Books of Secrets: Writing and Reading Alchemy, a new exhibit of alchemical art and documents, opened December 5 in the Museum at the Chemical Heritage Foundation (CHF). The exhibit features newly acquired 15th-century alchemical manuscripts as well as rarely seen works of art from CHF’s extensive alchemical art collection.
Books were central to the alchemical enterprise, according to the CHF. Alongside their labor in the lab, alchemists worked hard in the study reading, copying and taking notes. The central role of the written word is reflected in visual depictions of alchemists. Alchemical paintings are full of books: alchemists reading, taking notes, even standing with nose in book while stirring the crucible.
The alchemical manuscripts CHF recently acquired provide the opportunity to highlight the role of the written word in alchemy. The key to interpreting these artifacts is supplied by works from CHF’s fine art collection. These rarely seen paintings bridge the alchemist’s intellectual and practical pursuits. Their scenes of alchemists working in their laboratories surrounded by books will be juxtaposed with the handwritten manuscripts.
Books of Secrets will illustrate the craftsmanship of these early written books, from the materials used to the symbols embedded, and will demonstrate their use in the workshop. The exhibit will conclude by revealing the transition from handwritten manuscripts to their early printed counterparts, emphasizing the persistence of individuality among the later editions. Books of Secrets will run through September 2015.
For more information, visit: www.chemheritage.org