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    The Art of Alchemy

    October 11, 2016–February 12, 2017

    Getty Research Institute

    Eight roundels containing laboratory scenes, connected by chains to a book held by two alchemists in a larger, central roundel

    Alchemists Revealing Secrets from the Book of Seven Seals, The Ripley Scroll (detail), ca. 1700. 950053

  • Silver plate depicting Hermes Trismegistos teaching Ptolemy

    Hermes Trismegistos Teaching Ptolemy the World System, ca. 500–600. J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles, 83.AM.342

  • Circular diagram of heavenly flames depicting primordial chaos

    Chaos, Paulus van der Doort, 1609. From Heinrich Khunrath, Amphitheatrum sapientiae aeternae . . . [The Amphitheater of Eternal Wisdom] (Hanover, 1609), pl. 9. 1380-905
    View a digitized version of this book

  • Circular diagram depicting the universe with YAHWEH above in the shape of a cloud chained to a depiction of Nature in the form of a naked woman with breast milk showering over the earth, who is chained to a monkey in the center of the image

    Art as the Mirror of All Nature, Matthaus Merian the Elder, 1617. From Robert Fludd, Utriusque cosmi majoris scilicet et minoris . . . historia, [The History of both the Greater and, Naturally, the Lesser Cosmos] (Oppenheim, 1617–1621), vol. 1, pl. after p. 3. 1378-183
    View a digitized version of this book

  • Calculating Celestial Movement, watch how these volvelles rotate on your desktop computer

    Calculating Celestial Movement, Peter Hille, 1574. From Leonhard Thurneisser zum Thurn, [Der Planeten] Circkel und Lauff (Berlin, 1575), fol. 3. 92-F166
    Note: Watch these volvelles rotate on your desktop computer.

  • A mountain with seven terraces and a temple hidden within, whose steps each list a stage of the alchemical process. The seven planetary metals in human form stand on each terrace, while the zodiac is depicted in an arch around the mountain

    Conjunction, Raphael Custos. 1633. From Steffan Michelspacher, Cabala, Spiegel der Kunst und Natur in Alchymia . . . [Cabala, The Mirror of Art and Nature in Alchemy] (Augsburg, 1663), pl. 3. 1380-833
    View a digitized version of this book

  • Digitized book: Salomon Trismosin (attrib.), Aureum vellus . . . [The Golden Fleece] (Rorschach am Bodensee, 1598–1599). Image: Cutting up the King, 1598–1599, pp. 26–27. 41-266
    Note: Click page to turn

  • Digitized book: Johann Michael Faust, Compendium alchymist novum sive Pandora . . . [A New Compendium for the Alchemist, or Pandora] (Frankfurt, 1706). Image: The Perfection of the Work, 1706, pl. T. 1385-531
    Note: Click page to turn

  • Digitized Book: [Book of Alchemical Formulas] (Naples, 1606). Image: Allegory of Distillation (left) and Mercury Workers (right), Claudio de Domenico Celentano di Valle Nove, 1606, pp. 8–9. 950053
    Note: Click page to turn

  • Digitized book: Donato d’Eremita, Dell’elixir vitae [On the Elixir of Life] (Naples, 1624). Image: The Elixir of Life, 1624, pl. 1. 93-B17851
    Note: Click page to turn

  • Brightly colored alchemical tools and equipment

    Alchemical Equipment, ca. 1700. From "Traité de Chymie," [Treatise on Chemistry] (France, ca. 1700), pp. 10–11. 950053.2
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  • An elaborate glass distillation device made of interconnected spheres and tubes

    Device for Distilling Lunar Humidity, Sigismund Bacstrom, 1797. Frontispiece of Johann Friedrich Fleischer, "Chemical Moonshine," 1797. 950053

  • Oil painting of an alchemist sitting in a dark and dingy workshop making synthetic cinnabar

    The Alchemist, Cornelis Bega, 1663. J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles, 84.PB.56

  • A landscape of symbolic figures and a forest bearing symbols of the planetary metals, with a heavenly arc above, containing enigmatic alchemical allegories

    The Microcosm and the Macrocosm, Matthäus Merian the Elder, 1678. From Musaeum Hermeticum [The Hermetic Museum] (Frankfurt, 1678). pl. 4. 1380-912
    View a digitized version of this book

  • A dark-skinned human figure marked with symbols of the elements

    The Entire Earthly, Natural, and Dark Man, 1723. From Johann Georg Gichtel, Theosophia Practica [Practical Theosophy] (Leiden, 1723), pl. before p. 25. 2611-134

  • An alchemical doctor treats patients, one of whom has a faucet in his stomach spilling out rats, and another who sits in a bathtub wearing an alembic hood, purging delusional thoughts in a cloud of vapor

    The Doctor of Fools, Theodor de Bry, 1657. From Jacques Lagniet, Recueil des plus illustres proverbes, divises en trois livres [A Series of Illustrated Proverbs, Divided into Three Books] (Paris, 1657–1663), pl. 15. 87-B9592

  • Digitized book: Leonhard Thurneisser zum Thurn, Quinta essentia [The Fifth Element] (Leipzig, 1574). Image: The Eternal Secret Speaks, pp. 26–27. 2871-095
    Note: Click page to turn

  • Digitized book: Michael Maier, Atalanta Fugiens [Fleeing Atalanta] (Oppenheim, 1618). Image: Just as the Salamander Lives in Flame, So Too the Stone, Matthäus Merian the Elder, pp. 124–125. 41-427
    Note: Click page to turn

  • Digitized book: F. F. Runge, Der Bildungstrieb der Stoffe . . . [Nature's Urge for Pattern] (Oranienburg, 1855). Image: Nature's Urge for Pattern, Friedlieb Ferdinand Runge (German, 1795–1867), title page. 2990-556
    Note: Click page to turn

  • Microscopic observations of liquid crystals with annotations in German

    Liquid Crystal Souls, Ernst Haeckel, 1917. From Ernst Haeckel, Kristallseelen [Crystal Souls] (Leipzig, 1917), frontispiece. Private collection, Los Angeles

The Art of Alchemy

October 11, 2016–February 12, 2017, Getty Research Institute

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Long shrouded in secrecy, alchemy is now recognized as the ancestor of modern chemistry. Alchemists were notorious for attempting to make synthetic gold, but their goals were far more ambitious: to transform and bend nature to the will of an industrious human imagination. For scientists, philosophers, and artists alike, alchemy seemed to hold the key to unlocking the secrets of creation. Alchemists’ efforts to discover the way the world is made have had an enduring impact on artistic practice and expression around the globe. Inventions born from alchemical laboratories include metal alloys for sculpture and ornament, oil paints, effects in glassmaking, and even the chemical baths of photography. The mysterious art of alchemy transformed visual culture from antiquity to the Industrial Age, and its legacy still permeates the world we make today.

Related Events

Incorruptible Beauty: Gold and the Alchemy of Color in Illuminated Manuscripts

Lecture by Nancy Turner
Thursday, October 20, 2016, 7:00 p.m.
Museum Lecture Hall, Getty Center

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The Alchemy of the Handmade Book

Presentation by Daniel Kelm and Timothy Ely
Thursday, October 27, 2016, 7:00 p.m.
Museum Lecture Hall, Getty Center

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Culinary Workshop: Edible Alchemy

Culinary Workshop with Nancy DeLucia Real
--Sold out--
Friday, December 9, 2016, 10:30 a.m.–2:30 p.m.
Private Dining Room, Getty Center

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

Lecture by David Brafman
Wednesday, January 18, 2017, 7:00 p.m.
Harold M. Williams Auditorium, Getty Center

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The Art of Alchemy Colloquium

Thursday, January 19, 2017, 10:00 a.m.–5:30 p.m.
Museum Lecture Hall, Getty Center

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Gallery Tours

Tuesdays and Thursdays at 2:00 p.m.
October 11–December 15, 2016
January 10–February 9, 2017 (no tour January 19)

Related Exhibitions

The Alchemy of Color in Medieval Manuscripts, related exhibition

The Alchemy of Color in Medieval Manuscripts
October 11, 2016–January 1, 2017
Getty Center
During the Middle Ages and the Renaissance, the manufacture of pigments and colored inks used for painting and writing manuscripts was part of the science of alchemy, a precursor of modern chemistry concerned with the transformation of matter. This exhibition examines colorants made from plants, minerals, and metals, as well as medieval recipes for pigments and imitation gold in a presentation that highlights the Getty’s ongoing research into the materials used by book illuminators.

Exhibition Brochure (PDF, 8pp., 400KB)


Press Kit

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