BECCAFUMI, Domenico [Mecarino, or Mecuccio]. [La ricerca e lo sfruttamento dei metalli]. [Siena, c. 1525-40].
The extremely rare and complete suite of 10 alchemical and metallurgical woodcuts by Domenico Beccafumi, an important mannerist figure and one of the last pure stylists of the Sienese school.
It has been suggested by many sources that the woodcuts were either inspired by, or produced as, illustrations for Vanno Biringuccio’s De Pirotechnia of 1540. Biringuccio’s work, a treatise on metallurgy, would certainly account for the subject matter but, as an essentially practical work, and, given Biringuccio’s negative view of alchemy, it clouds rather than elucidates Beccafumi’s iconography. It seems more plausible that Beccafumi’s series was inspired by, or illustrative of, an alchemical text or was intended as a liber mutus requiring a detailed analysis of the pictorial imagery, symbolism and allusion in the pursuit of a coherent esoteric meaning.
The date of printing of this series is generally considered to be ‘around 1540’, whereas D. Sanminiatelli, author of the standard monograph on Beccafumi, holds it to be earlier: ‘Essa sembra infatti potersi datare verso la prima metà del terzio decennio del secolo mostrando affinità di stile con opere di quel momento’ (see DBI, vol. 7, under Beccafumi). Briganti and Baccheschi, authors of the catalogue raisonnée, agree with this earlier date, thus putting in question the theory of possible Biringuccian inspiration, as his Pirotechnia was only published in 1540.
Outstanding in design and iconography, this exceptional suite of woodcuts, here preserved in deep and exceptionally strong impressions, is virtually unknown on the market.
BORCH, Ole [BORRICHIUS, Olaus]. De ortu et progressu chemiae, dissertatio. Copenhagen, Matthias Godecchinius for Peter Haubold, 1668.
[bound with:] Hermetis, Aegyptiorum, et chemicorum sapientia ab Herrmanni Conringii animadversionibus vindicata. Copenhagen, printed for Peter Haubold, 1674.
I. First edition of this celebrated treatise, the most frequently quoted by early historians’ (Bolton).
‘Borrichius was famous in his own time as a physician, as a polemicist and defender of Hermeticism, and as a prolific writer on chemical, botanical, and philological topics … Athanasius Kircher’s views, and especially those of Hermann Conring, Borrichius defended the genuineness and antiquity attributed to the Emerald Table and the Hermetic writings. He also accepted as authentic the alchemical works ascribed to such authors as Democritus, Albert the Great, Arnald of Villanova, Ramón Lull, and Nicolas Flamel’ (DSB).
II. First edition, the issue with the dedication, and the folding plate. This work ‘is an answer to Conring’s De Hermetica Aegyptiorum Medicina who had doubted the extreme antiquity attributed to alchemy; it contains valuable information on its early history’ (Duveen). The engraved plate ‘is a copy from an MS. of Zosimus (c. 500 A.D.) of the earliest known illustration of a distilling apparatus’ (Wellcome).
HILDEBRANDT, Johann Bernhard. De lapide philosophico: Das ist von dem Gebenedeyten Stein der Weysen oder Chemia ... Halle, Peter Schmidt for Joachim Krusicke, 1618.
Very rare first edition of this illustrated alchemical poem, with the woodcuts seemingly inspired by Thurneisser’s Quinta Essentia.
The running title of this work reads Das Buch Magnesia. The preface is signed ‘Martin Reitz, Bürger zu Lohr am Mäyn,’ who purports to have found the manuscript among printed books on alchemy which were bequeathed to him by a nobleman. This poem refutes wrong approaches to alchemy and stresses the importance of Christian mystical concepts in the search for truth.
KHUNRATH, Heinrich. Amphitheatrum sapientiae aeternae solius verae, christiano-kabalisticum, divino-magicum, nec non physico-chymicum, tertriunum, catholicon ... [Colophon:] Hanau, Wilhelm Antonius, 1609.
A fine copy of the first complete edition of ‘one of the most important books in the whole literature of theosophical alchemy and the occult sciences’.
‘It may justly be referred to as one of the best-known alchemical works: the plates with which it is illustrated are remarkable both for their subject-matter and their execution. The particular plate showing the adept (probably the author himself) praying in his laboratory has been reproduced in all recent books dealing with alchemy as well as dealing with the history of chemistry’ (Duveen, ‘Notes on some alchemical books’, The Library, 5th series, 1 p. 56).
‘The Amphitheatrum of Khunrath was originally published in 1595, and probably in a very small edition, of which only three copies (one imperfect) seem to have survived. The work contains four very striking large circular engravings, which were substantially reworked, and reissued in 1609 with the addition of a long text serving as a preparation for studying the ‘Amphitheatre’, in the form of seven steps, and now with nine large plates, some derived from the original designs.
'The seven steps consist of 365 texts from the Biblical book of Proverbs, Ecclesiastes and the Wisdom of Solomon, together with Khunrath’s interpretations and annotations upon them. The reader was expected to work through, and meditate upon these texts, one for each day of the year’ (The Silent Language. The Symbols of Hermetic Philosophy p. 32).
MAIER, Michael. Arcana arcanissima. Hoc est Hieroglyphica Ægyptio-Græca. Vulgo necdum cognita. Ad demonstrandam falsorum apud antiquos deorum, dearum, heroum, animantium, & institutorum pro sacris receptorum, originem, ex uno Ægyptiorum artificio, quod aureum animi & corporis medicamentum peregit, deductam. Unde tot poëtarum allegorie, scriptorum narrationes fabulosæ & per totam encyclopediam errores sparsi clarissima veritatis luce manifestantur, suæque tribui singula restituuntur, sex libris exposita. [London, Thomas Creede, 1614].
First edition, extremely rare. Originally published with a letterpress title only, this second issue is distinguished by a finely engraved allegorical title, and with an engraved dedication leaf added.
‘The Arcana arcanissima is a work of special importance, not only because it was the first of Michael Maier’s books to be published, but also because it presented at length for the first time the hermetick interpretation of Greek and Egyptian myths’ (Klossowski de Rola, The Golden Game, pp. 59-60).