philosophical alchemy as well as that of tantric philosophy. In modern terms all this might be conceived of as an intuitive language  describing the origins of life in the macrocosm having begun as a cellular form (gamete - male and female) and the fertilised planet as a zygote (being the 'ground' or organisation) upon which all earthly life breathes and exists.

From the union of Pluto and Proserpine the water within the tomb/Athanor/fountain/bath is warmed and made regenerative and called by the alchemists Mercurial. Proserpine is a Venus Genetrix and the tomb/sarcophagus may also be described as 'Athanor'; 'yoni/vulva'; and 'fountain' (the moisture principle). Pluto is the all pervading yet invisible vivifying force (the central sun of the earth) whose radiance emanates from within the tomb. Unless we be 'born again' back to into the spiritual (this laboured rebirth is still a death to this realm) the alternative will be to endure the 'second death' which is the cleansing through the realm of Tartarus (Hell). 

Beyond the image of the Sacred and Profane Love the paintings conceptual structure defines the programme as not specific to any one creed or philosophy but rather appears to be an esoteric inquiry where the symbolic and geometric system is suggestive of a synthesis of several religions (a parallel with Judaism is still to be posted here) all of which are perhaps testing the notion of a perennial philosophy rather than attempting to lay claim to a prisca theologia


The sulfurs: White is the fixed sulfur and Red is the volotile sulfur and primarily these colours are apportioned to Proserpine and Ceres respectively. Proserpine's gown is white and so represents White (sulfur) with a splash of Red (sulfur) at the sleeve and at the flash of red slip at the hem of the dress. Ceres is predominantly surrounded by red fabric and this represents Red (sulfur) with a splash of White (sulfur) across her lap. Mercury's arm playfully swirls the (mercurial) water within the fountain and this shows that the White and Red sulfurs are being mixed in the Athanor. All of this is indicated by the mixed primary colours of the women's clothing. Again, this painting represents the mystical form of Hermetics understood as alchemy. 

Those flowers held in the gloved hand of Proserpine in the Sacred and Profane Love (Fig 2.Detail), refer to her abduction and 'rape' see; etymology (L. rapere = to seize, to grasp* refers to the act of tearing the crops from the field at harvest time) which is why, in the Sacred and Profane Love, Proserpine clasps those Catullian flowers which are now 'stained and torn' to her lap. Again this rape is an agricultural truth that refers to the 'reaping' of the harvest crops and the subsequent harvest (abduction)

This now references the yearly agricultural cycle - the time of year. Proserpine - who is the moisture within the earth which turns the dust fecund is also the moisture in the crops themselves. The beginning of the quest of Ceres to find Her daughter Proserpine occurs around the time of the Autumnal equinox when Ceres (who is zodiacally portrayed as as the constellation of Virgo) appearing then as the Great Virgin (Virgo) with the ear of wheat in her hand (in actuality the star Spica) and arriving in the September night sky to find the crops have been harvested (and so) the daughter is missing. 

Importantly, the only time these two women may come together is at the Spring (aka Vernal) equinox. The heuresis (aka the finding again) of the Daughter by the Mother can only occur at the Spring equinox because throughout the winter months the abducted Proserpine/Persephone has become the consort of Pluto and through their amours the fires of Hades are maintained to warm the seed that have fallen to the ground. When the vernal recovery begins, Proserpine has been found and the recovered daughter may spend time with her mother, and it can be seen in the painting that the clay olive-oil lamp (considered here as the star Spica) held aloft by Ceres has lost its flame to the dawn. So that which is being described by the streaked sunlit sky in the painting would refer to dawn and it must be said that without the sun (which has not yet risen) the painting is ostensibly a nocturne; that is to say - Night, and historically this point may implicate certain extant correspondences between Isabella d'Este and Giovanni Bellini.

The search for Proserpine by Ceres begins around autumn and continues during the winter months during which time the earth lay barren, and here lay the key to another truth; the mystery of cosmic night and cosmic day and the correct time cycle of those events. The Sacred and Profane Love must be read as a nocturne - as a night - and this also refers to the greater cycle of a Cosmic night. This is to say that the reign of Ceres encapsulates the six month period between the Autumnal Equinox in Virgo to the Vernal Equinox in Pisces. Why? Because Cosmic Night begins when Ceres (represented by the constellation of Virgo) rises in September to find her daughter (here the planet Venus) missing in the night sky and this marks the beginning of Cosmic Night. At that time Ceres lights her pine torch in the fires of Mt Ætna (in the Sacred and Profane Love the pine torch has been substituted for a clay oil-lamp) to guide her to Proserpine. Cosmic Day returns with the Heuresis, but while the torch is held aloft the designation still refers to Cosmic Night. (See image below the torchbearers of the Mithraic Tauroctony - the image for the Southern hemisphere remains the same; the Scorpio torchbearer's torch will be facing upward while Taurus will be remains downward). The torchbearers represent Cosmic Day (Ceres) and Cosmic Night (Proserpine). The zodiacal sequence in the Sacred and Profane Love begins with the sign of Taurus - during Cosmic Night.  

In the image above - which is a reversed version of the constellation map at the foundation of the Sacred and Profane Love - one can see the words directly at the left of the image "Scorpio Torch-bearer". In the Sacred and Profane Love, Ceres holds her lamp aloft signalling  her reign of Cosmic Day, and to her right the constellations of Sagittarius and Scorpio. In the Sacred and Profane Love Ceres holds aloft the small lamp - that contemporary Renaissance variation of the torch that was lit in the fires of Mt Ætna - to search for Proserpine by night. During the time of Scorpio (the Winter months begin at the end of Scorpio's rule) Ceres is searching for her daughter - therefore Ceres represents Cosmic Day.

The Tauroctony and the Sacred and Profane Love inform and elucidate each other - Mithras was never Perseus as postulated by Professor David Ulansey in his book Origins of the Mithraic Mysteries, rather Mithras is Pluto. Further, when the torchbearer lowers the torch this indicates nothing more that Cosmic Night - darkness - the reign of Proserpine. The upright torch represents Cosmic Day - illumination, the reign of Ceres - an aspect of the Great Mother. The cosmographical structure of the Tauroctony and the Sacred and Profane Love correlate with each other to elucidate the grand cosmological truths surrounding Cosmic Night and Cosmic Day.

That the two women are also the Twin Venuses is indicative of the varying levels of interpretation where all interpretation must link seamlessly and contribute to an articulation of the meta-narrative as a consistent and self referring entity.

The Myth of Proserpine and Ceres in four parts.

1. The abduction of Proserpine by Pluto:

The maiden Proserpine, at the time of her abduction by Pluto (god of the underworld), was wandering through the plains of Enna in Sicily gathering flowers with friends. Pluto was inspecting the vaults of his underworld ceiling when he spied Proserpine, became enamoured of her, and moved quickly to forcibly remove her to his realm.

2. The Fountain:

To expedite his escape with Proserpine back to his underworld realm, Pluto thrust his trident into the ground to form the fountain Cyane, which became a doorway to Hades (note Proserpine's torn flowers strewn along the fountains ledge). Cerberus, the three headed dog guards the entrance to Hades to prevent the dead from leaving and the living from entering (refer to the translation of fig.1., below). Mercury as Psychopomp can only guide the souls of the dead to the entrance.

3. Ceres.

The grieving Ceres searched all day, and as evening fell, she lit a torch in the fires of Mt. Etna to search for her missing daughter by night. The small lamp held aloft in the left hand of Ceres as portrayed in the Sacred and Profane Love is simply a Renaissance improvisation of the original pine torch. 

4. The 'Heuresis' (the 'finding again').

Ceres found Proserpine's girdle floating on the waters of the Fountain Cyane and unsuccessfully repaired to Jupiter for the restoration of her daughter. It was also here at the fountain Cyane where Ceres finally learnt of Proserpine's abduction. The heuresis calls attention to the Eleusinean mysteries; of these mysteries at Eleusinea and the heuresis, author Erich Neumann makes the statement:

                         "The one essential motif in the Eleusinean mysteries and hence
                           in all matriarchal mysteries is the heuresis of the daughter by
                           the mother, the finding again of Kore by Demeter, the reunion
                           of mother and daughter". (Neumann, 1955, p.308)

When the pieces are collected together, a new picture emerges. The small lamp held aloft by the semi-nude is a Renaissance improvisation of the original pine torch lit by Ceres to continue the search for her daughter at - night. This is so because the sun streaked sky indicates night, (as in twilight or when the planet Venus is first visible). Ceres lit the pine torch in the fires of Etna to search for Proserpine by night. The painting is a nocturne; a night; a pagan nativity and inclusive of each of those historical & mythological complexities. Twilight confirms the Vernal equinox as the only period when the two women are able to co-exist: Proserpine is recovered in the spring, and spring and summer are the seasons governed by Proserpine who (in cosmological terms) is the personification of Cosmic Night. (This argument is a coming post and yet to be discussed on this site.)


The Sacred and Profane Love was devised by a person (or persons) with an understanding of the design of visual logic and who then passed this to another to construct. Without doubt, at each stage of the paintings development there were considerations, adjustments and as is now known - deletions. It is a collaborative, instructional painting intended for the edification of the viewer, and as a specific system of signs the Sacred and Profane Love represents a visual metamorphoses of several narratives on a single plane.

Visually, this is achieved because each symbolic reference is its own small narrative, and collectively these narratives reveal meaning in the form of context as a type of visual syntax.  The visual source of the grand motif - the suite of three figures and the fountain/sarcophagus - is the first step in revealing this relationship. Nothing can be effectively known until the identities of the two women and the child reveal their obvious symbiotic relationship through contextual relevance to the sarcophagus/fountain and the paintings overall iconology.

In its totality the Sacred and Profane Love is enclosed by a meta narrative; a self referring conceptual entity which at first glance appears to bite into an apple known as the Prisca Theologia. (More on that later). The finished painting is about the midway point between the first narrative and the concluding grand narrative or meta narrative. The (original) proposition is both finite and conceptually sustainable as a self referring entity through interaction with varying narratives and myths which are both seasonal as well as cosmological.

The Sarcophagus/Fountain:The Fountain Cyane

The fountain/sarcophagus is a composite motif, which is to say that while the form of the sarcophagus refers to Pluto, the fountain motif refers to Venus. Two distinct visual sources originate from two woodcuts printed in that very curious book published by Aldus Manutius at Venice in 1499 and popular to the Italian Renaissance, the Hypnerotomachia Poliphili.

The two sources are [1] The sarcophagus itself which directly relates to Pluto, [2] The fountain directly relates to another woodcut from the same book showing Venus at her bath (alchemically the athanor is also known as the Bath of Venus). These have been combined to describe the form of the sarcophagus/fountain of the Sacred and Profane Love. The first reference considers the form of the sarcophagus (see fig. 1.).

Fig. 1. Sarcophagus with dedication to Pluto and Proserpine.

In the  Hypnerotomachia, the novels hero, Poliphilus, wanders through a graveyard where he gazes into a tomb and ponders the Mysteries of Pluto. From the pages of the Hypnerotomachia, a woodcut of an open lidded sarcophagus (Fig. 1.) bears the inscription:
                                     TO THE THREE BODIED PLUTO AMONG US
                                         AND FOR HIS DEAR WIFE PROSERPINE
                                       AND TO THE THREE HEADED CERBERUS.
(Translation generously provided by the Venerable Rodney Oliver, 
 Archdeacon at St Paul's Cathedral. Melbourne, Australia. 1999)

The inscription states the names of Pluto, Proserpine and Cerberus. 'Cerberus' because according to classical mythology this three headed hound guards the entrance to Hades - therefore the inclusion of the name Cerberus confirms the sarcophagus as the doorway or entrance to Hades. In the Sacred and Profane Love this is confirmed by the presence of Mercury at the fountain/sarcophagus - as psychopomp). Pluto is present here in two forms or confirmations: 1. Announced by the inscription and 2.Geometrically as the inverted pentagram which must have been described in the invenzione. A masculine agenda dominates the work at this level which appears to be completely dedicated to Him - Pluto - the invisible god. So, in the Sacred and Profane Love the two women are seated at an entrance to Hades, the realm of Pluto, and in context with the inscription the classical identity of the women is reiterated. 

Development of the Composite Motif.

Fig 2. The bath of Venus Woodcut sourced from the Hypnerotomachia Poliphili (Venice, c.1499)

Now that the visual source of the opened tomb is established (Fig. 1.) the second visual reference - the fountain - is found to be sourced from the same novel, the Hypnerotomachia Poliphili. In the above image (Fig 2.) Venus is seen from behind seated at the centre of the woodcut, while below her chair a spigot pours freely into a pool or bath. So again, the 'tomb' aspect of the sarcophagus/fountain refers to Pluto, while the 'fountain aspect refers to Venus (Proserpine).

Fig 3 (Detail). Spigot below the seat of Venus.

Fig 3.(Detail). Water flows into the bath from a constantly flowing spigot. The idea of the free flowing spigot is the key here, rather than replicating the actual form. The spigot on the face of the sarcophagus now references the Hypnerotomachia Poliphili and the 'Bath of Venus' - the alchemical equivalent is the Bain Marie. Now the dimensions of the sarcophagus/fountain (athanor; bain marie; tomb; entrance to Hades; the Fountain Cyane - will geometrically be determined by the circle and pentacle. This is entirely able to be confirmed. How? Both horizontal lines found in the upright and inverted pentacles determine the upper and lower boundaries of the sarcophagus fountain of the Sacred and Profane Love.

Fig.4 New motif: The sarcophagus/fountain.

Fig 4. By placing the motif of the spigot at the centre of the sarcophagus with the inscription to Proserpine and Ceres excluded, the new motif of a sarcophagus/fountain is created. By combining the motifs that independently reference the form of a sarcophagus and the action of a fountain, a new motif has been formed. But much more than this; it is not simply the forms that have transmigrated, but the conceptual 'load' that these forms represent.

Fig 5. Spigot at the centre of the sarcophagus forms the
fountain/sarcophagus of the Sacred and Profane Love (Detail)

Pluto, Proserpine, and Cerberus are all announced by the inscription on the sarcophagus, and now the form of the sarcophagus has merged with the spigot sourced from the Bath of Venus. As a 'loaded' motif, the inclusion of the spigot  in the Sacred and Profane Love must now reference Venus, which now encompasses the motif of the tomb to reveal a further development in the paintings intended narrative.

Fig. 6. The two pentagrams determine the proportions of the fountain/sarcophagus.

The gravity of the association with Venus is found in the fact that this spigot provides the apex of the all important circle which has now become a pentacle (a pentagram enclosed within a circle) (see Fig. 6.). Note the small (red) inverted pentagram within the pentacle: The only two horizontal lines in both pentagrams form the upper and lower boundaries of the sarcophagus/fountain.


The Classical Moment Revealed.

The 'classical moment' represented is the heuresis or 'finding again' of Proserpine by Ceres.

The phrenological similarity of the women indicates the familial stamp, and both Goddesses are ageless. Proserpine's arm rests upon the 'Holy basket of Ceres', used in the nine day procession along the 'Sacred Way' to Eleusinea to celebrate the mysteries; the basket identifies Proserpine as kanephoros (basket carrier) a young maiden whose role in the mysteries was integral to the religious procession. (A more accurate appraisal of the contents of the basket next to Proserpine can be found in Titian's Madonna of the Rabbit c.1525-1530 Musée du Louvre. The Madonna of the Rabbit is a Christianised arrangement of the Sacred and Profane Love and in direct comparison, is simple and rather dull.)

The physical location is Sicily, in the fields of Enna (now Castrogiovanni) where the Greeks settled as part of the colonies of Magna Graecia around 800 BC. The actual Fountain Cyane is a deep pool which is now known as the Spring of Cyane. While the drama is takes place in Sicily in another way these events occur simultaneously in the 'heavenly' Enna; the incorruptible, spiritual or astral form of its Earthly (Sicilian) counterpart. Enna exists within eternally recurring time - cyclic time - and the cosmos is reflected through the security of the seasons.

This myth clearly has its ties with Sicily as the one-time 'ganary of Rome' fertilised by the volcanic plains of the bellicose Etna and the powerful god within - remembering too that Proserpine is not the plant but the deity of moisture within the plant, therefore when the plant is torn from the ground she has been 'reaped and abducted' and the world must lay barren until the time of the vernal equinox when she will reappear as (within) the young shoots - reborn and intact.

[This work (the Sacred and Profane Love) is a journey through a series of visual and conceptual metamorphoses also indicates two things; firstly the existence of an allegory, and secondly, the possibility of multiple allegories that will unfold a meta narrative (the meta narrative encompasses several narratives to form a master narrative or grand narrative). Cupid - morphing through several guises of Mercury - is a key example of accretion through the multiple rhythms of individual metamorphosis, expanding what appears to be at first a simple allegory and the individual metamorphosis, evolving through a series of metamorphoses into a harmonious conceptual narrative. Yet this is a still a very long way from the meta narrative - if indeed such a finite proposition actually exists.]


The winged infant playing in the waters of the fountain is Cupid, most commonly thought as being the son of Venus and Mars (sometimes Cupid's lineage is attributed to other deities by other writers from different historical eras). To denote Venus, the playful Cupid is depicted near his mother as mostly depicted in the classical tradition: this Cupid directs attention to Venus and so, confirms Venus.


For this allegory to unfold, the cipher that is Cupid does not retain that initial persona and actually dissolves to become the first metamorphosis - from Cupid to Mercurius and then, Mercury/Hermes.
Cupid will disappear and Mercury will appear as the 'guide of the souls of the dead' to Hades. From the inscription citing Cerberus, there are three confirming factors indicating entrance. The first is Cerberus, the second is Mercury, and the third is the narrative taken from the Hypnerotomachia, that the novels hero walks through a graveyard and stares into a tomb while pondering the Mysteries of Pluto. In many ways this construction might be viewed as 'mens business'. This can prove to be relevant later in the analysis.

Mercury: Mercurius/Psychopomp:

Mercury will metamorphose a third and final time to become Alchemical Mercury. As psychopomp, Mercury guides the souls of the dead to the entrance to Hades. This is one of several reasons why he is here at the Fountain Cyane, the entrance/doorway to Hades, and which is why the fountain has the form of the sarcophagus or tomb.

Mercury: Alchemical Mercury:

As the allegory develops, Mercury's presence at the sarcophagus/fountain will confirm the incoming narrative levels as the alchemical mercury; he will be found to be stirring the waters of the 'mixt'; thus forming the 'mercurial water'. In this context, the women will become 'sulfurs'. According to the general colour associated pictorially with the women, Proserpine will represent White sulfur, while Ceres represents the red. Both women have a splash of the basic colour of the other; Proserpine wears white with an exposed red sleeve and red undergarment at the hem of the opulent dress. Ceres is surrounded by red fabric with a white lap cloth across the loins. White sulfur is 'fixed', whereas red sulfur is 'volotile'.

Cosmological Identity of Proserpine and Ceres.

Ceres exposed left leg and the left arm held upright emulate the forms of the serpentine constellations of Serpens Cauda & Serpens Caput  (Fig. 1.b) and may be found, along with the nine zodiacal references - only in a star map of the Southern Hemisphere with the South Celestial Pole at the centre. Each of the constellations Hydra (Proserpine/Venus) and Serpens Caput Serpens Cauda (Ceres) have been  highlighted in blue (see Fig. 2.) to explain this serpentine nature in nature i.e. the cosmos

Fig 1 (b)

Fig 1 (a)


Hydra, with Corvus (Fig. 1. a) is portrayed in the Sacred and Profane Love by the running theme of Proserpine's dress while Corvus is indicated by the exposed red slip at the hem of that dress. This correlation (Fig. 1. a) is not perfect; that is, the line of the hem is not entirely strict. However it must be said that the practicality and difficulty of actually painting to a strict line is far more difficult (although familiar) to an artist in practice than it might be be to an academic in theory.

Fig. 1  (c).  
The pentacle and the fountain/sarcophagus with the constellational abstracts
of Proserpine & Ceres in blue highlight (Fig. 1.c) (Fig. 2.

Fig. 2. Constellational abstractsof Proserpine & Ceres in blue highlight (Fig. 1.c) & (Fig. 2.

The constellation map of the southern hemisphere and the abstracts of Proserpine & Ceres in blue highlight (Fig. 2.). Those constellations that form the abstracts of the women at the fountain/sarcophagus (Fig. 1.c) may have Ophian references or (metaphysically) to the women's serpentine nature as Kundalini, the feminine energy that resides at the base of the spine in philosophical alchemy.

Because the Roman bride is in early teens the wedding might be seen as simply a coming-of-age ceremony rather than a marriage forming a social union and sanctifying a sexual union as understood in our contemporary tradition. But there are themes which strongly indicate an esoteric rite, a mystical wedding such as the heirosgamos; or a type of Chymical wedding of the Alchemico/Hermetic tradition; or similarly, the Maithuna of India. But there is something else here too, for in another section of the epithalamium Catullus declares:
'...with the help of Venus
who presides omnipotent at this solemn union... '
and concludes with the line:
'The doors are closed. Husband and wife are joined.
Their youthful love will breed
a vigorous generation.'
                                                                                       The Epithalamium of Catullus
                                                                                         Horace Gregory p. 163 

Catullus declares that the night within the wedding chamber will be consecrated by Venus 'who presides omnipotent at this solemn union... '. Catullus seems to be describing sexual union in specific accord with cosmology: possibly a form of 'biodynamics' where the sexual union is considered an integral component of a grand cosmic ecosystem for it is Venus (the planet) who will preside over this union and whose presence may influence a fortuitous birth: 
'Their youthful love will breed a vigorous generation.'Catullus (Ibid)

The presence of Venus appearing in the night sky combined with a virgin bride and a young groom in the prime of life. In the most ideal situation is important to note that this celebration is conducted before the rising of Venus from the western sea at the twilight of the equinoctial night and so, consummated during the reign of the Goddess of love. Like the Maithuna of India, there is great meaning here because this is a consecrated wedding ritual in harmony with cosmic observation. To the initiated, this would seek to align the consecrated act with observable principles of nature with the intention and potential to engender the divine birth and create at the very least, the conditions for an offspring who may be the epitome of the human being. Which is to say that this act then, could be seen as one of the prime functions of religion, which is to prepare the human vehicle through which a divine birth might be attracted.

1. The Notebooks of Leonardo da Vinci (Richter, 1888), &  The Notebooks No. 845 (Project Gutenberg)

2.  Hall, Manly Palmer. Secret Teachings of All Ages. Attributed to Hermes Trismegistus, p.85  


"The Coronation of Venus/Aphrodite" (Venus/Aphrodite crowned by Peitho)
 - The true meaning of the Birth of Venus (link)


Paul Doughton ©1997 - 2021.

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