Introduction from Alchemical Gold to Synthetic Humans

in Promethean Ambitions

Published by University of Chicago Press

Published in print June 2004 | ISBN: 9780226577128
Published online March 2013 | e-ISBN: 9780226577135 | DOI:
Introduction from Alchemical Gold to Synthetic Humans

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This chapter presents an introduction on the influence of the art–nature debate on European culture as a whole. Not only does nature itself appear to be experiencing an unparalleled threat from environmental degradation and human encroachment on what once was wilderness, but the very concept of nature as an intelligible category seems increasingly remote. The chapter treats a variety of issues growing out of the relationship between the study of alchemy and the topic of art and nature. The Scholastic theologians and philosophers of the Middle Ages appropriated alchemy as a point of reference for determining the power of human art in general. The stakes, of course, were raised when premodern thinkers turned from spontaneously generated mice to the artificial production of human life. Alchemy provided a uniquely powerful focus for discussing the boundary between art and nature. The peculiar relationship between alchemists, painters, and practitioners of the plastic arts during the Renaissance is also explained.

Keywords: alchemy; nature; human art; European culture; scholastic theologians

Chapter.  4623 words. 

Subjects: History of Science and Technology

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