Recording and Reading Alchemy and Art-Technology in Medieval and Premodern German Recipe Collections

In: Nuncius
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  • 1 University of Liege – F.N.R.S., Max Planck Institute for the History of Science, Berlin

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In the Middle Ages and the premodern period knowledge of alchemical practices and materials was transmitted via collections of recipes often grouped concomitantly with art-technological instructions. In both alchemy and chemical technology particular importance is placed on artisanal and craft practices. Both are concerned with the description of colours. Both require procedures involving precise and specifically defined actions, prescriptions and ingredients. Assuming that alchemical and artistic texts have the same textual format, this raises the question: were they produced, diffused and read by the same people? This paper investigates the authorship and the context of production behind a sample of German alchemical manuscripts dating from the fourteenth to the sixteenth century. It scrutinizes their process of production, compilation and dissemination. This paper also sheds light on the various types of marginalia, and correlates them with their diverse functions. It thus delivers significant information about the readers and users of these manuscripts.

  • 4

    Hjalmar Hedfors, Compositiones ad Tingenda Musiva, herausgegeben, übersetzt und philologisch erklärt (Uppsala: Almqvist & Wiksell, 1932).

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  • 6

    Robert Halleux, Paul Meyvaert, “Les origines de la Mappae Clavicula,” Archives d’ Histoire Doctrinale et Littéraire du Moyen-Age, 1987, 54:7–58.

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  • 7

    Cyril S. Smith, John G. Hawthorne, Mappae Clavicula. A Little Key to the World of Medieval Technique (Philadelphia: American Philosophical Society, 1974).

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  • 8

    Lawrence M. Principe, Lloyd De Witt, Transmutations: Alchemy in Art (Philadelphia: Chemical Heritage Foundation, 2002), pp. 2–3; Lawrence M. Principe, The Secrets of Alchemy (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2013), p. 13.

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  • 9

    Mark Clarke, The Art of all Colours. Medieval Recipe Books for Painters and Illuminators (London: Archetype Publications, 2001), p. 37; Principe, The Secrets of Alchemy (cit. note 8), p. 17.

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  • 10

    Matteo Martelli, “The Alchemical Art of Dyeing: The Fourfold Division of Alchemy and the Enochian Tradition,” in Laboratories of Art. Alchemy and Art Technology from Antiquity to the 18th Century, edited by Sven Dupré (Cham [u.a]: Springer, 2014), pp. 1–22.

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  • 11

    Spike Bucklow, “Paradigms and Pigment Recipes: Vermilion, Synthetic Yellows and the Nature of Egg,” Zeitschrift für Kunsttechnologie und Konservierung, 1999, 13:140–149.

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  • 25

    Karin Schneider, Die deutschen Handschriften der Bayerischen Staatsbibliothek, München. Cgm. 691–867 (Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz, 1984), p. 479.

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  • 26

    Nikolaus Paulus, “Der Benediktiner Wolfgang Seidel. Ein bayerische Gelehrter des 16. Jahrhunderts,” Historisch Politische Blätter, 1894, 113:165–185; Hubert Pöhlein, Wolfgang Seidel, Benediktiner aus Tegernsee, Prediger zu München Sein Leben und sein Werk (Munich: Zink, 1951).

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  • 28

    Pierre Cézard, “L’ alchimie et les recettes techniques,” Métaux et civilisations, 1945, 1:5–10, p. 6.

  • 29

    William Eamon, Science and the Secrets of Nature. Books of Secrets in Medieval and Early Modern Culture (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1994), p. 36.

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  • 31

    Wilfrid Theisen, “The Attraction of Alchemy for Monks and Friars in the 13th–14th Centuries,” The American Benedictine Review, 1995, 46:239–253. See also Pascale Barthélemy, La Sedacina ou l’ œuvre au crible. L’ alchimie de Guillaume Sedacer, carme catalan de la fin du XIVe siècle (Paris/Milan: S.É.H.A.-Archè, 2002), pp. 26–28.

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  • 38

    See Doris Oltrogge, “Der Liber Illuministrarum als kunsttechnologische Quellenscrift,” in Der ‘Liber Illuministrarum’ aus Kloster Tegernsee, edited by Anna Bartl et al. (Stuttgart: Franz Steiner, 2005), pp. 32–34.

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  • 43

    William H. Sherman, Used Books. Marking Readers in Renaissance England (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2008), p. 23.

  • 55

    Paul Johannes Rée, “Strauch, Georg,” in Allgemeine Deutsche Biographie (herausgegeben von der Historischen Kommission bei der Bayerischen Akademie der Wissenschaften, 1893), Vol. 36, pp. 527–528.

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