The Visual Arts and Alchemy

in Promethean Ambitions

Published by University of Chicago Press

Published in print June 2004 | ISBN: 9780226577128
Published online March 2013 | e-ISBN: 9780226577135 | DOI:
The Visual Arts and Alchemy

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This chapter describes the relationship between visual arts and alchemy. Early modern practitioners of the visual arts were keenly interested in alchemy as a body of technical processes, especially those pertaining to pigment making, metallurgy, and the low-cost simulation of precious materials. Several case studies are outlined in order to explore the degree to which sixteenth-century figures working in the visual arts were aware of, and influenced by, the alchemical art–nature debate. As long as one judged the merit of an art on its claim to produce a genuinely natural product by leading nature itself to a desired goal resulting in the imposition of a new substantial form, the visual arts were automatically excluded from the race. It is suggested that transmutational alchemy presented a problem and not a solution to anyone who wanted to extol the visual arts.

Keywords: alchemy; visual arts; art–nature debate; transmutational alchemy; natural product

Chapter.  22609 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: History of Science and Technology

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