CHYMIA. Science and Nature in Early Modern Europe (1450-1750)



At San Lorenzo de El Escorial, Philip II planned a monument that would perpetuate his glory for centuries. A church for God. A monastery for the Jeronymite order. A palace for the king. A tomb for the Royal Spanish dynasty. A temple for science. It is this last aspect that, unfortunately, has received the least historical attention over the years. This temple of science hosted during the final decades of the sixteenth century some of the most advanced chemical practitioners in Early Modern Europe in its pharmacy and distillation laboratory.

The monastery/palace of El Escorial served as a backdrop and co-host of this international conference on science and nature in Early Modern Europe. The conference has sought to bring together Spanish and international scholars of science to discuss several topics, including the role of Alchemy from recent historical perspectives.

The Chymia-2008 Conference Proceedings will be published in book form by Cambridge Scholars Publishing. Each paper submitted to us will be rigorously reviewed, in a blind review process, by a committee specializing in various aspects of history of alchemy and related fields.



Contributors could obtain information about submitting papers in the Speakers Area.

Miguel López Pérez (Orzanizing Committee).

The last day, many of the attendees posed for a group photo on the central courtyard of the University College.


Titles & abstracts

Dr. Kevin Chang
The Great Philosophical Work: Georg Ernst Stahl’s Early Alchemical Teaching

This paper studies the German chemist Georg Ernst Stahl’s early alchemical teaching in a work that is best known to his English readers, that is, the title that was translated by Peter Shaw as Philosophical Principles of Universal Chemistry. It analyses the roots and the major elements of what Stahl called a historical and experimental inquiry to the mercuries of metals and especially into the great work, i.e., the philosopher’s stone. This analysis points out his heavy reliance on Johann Joachim Becher, especially his Chymischer Glücks-Hafen, published just two years before Stahl gave at Jena his earliest chemical course, whose lecture notes were to become the basis of the Philosophical Principles. It also articulates what constituted the great work for Stahl. This study sheds light on the early phase of the Becher-Stahl chymical lineage and on Stahl’s position on chrysopoeia at the beginning of his academic career.


Dr. Luc Peterschmitt
Fontenelle : the Idea of Science and the Spirit of Chemistry.

Fontenelle is often presented as entertaining an ill conception of chemistry and its “confused spirit”. In this paper, I intend to qualify such a judgment. Of course, Fontenelle was quite critical. But a careful reading of his Histoire de l’Académie des Sciences and of his Eloges des Académiciens, which aimed to present science to a lay educated public, shows that he criticized more chemists than chemistry in itself. That may be an indication that chemistry could be a science. Indeed, Fontenelle saw chemistry as an emergent science, submitted to obstacles which prevented it from getting to a perfect scientific clarity. The main obstacles are: the weigh of the history of chemistry, which may be seen in its language, its tools and the complexity of the phenomena. According to Fontenelle, such a situation is not inescapable, provided chemists keep in mind the norm of clarity. Fontenelle thought that such a norm is certainly the mechanical one (trying to explain phenomena by figure and motion of particles). But this does not mean that he could not admit other solutions, entirely chemical. At least, he recognised that chemistry could provisionally have its own explanations. So that Fontenelle describe in fact, maybe against his will, chemistry as able to become an autonomous science.


Lawrence M. Principe
Do It Right or Do it Now: Philosophical vs. Pragmatic Agendas for Chymistry at the Académie Royale des Sciences.

Questions regarding the aims and status of chemistry have existed for a very long time. Some recent historical literature has debated the relative importance of practical production versus that of the establishment of theoretical, or “philosophical,” explanatory systems. The seventeenth-century Académie Royale des Sciences provides an excellent place to study these features in context. In particular, the Académie’s massive communal project for compiling a comprehensive Histoire des Plantes showcases important divisions within early modern chymistry, as it relates to different practitioners. Beyond the usual descriptions of the external appearances of plants, the plants project proposed the use of chymical analysis to describe the composition–the hidden nature–of plants. Arguments proliferated over how the analysis should be done, on whose principles, and to what ends. While the project has been examined previously by other historians, a close and renewed examination of the project–especially the multiple redirections of the project as it passed among various hands, especially those of Samuel Cottereau Duclos, Denis Dodart, Claude Bourdelin, and Wilhelm Homberg–reveals much about the divergent views on the role, status, and utility of chymistry in the period, as well as revealing a largely unremarked intellectual commitment at the Académie.


Dr. Carlos Gilly
Alquimia, Cábala y Magia en los Manifiestos Rosacruces.

Abstract not available.


Dr. Marcy Norton
Animals: Native and European Epistemologies in the Historia Natural and the Florentine Codex.

This paper will explore Francisco Hernández’ Historia Naturaland the Florentine Codex as sources that reveal practices and beliefs regarding animals in New Spain. More particularly, it will seek to delineate notions, creatures, and behaviors that have pre-Columbian antecedents from those that originated in Europe, as well as those that emerged as hybrid phenomena in colonial Mexico. In addition to a comparison of these two quintessentially syncretic artifacts, the project will investigate European zoological and natural history texts as well as sources revealing of the place of animals in Mesoamerican culture. Guiding questions include: in what contexts do people and animals interact (e.g. hunting, husbandry, ritual)? What are the organizational systems used to categorize animals? At what moments do the divisions separating human and animal become most and least salient?


Dr. Manuel Castillo Martos
Destilación, Alquimia y Metalurgia en el Viejo y Nuevo Mundo (s. XVI-XVII)

¿Existió ilación trascendental entre las ideas esotéricas que se originaron al comienzo de la cultura occidental con las de la ciencia en la edad moderna? ¿Hubo grupos esotéricos (o alquimistas) centroeuropeos en la Sevilla de los siglos XVI y XVII? ¿Fue de relevancia posterior las doctrinas protocientíficas originadas en los laboratorios de los alquimistas? ¿Influyeron las ideas alquimistas (o esotéricas por extensión) en la metalurgia de la plata en la América española? ¿La bibliografía intercambiada entre las dos orillas del Atlántico fluyó de tal forma para que lo que contenía sus páginas llegara a los prácticos metalúrgicos? Si las respuestas a las interrogantes suscitadas después de haber consultado documentos, libros y otras fuentes de lo que realmente sucedió no se pueden basar en verdades probadas, expliquémoslas de manera que parezca lo más verosímil que aconteciera. Si se carece de evidencia documental, hagamos conjeturas razonables. Nos enfrentamos, pues, a una dimensión tan espectacular y fascinante como la imposición del imaginario europeo en las Indias, con el uso interesado y la sustitución de los referentes simbólicos autóctonos; en suma, la simbiosis de civilizaciones, dirigida y espontánea, que allí se produjo. Tengamos en cuenta que la llegada del europeo a América sucede en un tiempo al que le impactan inquietantes primicias en los circuitos de la comunicación.


Dr. Lauren Kassell
Secrets Revealed: Alchemical Books in Early Modern England.

Alchemical books present historians of science with two apparent paradoxes. The first is that they made secret knowledge public. The second is that while alchemical books flourished in revolutionary England, more were printed after the Restoration than in any previous period. Focusing on William Cooper’s A catalogue of chymicall books (1673, 1675, 1688), this paper explores the shifting relationships of alchemy, medicine and natural philosophy and the politics of chymical books in early modern England.


Dr. Maria Luz López Terrada
The making of chemical medicines in Valencia during 16th century.

Llorenç Coçar, was named “Protomédico y sobrevisitador real” for the Reino de Valencia by Philip II in 1589. The Valencian physician Llorens Coçar or Cozar has been the object of various studies which have underscored his position as one of the few followers of chemical medicine in the sixteenth-century Spain. This focus stems as much from a medical work by him with clear Paracelsan affinities, as from his two-year tenure as the holder of the only university chair dedicated to the instruction of the use of these kinds of medicines in Europe at the time. Furthermore, there have been studies of Coçar for his unique role as the only physician named by Philip II as protomédico of the Kingdom of Valencia. Thus the importance of Coçar for the history of Spanish Paracelsianism is an aspect that takes on particular saliency if we keep in mind that the principal responsibility of the protomédico consisted in visiting druggists’s shops and the control of the medicines that they dispensed. That is to say that Philip II granted the oversight of the preparation and sale of medical substances in Valencia to a physician who was an open supporter of the use of remedies substantially different than those associated with the Galenic materia medica. In this way, and when confronted with local institutions of control of medical practice with their origins in the Middle Ages, the monarchy yet again appears as a factor contributing to the renovation of scientific beliefs, giving its support to men who were clearly related to innovative movements away from the royal court, and attempting to give them social recognition. On the other hand, I am able to confirm that iatrochemical medicine was openly practiced, and even integrated into the academic system in the city of Valencia, during the last two decades of the sixteenth century.


Dr. Raimon Arola
The meaning of symbols in early 17th Century alchemical Literature.

La ponencia girará entorno al concepto de símbolo y su relación con la ciencia de las correspondencias utilizando como punto de partida la definición de Sebastián de Covarrubias: “Locutiones symbolicas se dizen aquellas que tienen en sí obscuridad, hablando por semejanças y metáforas, como las sentencias de Pithágoras, que comúnmente llaman symbolos” (Tesoro de la lengua española o castellana, 1611).
También, y utilizando unos términos acuñados por la escuela de Paracelso, analizaremos el símbolo como un sistema de conocimiento de “la luz de la naturaleza” en su unión con “la luz de la gracia”.
Por último, examinaremos algunos símbolos que aparecen en las imágenes emblemáticas o empresas del siglo XVII, incidiendo especialmente en los grabados del Azot, o el medio para hacer el oro oculto de los filósofos de Basilio Valentin.


Benjamin Fauré
La Disputatio Scoti falsamente atribuida a Michel Scot (siglo XIV).

En las dos ediciones latinas, de 1546 y 1622, se atribuye la Disputatio Scoti a Michel Scot bajo el título Quaestio curiosa de natura solis et lunae. Son mínimas las diferencias entre los catorce manuscritos que pude identificar y las ediciones. La originalidad del tratado radica en el uso de la teoría de las razones seminales (rationes seminales o virtus seminativa), extraida de San Agustín, en la descripción de los experimentos supuestamente útiles para la fabricación del oro artificial. Después de estudiar los manuscritos, parece posible estimar la fecha de redacción del tratado alrededor de 1320-1350. Si el texto realmente fue escrito en el transcurso de este período en la que se desarrolla la alquimia médica, refleja bien las preocupaciones de la época, puesto que presenta también algunas consideraciones médicas sobre las virtudes del oro en medicina. Además, el estudio de los manuscritos permite conocer un poco más a su autor. Así, después de haber descartado a Michel Scot o Duns Scot como posibles autores, parece que la redacción de este opúsculo con influencia escolástica se debe atribuir a un homónimo que ha frecuentado el medio universitario. Si tal fuera el caso, la Disputatio Scoti sería un ejemplo más de tratado asociando en cierta medida la alquimia, sin embargo excluida de la enseñanza medieval, al mundo universitario.


Dr. Vera Keller
The physico-mechanico-chymical Drebbel

Peter Dear has stressed the importance of the category of the physico-mathematical in the emergence of scientific experiment. Yet, as historians of alchemy have pointed out, the entrance of alchemy to the academy also fused alchemy and physics to produce an artisanal philosophy. The works of Cornelis Drebbel (1572-1633) and their academic reception represent an early and important instance of a machine-based but non-mechanical philosophy in an age of new philosophical hybrids.
Drebbel is better known today as a mechanic and an inventor rather than as an alchemist or natural philosopher. In some parts of seventeenth-century Europe, however, he enjoyed equal fame as a writer as well as the inventor of a submarine, a perpetual motion machine, and a score of other wonderful devices. In his own writings, Drebbel fused alchemy, pneumatics, and mechanics. Alchemists and natural philosophers interpreted Drebbel’s natural philosophy in light of his famous machines, and his machines in light of his natural philosophy.
Andreas Libavius not only translated and annotated Drebbel’s entire On the Nature of the Elements in his Syntagmatis Arcanorum Chymicorum (1613-15), but wrote a dissertation on Drebbel’s perpetual motion machine refuting Johann Hartmann’s account of the device. Both Drebbel’s writings and his machines continued to serve important roles in the thought of Athanasius Kircher, Johann Joachim Becher, and G. W. Leibniz. In this paper, I survey Drebbel’s reception in Central European alchemical philosophy over the course of the seventeenth century.

Dr. Bruce T. Moran
Alchemy in the Margins: Private Practices and Alchemical Agendas in the Age of Reason – the Case of Camillo Baldi

The paper focuses upon the alchemical desires and motives of a Bolognese professor of moral philosophy, Camillo Baldi (1550-1637). In the course of a lengthy career at the University of Bologna he instructed students in logic and Aristotelian natural philosophy, and acted as custodian of the university’s museum of naturalia established earlier by Ulisse Aldrovandi (1522-1605). Besides published writings relating to physiognomy and graphology, Baldi also composed an alchemical manuscript called Alchimia e la sua medicina(Bibliotheca Dell’Archiginnasio, Bologna, MSS No. B. 1397). My paper explores the alchemical traditions reflected in this manuscript and examines Baldi’s purposes in composing it. In Baldi’s case, the place held by alchemy within a private intellectual universe was not a formal one and was always secondary to other interests. It was, nevertheless, a living subject called upon to express private positions and give shape to singular passions. Paying attention to the role played by alchemy in the private world of Camillo Baldi helps us widen the exploration of historical alchemy beyond the well recognized sites of scholarly debate and courtly patronage. Focusing upon the question of how alchemy functioned within private worlds, the paper will attempt to reattach alchemical practice to the singularity of personal desire and experience.


Dr. Marcos Martinón-Torres
Inside Solomon’s House: Recent research on the archaeology of chymistry

The scientific study of archaeological remains of laboratories is a useful complementary approach to the history of alchemy and chemistry. Analytical research on early chymical equipment provides insights into issues such as the manufacture and supply of instruments, and specific details of raw materials and practical experiments that are rarely recorded in the writings of early chymists.
This paper illustrates the contribution of archaeology through recent analyses conducted on eighteenth century laboratories. The main case study is the Old Ashmolean laboratory in Oxford, also known as Solomon’s House, a state-of-the-art facility where chemistry was reportedly taught as an experimental science for the first time in history. The analytical study reveals the presence of both Hessian and Bavarian crucibles, the best known crucibles of the time, and documents a variety of experiments, including the manufacture of lead crystal, the processing of managanese sulphide, and various others, often employing exceedingly high temperatures. These experiments can be contextualised within period discussions of whether glass making constituted a true transmutation, as well as debates regarding the appropriateness of employing “excesive heat” in chymistry.


Dr. María Tausiet
Fool´s Silver: Alchemy and Fraud in the Sixteenth Century.

One of the main obsessions of the Early Modern era was determining sure notions of true and false in order to apply them to various fields of knowledge and in this way to justify separating the permitted from the prohibited. This tendency was especially present in religion and science, where it was necessary to distinguish not only real as opposed to fake spirits, relics or miracles, but also true from false astrologers and alchemists. Located between idealism and materialism, alchemy particularly exemplified the aforementioned tensions, as was demonstrated by a trial held in 1593 at the Jeronymite monastery of Santa Engracia in Saragossa, whose prior accused a friar of making “silver out of smoke and jewels from goblins”.


Dr. A.M.Amorim da Costa
Corpuscular and anti-atomic theories in the Commentarrii Collegii Conimbricensis e Societatis Jesu: António Cordeiro (1641-1722) and Sylvestre Aranha (1689-1768).

In the early commentaries of the Jesuit Fathers on the philosophical writings of Aristotle produced as the texts of their teaching in the University of Coimbra toward the end of the sixteenth and the beginning of the seventeenth centuries, one finds a complete rejection of atomism. To Aristotle the existence of atoms having or not different formats, could not be accepted on a logical basis because such an existence would imply different parts and would be mathematically divisible being not anymore real atoms; and, if they could have different sizes, it would be possible to have atoms as great as the whole universe and therefore its resolution into atoms would not be possible. Facing Mersenne, Gassendi and Descartes´ corpuscular theories, these Fathers did not apart from Aristotle´s anti-atomic doctrines but they clearly knew that the refutation could not rely only on arguments coming from the aristotlian Methaphysics and Logics. Namely, António Cordeiro in his Cursus Philosophicus Conimbricensis (1713) and Sylvestre Aranha in his Disputationum Physicarum (1740) tried to go further with arguments refuting directly the main principles of the new theories. In this paper, we will try to present the most remarkable guidelines of these arguments.


Dr. John D. Slater
Spagyric Hagiography: Floral Cults and Chemical Images in Early Modern Spain.

Alchemical images are not uncommon in the devotional literature of seventeenth century Spain. The transmutation of metals is generally characterized as an avaricious pursuit and opposed the true alchemy of Christian, inwardly transformation. Spagyric images, however, are far less common than their metallurgical counterparts. This talk will focus on an intriguing exception found in Alonso López Magdaleno’s biography of St. Rose of Viterbo. López Magdaleno approvingly describes the process of producing roses from the ashes of others as “experimentada chimica,” citing the works of Fortunio Liceti, Daniel Sennert, and perhaps most surprisingly Libavius.
To understand why López Magdaleno uses spagyric images to extol the virtues of St. Rose, it is necessary to understand the status and function of flowers within the hagiographic and devotional discourses of early modern Spain. The period saw a marked increase in the popularity of floral cults, such as that of St. Rose of Lima. The devotional literature dedicated to these cults regularly draws upon herbals by Clusius and Dodoens and others, locating the reverence for the “flowers of the faith” within a natural historical context. But López Magdaleno invokes alchemy in part to posit the superiority of the Franciscan St. Rose of Viterbo over the Dominican St. Rose of Lima. Inter-order conflicts, the relevance of natural historical inquiry to the devotional practices of the post-Tridentine Spain, and the acceptable limits of Baroque scholarship all come to a head in López Magdaleno’s work.


Dr. William Eamon
Italian Alchemists in the Court of Philip II.

Scientific activity in Philip II’s Spain was strongly influenced by government policy and the needs of the state. To achieve its ends the crown was often forced to rely upon the knowledge and skills of foreigners. Philip’s ambitious goal of using alchemy to promote medicine was no exception. To accomplish his aim, he invited alchemists from various parts of Europe to the court, but especially from Italy, where alchemy flourished. Italian alchemists, with their intimate knowledge of the doctrines of Pseudo-Ramon Lull, were particularly congenial to the style of alchemy promoted in the court. This paper will examine the community of Italian alchemists in Philip’s court and will focus in particular upon the alchemical circle surrounding the Bolognese surgeon and alchemist Leonardo Fioravanti, who was in the court between 1576 and 1577.


Dr. Leah DeVun
John of Rupescissa’s Trial by Fire: Alchemy and Prophecy in the Fourteenth Century.

The alchemist and apocalyptic prophet John of Rupescissa spent two decades in prison, during which he wrote an innovative set of texts that deeply influenced alchemy and medical therapeutics. This paper explores Rupescissa’s life in prison and analyzes the ways in which his experience shaped his apocalyptic and alchemical pursuits. Rupescissa believed that Christians could survive a clash with the antichrist through alchemy,  which could provide financial resources for Christians during a time of apocalyptic war. In addition, Rupescissa claimed that powerful alchemical medicines called “quintessences” could heal disease and extend the lives of humans, particularly those charged with fighting the Antichrist. Rupescissa’s belief in apocalyptic religion underpinned his approach to alchemy – especially to the quasi-miraculous effects of the quintessence. Moreover, alchemy provided a model for Rupescissa’s prophecy, shaping his method and providing a foundation for his apocalyptic predictions.


Dr. Margaret D. Garber
The Crucible in the Caduceus. The Role of Alchemy in the First Scientific Society of Physicians in the German & Bohemian Territories (1652-1700).

The role played by scientific societies in the mid-seventeenth century has been a springboard to many studies in the history and sociology of science. The Royal Society of London and the Parisian Académie Royale des Sciences have been the predominant focal points of numerous Anglophonic accounts that have traversed historiographical and sociological territories. Yet contemporaneously, there was another society of science that was foundational both in its premier as a scientific society and in its standing as the first medical journal in the German and Bohemian territories. Surprisingly this group, the Academia Naturae Curiosorum, has been little studied, primarily because scholars complained that many of these early physicians were not only alchemists, but also unabashedly chrysopoeian.
In this paper, I will argue that far from being insignificant to the history of science, the alchemical predilections of the Academia Naturae Curiosorum provide crucial insight about this early academy’s identity and its ambition to produce new and useful knowledge. More broadly, this academy provides evidence of a pre-Enlightenment community effort to establish a network of public health officers. The study of this society offers entrée into how these early modern physicians organized nature, alchemical artifacts, and themselves, what purposes such relations served for its members and, through this illustration, offers alternatives to traditional accounts of early scientific organizations.


Dr. Rémi Franckowiak
Chemistry at the Royal Society in the 1660’s.

In the studies of the historians of chemistry, the figure of Robert Boyle tends to hide those who practiced chemistry at the Royal Society at the end of the 17th century (Le Febvre, Evelyn, Goddard, Digby, Moray…). In my talk, I propose first to show the theoretical diversity of chemistry expressed in the 1660’s in this institution in order to highlight the rather isolated Boyle’s chemical position at that time. Second, I will go back over the chemical training course in France of certain Fellows, in particular John Evelyn and Kenelm Digby having both the same master Le Febvre in Paris (the former is the author of a handwritten chemical textbook written with the assistance of his Parisian master in London 20 years after, and the latter develops an atomist thought perfectly compatible with Le Febvre’s paracelsian chemistry). And third, I will compare chemistry at the Royal Society with chemistry at the Académie Royale des Sciences de Paris.


Dr. Didier Kahn
Recherches sur la version française de la Turba philosophorum (XVe siècle).

The Turba philosophorum has been the subject of several in-depth studies. Yet, as Martin Plessner showed half a century ago, its Latin text still deserves further research. Now, vernacular versions of this treatise are known, too, in French language as well as in German. In both cases, the earliest translations date back to the 15th century. The German versions have been recently briefly discussed by Joachim Telle, but the French version was never accurately nor seriously discussed, although it forms one of the main sources of Bernardus Trevisanus’ alchemical treatise. A careful study of this French Turba shows, first, that the Latin model followed by its anonymous translator was none of the different known standard versions that Moritz Steinschneider (and Ruska after him) had identified. It appears, then, that the French version includes several discourses that are not to be found in any known Latin version of the Turba. Some of those discourses rest, nevertheless, on Latin models, which consist of small textual units. These small texts have survived in various manuscripts, but due to their short size, they are often overlooked by authors of detailed catalogues of manuscripts. The existence of such Latin sources brings about new questions, not only on the French version of the Turba, but even on its Latin textual tradition. Despite the weight and influence of the printed versions, it becomes more and more questionable whether we really know what were the limits of the Latin Turba in the Middle Ages.


Dr. Pamela H. Smith
Alchemy, metalworking, and vernacular science.

This paper examines artisanal practices of sixteenth-century European metalworkers in order to attempt to draw out the underlying principles by which these craftsmen organized their work and viewed their world.  These workshop practices were underpinned by a broad but coherent body of principles and beliefs about nature and the behavior of natural materials; a body of knowledge that artisans often sought in an empirical and systematic way.  This body of knowledge, which often included alchemical components, might be labeled a “vernacular science.”


MSc. José Rodríguez Guerrero
The alchemist Perarnau de Vilanova (fl.1325-1343) and the origin of the alchemical corpus attributed to Arnau de Vilanova (ca.1240-1311).

An important corpus of alchemical texts is attached to the name of the Catalan physician Arnau de Vilanova (ca.1240-1311). The very existence of these writings raises some problems not yet solved. What was the origin of the earliest pseudo-Arnaldian texts, such as the Liber deflorationis philosophorum (ca.1325-1340), the Tractatus de aqua vitæ simplici et composita (1332-1333) and the Rosarium [inc. Iste namque liber] (pre.1343)? Recently, I have discovered an Occitan alchemist called Perarnau de Vilanova (French: Pierre-Arnauld de Villeneuve) who flourished in the first halft of the fourteenth century. He is the author of a hitherto unknown Rosarium philosophorum, written in 1336, which is entirely different to other alchemical treatises under the same title. The text can be considered a transitional work between the thirteenth century collections of alchemical recipes explaining how to manufacture particular “elixirs” (De anima in arte alchemiae, Epistola de re recta, Liber septuaginta, De aluminibus et salibus, De perfecto magisterio, Lumen luminum, etc.) and the fourteenth century texts devoted to a universal and unique elixir that could transmute base metal into gold. The Rosarium composed by Perarnau de Vilanova seems to be a crucially important source for understanding the origin of the early alchemical corpus attributed to the medieval physician Arnold of Vilanova, and it reveals that two early treatises (the Liber deflorationis and the Tractatus de aqua vitæ) could have been written by Perarnau too.


Dr. William Royall Newman
Isaac Newton and Alchemy – The State of the Question.

Thanks to the  “Chymistry of Isaac Newton” project at Indiana University, about half of Newton’s chymical papers have currently been edited and are avilable online (  As this material becomes available in word-searchable, edited form, it is rapidly providing a more complete picture of Newton’s involvement – at least thirty years long – in alchemy.  My paper will present previously understudied material that sheds new light on Newton’s hitherto obscure goals for the aurific art.  The material that I present will challenge the prevailing views of Betty Jo Teeter Dobbs and Richard Westfall, who saw Newton’s alchemy as primarily an avenue to spritiual enlightment.  I will argue, to the contrary, that Newton was using alchemy to pursue what modern physicists call a “theory of everything.”  The theory had important resonances with other aspects of Newton’s science, such as his optics, and yet it was firmly grounded in the traditional literature of alchemy.


Dr. Anke Timmermann
Doctor’s Order: An Early Modern Doctor’s Systematic Reading of Alchemica.

In early modern England, university trained physicians who were interested in the manufacture of chemical remedies formed a considerable group of readers of alchemica. One particularly interesting if hitherto unknown example is a physician in late sixteenth-century Cambridge and London: his surviving alchemical and medical notebooks show him to be widely read and very methodical in his reading. In my presentation, I shall consider his reading techniques and materials before the background of the history of alchemica at English universities, with particular focus on the development of college libraries and private collections, and the ways in which alchemical knowledge was accessed, disseminated and processed in medical circles of the time. (Methodologically, the presented research is affiliated with the history of libraries and the history of the book as well as manuscript studies.)


Dr. Miguel López Pérez
The Nature confirmed. Believing in secrets.

“A piece of Rock Crystal, half of which is manifestly turned by the Power of Chymistry into a bright Ruby-like Colour”. This object, described in a private collection of the 17th century, is the starting point of my talk. From rares objects to books, secrets were the real things where the practitioner gave a Nature confirmed for believers and patients. Even in the books, we can read all about a secret: How we can make it, for what, for who,  and more. But we never can read why the object, or the medicine, was their specific properties in the books. It only remains for the practitioner, and people never asked for it. May be they did not need to know why.


Dr. Stephen Clucas
Denis Zecaire’s Opusculum and the unity of the alchemical corpus in the sixteenth and seventeenth century.

This paper focuses on the work of Denis Zecaire, whose book Opuscule tres-eccellent, de la vraye philosophie naturelle des metaulx, originally published in 1562, was translated into Latin by Gerard Dorn in 1583, and subsequently anthologised in Zetzner’s Theatrum  Chemicum. Whilst brought to the brink of despair by the proliferation of contradictory and opposing accounts of the alchemical work, Zecaire believed that ultimately a ‘continual reading of the good and approved authors in the science’ would reveal an underlying harmony  beneath the apparent diversity of their ‘contradictions, enigmas and equivocations’. Although the chymical authors ‘seem to have written different things, under different names and similitudes,’ Zecaire argues, ‘they all really mean one thing.’ Taking Zecaire’s faith in the unity of the alchemical corpus as a starting point I will trace the subsequent history of this motif in a wide range of chymical authors from Libavius to Newton. This exegetical faith in concordance exemplified by Zecaire, I will argue, continued to motivate the hermeneutic and laboratory practices of chymists throughout the seventeenth century.


Dr. Tara Nummedal
Paracelsus, Count Carl, and Anna Zieglerin’s Apocalyptic Alchemy.

In the mid-sixteenth century, a rather unlikely candidate named Anna Zieglerin turned her attention to alchemy. She set up a laboratory near the princely court in Wolfenbüttel, wrote a manuscript on the philosophers’ stone, and shared with her patron the secrets of alchemy she had learned from a mysterious figure named “Count Carl.” Zieglerin’s idiosyncratic and deeply personal interpretation of alchemy offer insight into the way in which individuals made sense of, and even appropriated, the Paracelsian tradition in their own lives.


Dr. Rafal T. Prinke
Beyond patronage. Michael Sendivogius and the meanings of success in alchemy.

Michael Sendivogius was one of the most important alchemists of the early 17th century and his works remained influencial for the next two hundred years. As had been the case with other recognized alchemical adepts, his life became the subject of legends, speculations, and even folk tales. Because of his secretive nature,  reliable primary sources are scarce and dispersed — but the picture emerging from them shows a man who struggled for success throughout his life and won it on several levels: he became famous as an alchemical author believed to possess the philosopher’s stone and achieved a high social position with powerful patrons. Patronage, however, was not the goal in itself — Sendivogius continued to strive for financial independence and eventually reached it, becoming the owner of a sizeable land estate with a castle. A career quite unlike those of other alchemists is certainly in need of explanation.


Dr. Peter J. Forshaw
Bohemian Rhapsodies: Enthusiastic Alchemists at the Rožmberk Court.

The court of Vilém Rožmberk (1535-1592), Rudolf II’s second-in-command, was second only to the Imperial palace as a centre of alchemy in late sixteenth-century Bohemia. Not only did Rožmberk employ native adepts, including the most important Czech writer on alchemy, Bavor Rodovský (1526-1592), Jaroš Griemiller z Třebska, Jakub Horčický z Tepence and other laborants like Linhart Wichperger von Erbach, Christoph von Hirschberg and Daniel Prandtner, at his residence adjoining Rudolf’s on the Hradschin in Prague, or at Třeboň, Prachatice, and Český Krumlov in his domains further south, but he also attracted famous cosmopolitan figures, namely John Dee (1527-1608), Edward Kelley (1555-1597) and Karl Widemann (1555-1637) in the 1580s and Heinrich Khunrath (1560-1605) and Nicolas Barnaud (1538-1607) in the early 1590s. This paper examines the nature of the theoretical and practical alchemy supported by Rožmberk, with material drawn from the published works of these important figures, from manuscripts in the Czech archives, including Rožmberk’s alchemical correspondence in Třeboň, and responses to their work in the writings of contemporaries like Andreas Libavius (1560-1616).


Dr. Deborah E. Harkness
Vernacular Alchemy in Early Modern London.

This paper will argue that a flourishing culture of vernacular alchemy flourished in sixteenth and early seventeenth century London. Using the alchemical notebooks and manuscripts of early modern Londoners interested in alchemy–including Clement Draper, Thomas Mountford, and Hugh Plat–I will explore how the vernacular tradition of alchemy, which traced its origins back to figures like Ripley and Norton, grew and developed. Particular attention will be paid to the ways in which new texts by Paracelsus, Basil Valentine, and other continental figures colored the alchemy being practiced in the City. The paper will also discuss the role that foreign alchemists such as Giovanni Baptista Agnello, Cornelius de Lannoy, Joachim Gans, and Theodore Turquet de Mayerne played in London’s vernacular alchemical culture. Issues of transmission, and the frequency with which some alchemical practices and experiments were copied into surviving London manuscripts, will also be covered in the paper.


Jennifer Rampling
A Universal Solvent: George Ripley and European Alchemy.

George Ripley (c.1415-1490), Canon of Bridlington, has been treated primarily as an English alchemist, his works featuring prominently in Elias Ashmole’s Theatrum Chemicum Britannicum (1652). However, his theoretical position as a ‘mercurialist’ has a distinctly European provenance, locating him in the intellectual lineage of Arnald of Villanova and the corpus of works attributed to Raymond Lull. Ripley’s works refer frequently to his European travels, and, as noted by Ashmole, he was to develop an impressive posthumous reputation on the Continent – his works appearing both in individual translations and major alchemical compendia. Notwthstanding his personal focus on the properties of mercury, the Compound of Alchemy and other works ascribed to him were adopted by alchemists of rival ‘schools’ throughout the sixteenth century, including antimonialists, salinists, and Paracelsians. One reason is suggested by Ashmole, who considered that the methodology of the Compound“is unquestionably to be relyed upon, because pen’d from a grounded experimentall Practise.” This paper examines how Ripley’s use of successive stages to describe the progress of the work, employing the distinctive metaphor of the twelve-gated castle, was to provide later practitioners with an authoritative yet adaptable framework in which to present both theoretical advances and practical developments in alchemy.


Dr. M.E. Warlick
Romance in the Alchemical Laboratory: Sexual Images and the Birth of the Philosophers’ Stone.

From the earliest alchemical texts, authors describe laboratory processes in sexual terms.  Maria the Prophet, a noted Hebrew alchemical philosopher and practitioner advises, “Combine the male and female, and you will find that which you seek.”  As alchemical philosophy develops, many authors portray the work as a heterosexual romance between the hot, dry and masculine Philosophic Sulphur and the cool wet and feminine Philosophic Mercury.  With the advent of profusely illustrated alchemical texts in the 15th century, these sexual metaphors continue.  The text of the Aurora consurgens (Rising Dawn) derives in part from the biblical Song of Songs, in which two lovers celebrate their sexual passion.  Several illustrations within the Aurora manuscripts depict the sexual embraces of Sulphur and Mercury and the birth of their child, the Philosophers’ Stone. Their romance is also pictured in the Donum Dei (Gift of God) manuscripts, in which a King and Queen make love within the vessel to symbolize the fusion of substances within the heated environment of the laboratory furnace.  These images also appear in early printed alchemical texts.  In the Rosarium Philosophorum (Frankfurt, 1550), the sexual relationship of the Sulphur and Mercury is vividly portrayed in twenty woodcuts that symbolically narrate the couple’s romance and the production of both silver and gold.  This paper will survey the development of sexual imagery within alchemical manuscripts and early printed texts and explore the reasons for the origins and persistence of sexual analogies within alchemical philosophy.


Dr. Gabriele Ferrario
A Hebrew handbook of practical alchemy: origin, composition and distinctive features of  ms. Orient. Klein 514, Staatsbibliothek Berlin.

In my paper, I would like to present the results of my researches on manuscript Orient. klein 514 (XVI century), which is preserved in German National Library in Berlin. The most interesting feature of this manuscript is the fact that, among an impressive amount of alchemical procedures, it contains the only extant Hebrew translation of the Arabic book known to Medieval Latin alchemists as Liber de aluminibus et salibus. I will concentrate on the physical features of the manuscript considered as a whole, underlining the elements that led me to consider it as a handbook for alchemists to be used as an operative guide in laboratories. I’ll deal with the modality in which the different sources used for its composition were handled by its copyist, drawing some general guidelines for a critical approach to this kind of texts. I will also discuss some prominent linguistic features, focusing on the elements that lead me to assume its Italian origin.


Dr. Antonio Barreda
The New Science of the Sixteenth and Seventeenth Centuries: From the Streets of Seville to the Gardens of El Escorial and the Desks of London.

My paper presents an overview of the scientific activities pursued by Spaniards in the Atlantic World during the sixteenth century. I argue that the commercial and imperial expansion of Spain in the Atlantic fostered the development of empirical practices for the study of nature(natural history, reports and questionnaires, gardens and cabinets of curiosities, expeditions). This expansion facilitated relations and negotiations between diverse groups (scholars, artisans, merchants, royal officials, and Native Americans) and their respective epistemological practices. From these negotiations emerged a tendency towards empiricism, which characterized 16th and 17th century scientific practices in Europe and America. The story of emerging empirical practices in Spain in the first half of the sixteenth century has two important dimensions: one is related to the actual development of those practices in Spain and the Spanish American kingdoms, and the other is related to the influence of Spanish empirical (and imperial) activities in England in the second half of the sixteenth century. In the mid-1550s, when Philip II was king consort (1554-1558) of England (and Spain had already established an empire in the New World), the English were working hard to obtain access to the Spanish activities in the New World, in particular, scientific activities. An intense intellectual traffic between Spain and England took place in those few years; important books would be translated from Spanish and discussed in England, and their Spanish authors eventually forgotten (as a result of the persistent Black Legend<-an Atlantic World event). My paper discusses, first, the emerging of empirical practices at the level of common people and how these practices were appropriated by the crown; and, second, the appropriation by England of some of these practices as they translated Spanish scientific books and learned from the Spanish about the New World.


Dr. Maria M. Portuondo
El Escorial and the Stars.

In the early 1590s, Andrés García de Céspedes (c. 1545-1611), who later became Cosmographer Major of the Council of Indies, presented Philip II a proposal to establish an astronomical observatory at the royal monastery and palace of San Lorenzo de El Escorial. García de Céspedes offered the monarch his collection of large astronomical instruments and volunteered to build a number of other magnificent instruments. His hope was to establish the palace as a place where, “as Hipparchus traveled from Rhodes to Alexandria,”astronomers from all over Europe could come to El Escorial to carry out astronomical observations. Although his plan did not prosper — the time for El Escorial as a temple of science was rapidly coming to a close — the plan informs us about the relationship between astronomers and patrons in Spain and early modern Europe. This essay explores the many dimensions in which astronomy and its corollary, astrology, intersected with El Escorial’s conceptual and operational plan during the reign of Philip II. As a source of icons for the monastery/palace’s decoration, as an important topic for its library’s collection or as a concern of an ailing monarch, the astronomical disciplines complemented and enriched the scientific activities that took place in this ephemeral Temple of Science.


Dr. Hiro Hirai
The Word of God and Universal Medicine: Oswald Croll’s Paracelsian Chemical Philosophy.

The German physician Oswald Croll (ca 1560-1608) was one of the most famous defenders of Paracelsian medicine and chemistry. At the threshold of the Scientific Revolution, he strongly promulgated the chemically oriented medicine of Paracelsus (ca 1493-1541). Although he was a fervent Calvinist, his philosophy of nature was largely colored by the peculiar theological ideas of Paracelsus and his followers. The core of his doctrine is the incarnated Word of God, which is seen as the “seed” of things. Here, the tradition of the Renaissance “concept of seeds”, which is stemming from the metaphysical cosmology of the Florentine Neo-Platonist Marsilio Ficino (1433-1499) and is developed by the Danish Paracelsian Petrus Severinus (1540-1602), gave a profound impact. Croll’s quest of the universal medicine is closely connected to the elaboration of his matter theory, based on this singular body of doctrine. In my paper, I will analyze the system of Croll’s natural and medical philosophy and demonstrate the importance of the concept of seeds in his matter theories.


Sébastien Moureau
De anima in arte alchemiae of pseudo-Avicenna, a spanish treatise of the XIIth century.

In 1572, Mino Celsi published in Basel in the publishing house of Pietro Perna a selection of medieval alchemical texts under the title of Artis chemicae principes, Avicenna atque Geber. Among the various treatises in this compendium, we find the first (and only) edition of the De anima in arte alchemiae. This text was wrongly attributed to Avicenna at this time, and was probably written in Arabic in the 12th century in Spain, and then translated into Latin about 1235 (the original Arabic text has not been identified yet). This work is divided into two parts: a theoretical part, named Porta elementorum, exposing a theory of matter, and a more practical part, with many alchemical recipes. The De anima in arte alchemiae is one of the most representative texts of the alchemy founded on organic substances, which will provide to this treatise a great success until the 14th century.


Dr. Annelies van Gijsen
The Hollandus corpus: fact and fiction.

Alchemical texts ascribed to ‘Isaac Hollandus’ and/or ‘Johannes Isaaci Hollandus’ first appear around the middle of the 16th century and have been spread and multiplied up to the early 19th century. In spite of its great and longlasting popularity, this huge body of texts has hardly been studied.
About the author(s) of the Holladus-texts next to nothing is known. They have been supposed to be consanguines, father and son or uncle and nephew, and to have lived in the 14th, 15th or 16th centrury. According to Boerhaave, who much appreciated their work, they would be from Stolwijk, near Gouda (he does not mention a source). He also hints that Johannus and Isaac might actually have been one and the same person (Elementa chemiae, Leiden 1723, p. 18; p. 28).
The dating of the Hollandus-texts is closely related to their obvious correspondences with the work of Paracelsus, thougt the direction of influence has caused controversies. At the end of the sixteenth century Paracelsus was suspected of plagiorizing Hollandus, but the reverse is much more probable. In the discussion, ‘post-Paracelsians’ have tried to prove that Isaac Hollandus was still alive and active around 1600; none of their arguments seem valid.
The earliest Hollandus texts concern the transformation of the metals, a.o. by way of the ‘philosophers’ stone’, as well as the preparation of chemiatric medicines and the manufacture of glass, enamal and imitation gemstones. Theoretical speculations with references to classics like the Turba Philosophorum, Geber and Morienus are combined with very practical and evidently experience-based instructions. This apparently appealed to a wide range of readers.
For practical reasons, my present research will concentrate on Hollandus material predating 1600, with special attention for the earliest Dutch manuscripts. For a closer determination of the geographical origin and original date, research of factual and lexicographical indications from this material seems promising.
In the transmission of Hollandus texts, many persons known by name have played an active role: translators, scibes and collectors of manuscripts; printers and editors, etc. An analysis of the networks by which Hollandus texts were spread throug Europe in the sixteenth century will contribute to out insights in alchemical traffic and contacts.
A full bibiography of ‘Hollandus’ manuscripts, printed editions, references in other alchemical texts and research literature is indispensible; my preliminary version will be published at an early stage, because this can hardly be done without help.


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