Alchemists "imbibing" (infusing substance with spirit). The Ripley Scroll (detail), ca. 1700. The Getty Research Institute, 950053

Chemical Rainbows and Liquid Crystal Souls: The Spirit of Alchemy in the History of Art


Harold M. Williams Auditorium

David Brafman, associate curator of rare books at the Getty Research Institute and curator of the exhibition The Art of Alchemy, explores this mysterious and misunderstood subject and its influence on artistic practice and expression from antiquity to the present day. From the seeds of its practice in Greco-Egyptian and Chinese antiquity, alchemical knowledge and techniques developed along the medieval "silk routes" of Central Asia, India, and the Middle East. Eventually filtering into Europe, the "Great Art of Alchemy" made an indelible impact on the art, science, and creative culture that flourished in the Renaissance and well into the Enlightenment. Materials invented in alchemical laboratories throughout the world include oil paints, dyes, and inks; cements and ceramic glazing; and dazzling effects in metalwork and glass. The legacy of alchemy persisted through the Industrial Age, yielding the modern media that claim to be the ultimate chemical mirrors of nature: photography and the liquid crystal displays of the digital world.

This lecture complements the The Art of Alchemy Colloquium and exhibition The Art of Alchemy, on view at the Getty Research Institute from October 11, 2016, to February 12, 2017.

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