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Through a Glass Darkly: The Visual Culture of Alchemy

May 26, 2022 · 8:00 amMay 28, 2022 · 5:00 pm · Bowen Hall

Princeton Institute for the Science and Technology of Materials (PRISM)


The pre-modern science and art of alchemy is famous for its vivid, often bizarre imagery. Alchemical images often represent ingredients and processes allegorically, suggesting analogies with other aspects of creation: from human generation and reproduction to the motion of heavenly bodies. Alchemists also used descriptive and diagrammatic images to convey practical and philosophical information about their art. Such imagery might catch the eye of readers and patrons, or present visual arguments for ideas about nature and artifice. Images also changed over time, as new audiences sought to decipher and adapt earlier depictions—whether reflecting new artistic trends, or revealing changing attitudes towards nature, matter, and antiquity.

This conference explores the visual language of alchemy within the broader cultural and intellectual context of pre-modern Europe. The conference accompanies the Princeton University Library exhibition “Through a Glass Darkly: Alchemy and the Ripley Scrolls, 1400–1700,” open in the Ellen and Leonard Milberg Gallery until July 17, 2022.

Speakers Include:

Donna Bilak (NYU Gallatin)
Stephen Clucas (Birkbeck, University of London)
Leah DeVun (Rutgers University)
Marina Escolano-Poveda (University of Liverpool)
Peter J. Forshaw (University of Amsterdam)
Didier Kahn (CNRS, Paris)
William R. Newman (Indiana University Bloomington)
Lawrence M. Principe (Johns Hopkins University)
Jennifer M. Rampling (Princeton University)

Organizers and Sponsors

The event is hosted by the Princeton Institute for the Science and Technology of Materials (PRISM), which houses some of the world’s most sophisticated imaging technology: a modern analogue for alchemists’ attempts to visualize the interior of matter.

Sponsored by the Office of the Dean for Innovation, the Princeton Humanities Council, and the Society for the History of Alchemy and Chemistry (SHAC).

Organized by Jennifer M. Rampling (Princeton University).

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