The Whole of Nature and the Mirror of Art

View photo reproductions of engravings from 17th-century alchemical books.

du Pont Gallery

Alchemy’s most familiar pursuits—transforming lead into gold and producing an elixir to prolong life—seemed reasonable in their day, though even then they were the subject of study and debate. Explore the visual culture of this work in The Whole of Nature and the Mirror of Art, featuring reproduced engravings from alchemical books published in the 1600s. The detailed images depict a wide range of topics, including the secrets of the philosophers’ stone and fanciful images of the search for knowledge.

Although alchemy had ceased to be considered a serious scientific endeavor by the middle of the 1700s, its ideas and symbols remain embedded in our culture. Current scholarship is still rediscovering what alchemy was to past practitioners and thinkers. Alchemy was intriguing, inspiring, and mystifying to early modern society, and it continues to fascinate today.

The books behind these images were luxury items in their day. Both scarce and precious, books represented the power and prestige of those who had access to knowledge.

About the Books

The engravings in this exhibition come from books in our Neville Collection. We acquired the Roy G. Neville Historical Chemical Library in early 2004. The collection spans six centuries of print and contains over 6,000 titles dealing with all aspects of chemistry and closely related subjects.

Alchemy, in all its aspects, is extremely well represented in the collection. There are, for example, many of the famous emblem-books, numerous works on chrysopoeia (metallic transmutation), and scores of titles from lesser-known authors.

The Institute’s du Pont Gallery is named after French American chemist Éleuthère Irénée du Pont (1771–1834), founder of the DuPont Company, one of today’s leading science and engineering enterprises.


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