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Sexuality and Gender in the Art and Imagery of Alchemy

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Joel Klein

on 23 April 2015

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Transcript of Sexuality and Gender in the Art and Imagery of Alchemy

Sexuality and Gender in the
Art and Imagery of Alchemy

2. Early Manuscripts and Prints
3. 17th-Century Printed Emblems
Aurora Consurgens
Sexual Language and Imagery
"Rising Dawn," 15th c. Zürich, Zentralbibliothek
Ms. Rh. 172.
Alchemy Uncensored
Joel A. Klein
Indiana University Dept. of History and Philosophy of Science
Edelstein Fellow, Chemical Heritage Foundation

What is Alchemy?
The Origins of Alchemy
Alchemy dates to the Hellenistic period in Egypt
Leiden and Stockholm Papyri (c. 300 CE)
Zosimos of Panopolis (c. 3rd-4th c.)
"Decknamen" - Cover names
Mercury: "The silvery water, the hermaphrodite, that which flees without ceasing..."
Why all this secrecy?
Legal Pressures: rulers outlawed transmutation
Destabilization of currency
Protection of trade secrets
Alchemy viewed as higher knowledge, sometimes associated with divine gifts.
Das Buch der Heiligen Dreifaltigkeit
(Book of the Holy Trinity)
BSB Cgm 598
15th c., not before 1467
* Attrib. to Frater Ulmannus
* Images from Bayerische Staatsbibliothek, Germany
* pdf avail. online at bsb-muenchen.de
The Rosarium Philosophorum
Frankfurt, 1550
Spiegel der Philosophey, in Eröffnete Geheimnisse der Stein der Weisen (Hamburg, 1718) - bsb-muenich.de
Basil Valentine, Practica de lapide philosophorum, in Musaeum Hermeticum (Frankfurt, 1678), 405
Text avail. at archive.org
Atalanta Fugiens
4. Textual Alchemical Imagery
George Starkey, a.k.a. Eirenaeus Philalethes
One of the most famous alchemists of the 17th century
Born in Bermuda, 1628
Attended Harvard
Wrote commentaries on earlier alchemist, George Ripley
“I could think of nothing more than the enjoyment of this rare beauty which I had beheld.”
“My Rule is not as is the Rule of Princes among Men, but I am serviceable to all, yea to the least Worm in the World; and because I am so serviceable, therefore my Master hath appointed that nothing can or may disobey me, or offer violence to me.”
“...and she feeling him, did so strongly embrace him, that he could not shake her off, and with her sweat partly, and partly with her tears, she did so bestream his Kingly Robes…that they were all suddenly changed into a color Argent: The King loving her exceedingly, asked her what she desired? She answered, that her desire was to have of him Conjugal Fealty; for, said she, I cannot endure this heat, but I must die in it, and without me your Highness can have no off-spring: The King condescended, and granted her request...

Therefore not contented, she had a second, a third and fourth Benevolence, even to the eleventh time: Then said the King, I am very faint and weak...
... Then said the King, I am very faint and weak and trying to go, as formerly, his Legs and Feet failed him, his Flesh and Body … wasted by venery, began to sweat exceedingly…till he was as it were wholly consumed.”
Robert Boyle, Alchemist (1627-1691)
Sir Isaac Newton
"...In the first laborious preparation
our crude sperm flows from three substances of which two are
extracted out of the earth of their nativity by the third and then
become a pure milky virgin-like nature drawn from the menstruum [i.e. menstrual blood] of our sordid whore...."
"And the King loving her exceedingly
gave her conjugal fealty & so soon as she conceived
his seed shee was better able to endure the fire [for the coagulation of ☿[mercury] is found in Saturn] &
therefore had a second third & fourth benevolence even to
the eleventh time [by the gradual addition of the old man
which our author always omits] whereby he grew faint..."
Keynes MS. 21, King's College Library, Cambridge University, 13r
Keynes MS. 35, King's College Library, Cambridge University, 5r
Heated in Furnace
If the stibnite
was heated
with iron
(Antimony Trisulphide)
a.k.a. The Sordid Whore
Metallic Antimony
The "menstruum" or
menstrual blood
Michael Maier, 1617/18
Further Reading
1. Intro. to Alchemy
Where we're going:
4. Textual Alchemical Imagery
As early as 4th c., Zosimos wrote that Sulfur ~ Masculine; Mercury ~ Feminine
Same secretive, sexual language used throughout much of medieval & early-modern alchemy
1. Intro. to Alchemy
2.Early Manuscripts and Prints
3. 17th-century Printed Emblems
"Ripley Scroll," circa 1570. Mellon MS 41, Yale U. Beinecke Rare Books and Manuscript Library. Image from Wikimedia Commons.
Transmutation of base metals
Gold ~ chrysopoeia
Philosopher's Stone
Mercury and Sulfur
Early chemistry
distillation, cupellation, metallurgy, etc.
Image of Stockholm Papyrus from Earle R. Caley & William B. Jensen, "Greco-Egyptian Chemical Documents From the Early 4th C. AD," (Cincinnati: Oesper Collections in the History of Chemistry, 2008). Avail. online at che.uc.edu
Images from archive.org
Images from e-codices.unifr.ch (Creative Commons)
Image from Wikimedia Commons
Image from Andreas Libavius, Praxis Alchemiae (Frankfurt, 1604); Roy G. Neville Historical Chemical Library at the Chemical Heritage Foundation.
Text available (Creative Commons) at e-rara.ch
Images from Wikimedia Commons
Newton's portrait from Wikimedia Commons; Keynes MS. 21 used with permission of Chymistry of Isaac Newton
Images from Wikimedia Commons &
The Chymistry of Isaac Newton
Cinnabar (HgS)
Mercury (Hg)
2 parts Silver
1 Part Star Regulus
"The Milky-white
virgin nature"
"Horrid metaphors and riddles" to send others "into despair and error."
Philalethes, "Exposition on the First Six Gates," in Ripley Reviv'd, 134-35.
Image from William R. Newman and Lawrence M. Principe, "George Starkey: Alchemical Laboratory Notebooks and Correspondence," (Chicago and London: U. Chicago Press, 2004), 103. Original in Sloane 3711, British Library.
Page from Starkey's Laboratory Notebooks
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