Alchemy and Authority in the Holy Roman Empire by Tara Nummedal

By Tara Nummedal

What unique the genuine alchemist from the fraud? this query lively the lives and labors of the typical men—and sometimes women—who made a residing as alchemists within the 16th- and seventeenth-century Holy Roman Empire. As purveyors of sensible strategies, innovations, and remedies, those marketers have been prized through princely buyers, who relied upon alchemists to strengthen their political fortunes. whilst, satirists, artists, and different commentators used the determine of the alchemist as an emblem for Europe’s social and financial ills.
Drawing on legal trial documents, contracts, laboratory inventories, satires, and vernacular alchemical treatises, Alchemy and Authority within the Holy Roman Empire situates the typical alchemists, mostly invisible to trendy students in the past, on the middle of the improvement of early sleek technology and trade. Reconstructing the workaday international of entrepreneurial alchemists, Tara Nummedal exhibits how allegations of fraud formed their practices and clients. those debates not just demonstrate vastly various understandings of what the “real” alchemy was once and who may possibly perform it; in addition they attach a suite of little-known practitioners to the most important questions on trade, belief, and highbrow authority in early smooth Europe.

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91 Especially useful to alchemists were these authors’ discussions, accompanied by helpful illustrations, of equipment and processes. 93 A particularly striking feature of these books was the illustrations that accompanied the explicative text (figs. 3, 9, 10, 11). Not only did authors like Ercker explain how to make clay vessels and crucibles, but they also provided pictures of the fi nished product that would have helped any reader trying to follow instructions.

The sixteenth century also produced another type of textual resource for students of the alchemical arts: skills booklets or Kunstbücher. 45 These Kunstbücher divulged the secrets of illuminating manuscripts, dying and cleaning fabrics, and working with metals. An indication of alchemy’s widening appeal, one early Kunstbuch even offered its readers alchemical arcana gleaned from a “famous alchemist from Mainz,” Petrus Kertzenmacher. 48 Perhaps most important, the two printers who issued versions of Kertzenmacher’s book did so in a format that was easy to use.

Crafts such as goldsmithing and medicine, for example, were intimately related to alchemy in the skills they employed and the knowledge they required. Likewise, a general background in philosophy provided a framework for alchemical theory and aided the comprehension of often deliberately confusing alchemical texts and erudite references. Not surprisingly, then, many practitioners came to alchemy with training or previous experience in allied fields in the artisanal or scholarly study of nature.

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