As one of the key concepts of alchemy was the transmutation of one substance into another substance, or into a purer state, it was only natural that alchemical work would be applied to medical discovery. Alchemical medicine involved the utilization of plants and nature, as well as, conceiving nature in terms of cognitive awareness; this included meditation similar to Chinese and Indian systems. The creation of medicine using alchemical processes is called “spagyric,” a phrase coined by Paraclesus the Great who revolutionized European medicine in the sixteenth century.
Le Triomphe Hermetique, ou, La pierre philosophale victorieuse. Amsterdam: Chez Henry Wetstein, 1699.
This emblem is allegorical of the philosophical issues raised in the text. The rivers on the right and left meet and create salt represented by the triangular stone, which is being heated to create vapor. The vapor rises towards the sun and moon to create mercury, which is represented by the caduceus. The Phoenix within the triangle symbolizes the formation of sulfur. The crowns represent transcendence.
Nova Medicina Spirituum. Francofurti: Sumptibus Johannis Georgii Schiele, 1673.
Sebastian Wirdig (1613–1687) was a German physician and professor of physics at the University of Tartu, formally Dorpat. Frequently reprinted, Nova Medicina spirituum curiosa combined theology with medicine making others suspect him of being a Rosicrucian. Shown here is a gorgeous double–page engraving.
Aurum superius & inferius aurae superioris & inferioris hermeticum. Amstelodami: Apud J.Jansonium à Waesberge, 1675.
Christian Adolph Balduin (1632–1682) describes in this work his method of preparing a phosphorescent form of calcium nitrate. For this discovery he was elected Fellow of the Royal Society in 1676. Seen here is the Amsterdam edition which was printed in the same year as the Frankfurt edition, but with a different title. This fold-out plate illustrates the Emerald Tablet with the four elements in each corner, personified as Gods.
Reconditorium ac reclusorium opulentiae sapientiaeque numinis mundi magni. Amstelodami: Apud Joannem Janssonium à Waesberge, & Elizium Weyerstraet, 1666.
This engraving depicts the “Chorus Philosophorum,” with three images contained within a circle, one of mercury holding a caduceus, one of an alchemist writing, and the third of a group standing in a circle.
Paracelsus (1493–1541) was a Swiss physician, alchemist and astrologer who revolutionized medicine and alchemy. His medical practices were highly unorthodox. He believed in a holistic and natural approach to health and medicine, essentially paving the way for homeopathy. His success as a physician earned him fame; however, this caused him to be very egotistical. He often acted in ways that offended his peers and colleagues. Paracelsus pioneered the use of chemicals and minerals in medicine. He is credited with coining the word “alcohol” to refer to distilled wine and the word “zink” to apply to the mineral “zinc.” He developed a tincture of opium which he called laudanum to treat various diseases, as well as a series of salt solutions which he called oils. He also discovered that mercury could be used to treat syphilis, a common affliction in his day. Paracelsus was a highly successful physician and cured many prominent figures. He frequently gave lectures at universities and published many influential works.
Pyrophilia vexationvmqve liber. Basileæ, Per Petrum Pernam, 1568.
Originally written in German, this work was translated into Latin for this edition. Seen here in this medical treatise are various symbols used in lieu of the substances dispersed throughout the text.
Commentaria in archidoxorvm libros X. Francoforti: [s.n.], 1584.
This compendium includes Paracelsus’s commentary on a variety of subjects that had not been previously published.
Avreoli Philippi Theophrasti Paracelsi philosophorum atque medicorum excellentissimi De summis naturæ mysterijs libri tres, lectu perquàm vtiles atque iucundi. Basileae: Per Petrvm Pernam, 1570.
This compendium of Paracelsus’s texts is complete with a woodcut portrait of Paracelsus which is taken after the original engraving by famous German artist Augustin Hirschvogel’s (1503–1553). The portrait was made when Paracelsus was forty-seven years old. He is shown with a sword in his arms and a long inscription around the four sides.
Archidoxa Philippi Theophrasti Paracelsi Bombast des hocherfahrnen unnd berühmtesten Philosophi. Getruckt zu Strassburg: Durch Theodisium Rihel, 1570.
This is one of two early tracts which Paracelsus wrote on Longevity.
Avr. Philip. Theoph. Paracelsi Bombast ab Hohenheim ... Opera omnia, medico-chemico-chirvrgica: tribvs volvminibvs comprehensa. Genevæ: Sumptibus Ioan. Antonij, & Samuelis De Tournes, 1658.
This compendium of Paracelsus’s works on chemistry, pharmacology and surgery, contains three books in two volumes. Seen here is a frontispiece engraving of Paracelsus.
Liber de arte distulandi [sic] simplicia et composita: das nüv Buch d[er] rechte[n] Kunst zu distilliere[n]. Gedruckt zu Strassburg: Vo[n] Johan Grüniger, 1509.
Hieronymus Brunschwig (c.1450–c.1512) was a German physician, surgeon, chemist, and pharmacologist who authored several books. Seen here is his Liber de arte distillandi simplicia et composita (“Little Book of Distillation”), which was the first book to systematically describe essential oils, their distillation and extraction from plants, and their medicinal applications. These hand-colored woodcuts show instructions on the distillation process.
Miraculi mundi continuatio, in qua tota natura denudatur & toti mundo nudè ob oculos ponitur. Amstelodami: Apud Joannem Janssonium, 1658.
German–Dutch alchemist and chemist, Johann Rudolf Glauber (c,1604–1670) is often described as one of the first chemical engineers. In 1625 he discovered sodium sulfate, or “Glauber’s salt.” He had his own apothecary where he provided free medicine to the poor. He also made several improvements to chemical furnaces and distillers. This fold–out plate engraving depicts the alchemist in his laboratory.
Philippus Ulstadius (c. 16th century) was a professor of medicine at Fribourg University in Switzerland. Coelvm philosophorvm, sev, Liber de secretis naturæ (“The Philosopher’s Sky, or The Book of the Secrets of Nature”) was reprinted several times. This work describes methods of making various medicinal elixirs through the process of distillation.
Coelvm philosophorvm, sev, Liber de secretis naturæ. Lvgdvni: Apud Gulielmum Rouillium ..., 1553.
Woodcut of a distillery.
Coelvm philosophorvm, sev, Liber de secretis naturæ. Lvgdvni: Apud Gulielmum Rouillium, 1557.
Woodcut of two alchemists using a distiller.
[Medical, alchemical, and craft materials recipes, 15th and 16th centuries].
MSS 095 Item 015
This manuscript contains remedies for various illnesses, chiefly using wine; recipes for pills, for purifying metals; recipes and instructions for making colors for painting, enameling. Additional remedies are written in a sixteenth–century hand, for inflamed testicles, menstrual distress, toothache, headache, leprosy, and recipes for birth control and various hair dyes.
[Italian alchemical manuscripts and printed selections c. 16––?].
MSS 095 Item 016
Selections from alchemical works by Christophorus Parisiensis written in multiple hands. Also includes pages from three different books. Seen here is an alchemical recipe.
The works of the highly experienced and famous chymist, John Rudolph Glauber: containing, great variety of choice secrets in medicine and alchymy in the working of metallick mines, and the separation of metals : also, various cheap and easie ways of making salt-petre, and improving of barren-land, and the fruits of the earth: together with many other things very profitable for all lovers of art and industry. London: Printed by Thomas Milbourn, for the author, 1689.
German–Dutch chemist, Johann Rudolf Glauber (1604–1670) worked as an apothecary selling his alchemical medicines. He often provided free care to the poor. He made many chemical discoveries, including the preparation of hydrochloric acid, the formation or nitric acid from potassium nitrate and sulfuric acid, and sodium sulfate, which is also known as Glauber’s salt. He made significant improvements to various chemical equipment, including furnaces and distillers. He wrote many influential alchemical medical treatises. This collection of his selected works was translated from German into English.
[Italian alchemical manuscript c. 16––?].
MSS 095 Item 018
The owner and writer of this manuscript is unknown. Open to an alchemical recipe.
Copia d’un libro del sig. Gio. Batta. Meltio, Milanese: quale in uita mai uolse lassar uedere à nessuno ancorde li fosse amico... l’ultimo di Gennaro 1641.
MSS 095 Item 019
The unknown owner of this manuscript copied a published book of alchemical recipes written by Giovanni Battista Meltio, an Italian alchemist.