The Homunculus and the Mandrake: Art Aiding Nature versus Art Faking Nature

William R. Newman

in Genesis Redux

Published by University of Chicago Press

Published in print August 2007 | ISBN: 9780226720807
Published online March 2013 | e-ISBN: 9780226720838 | DOI:
The Homunculus and the Mandrake: Art Aiding Nature versus Art Faking Nature

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This chapter explores a tradition of chemical rather than mechanical attempts to create life artificially. It determines a more general objection on the part of alchemists to the procedures of visual artists, which, the alchemists claimed, imposed merely external, accidental changes on matter rather than shaping it from within. The chapter argues that the aspersions that alchemists cast on the visual arts in comparing their genuine but artificial gold with the superficial changes wrought by painting and sculpture play out in different form when alchemical writers come to discuss the homunculus, or artificial test-tube baby. Paracelsus von Hohenheim argues that the mandrake incorrectly described by necromancers and philosophers is really a homunculus, which they have misidentified. The Paracelsian alchemist can produce a genuine mandrake or Alraun in the form of the homunculus, by sealing up human semen for a proper period of time with the requisite application of heat.

Keywords: alchemists; visual arts; painting; sculpture; homunculus; Paracelsus von Hohenheim; mandrake; Alraun

Chapter.  4466 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: History of Science and Technology

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