Rare Alchemical Books on Exhibit

The Alchemical Quest
July 2012-December 2012
 
An exhibit featuring rare alchemical books of the 16th, 17th, and 18th centuries drawn exclusively from the collections of the Othmer Library of Chemical History, The Alchemical Quest challenges alchemy’s occult reputation by illustrating its importance in early chemical industry and pharmacology, while at the same time addressing the dream of transmutation pursued by natural scientists as respected as Sir Isaac Newton.
 
The exhibit begins by focusing on alchemy’s two most developed practical applications: metallurgy and distilling. In the 16th century, both were the focus of splendid, richly illustrated volumes describing their techniques and apparatus. Alchemy’s link to distilling, the early use of which was primarily medicinal rather than recreational, links it to another important theme: the development of a chemical medicine sharply at odds with traditional medicine.
 
The Alchemical Quest will engage alchemy’s now-scandalous pursuit of gold making and its penchant for secretive communication through an examination of the sequence of alchemical images in the work of Basil Valentine. These images may appear otherworldly, but they can be decoded and do represent a series of actual chemical operations. They also demonstrate a very high, and perhaps surprising, level of chemical manipulation and working knowledge.
 
This will also be the first changing exhibit at CHF to deploy a multimedia tool to provide further engagement with the artifacts and content. The interactive experience within the Alchemical Quest exhibit will present a selection of pages from two books through an interactive interface that will allow the visitor to explore more in-depth the imagery and content, all while preserving their inherent beauty and complexity.

Chemical Heritage Foundation
LIBRARY • MUSEUM • CENTER FOR SCHOLARS
315 Chestnut Street  •  Philadelphia, PA 19106 • U.S.A.
chemheritage.org

 
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