Alchemy and the Art-Nature Debate

in Promethean Ambitions

Published by University of Chicago Press

Published in print June 2004 | ISBN: 9780226577128
Published online March 2013 | e-ISBN: 9780226577135 | DOI:
Alchemy and the Art-Nature Debate

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This chapter examines alchemy and the art–nature debate. The topic of equaling nature by fooling the eye or of outdoing nature's power by producing an object more aesthetically appealing than any in the natural world found ample representation in areas ranging from the making of perfumes to the Zeuxian melding of bodily features to produce a perfect female. The debate around the legitimacy of alchemy provided a focal point for the consideration of human art in general. The basis of Avicenna's argument against specific transmutation is probably to be found in his overall theory of generation and mixture. As the apex of human artistry, alchemy serves as the high-water mark against which demonic power must be measured. This use of alchemy as the symbol of man's ability to alter the natural world would have far-reaching consequences.

Keywords: Alchemy; art–nature debate; human art; human artistry; Zeuxian melding

Chapter.  38456 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: History of Science and Technology

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