Alchemy and Authority in the Holy Roman Empire by Tara Nummedal

By Tara Nummedal

What unique the genuine alchemist from the fraud? this question lively the lives and labors of the typical men—and sometimes women—who made a residing as alchemists within the 16th- and seventeenth-century Holy Roman Empire. As purveyors of sensible thoughts, innovations, and therapies, those marketers have been prized by means of princely consumers, who relied upon alchemists to strengthen their political fortunes. whilst, satirists, artists, and different commentators used the determine of the alchemist as an emblem for Europe’s social and financial ills.
Drawing on felony trial files, contracts, laboratory inventories, satires, and vernacular alchemical treatises, Alchemy and Authority within the Holy Roman Empire situates the typical alchemists, mostly invisible to trendy students in the past, on the middle of the improvement of early smooth technology and trade. Reconstructing the workaday global of entrepreneurial alchemists, Tara Nummedal indicates how allegations of fraud formed their practices and clients. those debates not just demonstrate greatly different understandings of what the “real” alchemy used to be and who might perform it; in addition they attach a collection of little-known practitioners to the biggest questions on trade, belief, and highbrow authority in early sleek Europe.

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Duke Johann Friedrich of Württemberg (1582–1628) and his mother Sibylla (1564–1614), for example, signed such a contract in 1610 with three alchemists named Andreas Reich, Johann Andreas Hess, and Sebastian Hesch. ” 67 In some ways, contracts like these echoed the mythical adept-novice relationship of alchemical tradition, but they also transformed it. 69 Reich and his colleagues, on the other hand, were more generous and did not hesitate to share their expertise with the ducal family of Württemberg.

As the English alchemist Thomas Norton (ca. ” 58 According to legend, this transfer of divine wisdom was to occur face-to-face, never in writing, and traditionally was accompanied by vows of secrecy. When Norton narrated the story of his own education in the Ordinall, he drew on all of these elements to create a classic tale of alchemical initiation (fig. 2). Knowing that alchemy’s true secrets could only be had from an adept, Norton decided to seek out a master and wrote to the famed alchemist George Ripley (ca.

Successful alchemical works were rare and wondrous indeed, but not impossible. 25 G ch apter one Assembling Expertise H ow did one become an alchemist in early modern Europe? One might imagine joining the ranks of the adepts to be quite difficult. ” 3 Alchemy, it seemed, was shrouded in secrecy, available only to the lucky treasure hunter or to one worthy to receive a revelation. Complicating matters further, alchemy also fell between the two institutions that traditionally oversaw the transfer of knowledge and expertise in early modern Europe: guilds and universities.

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