31 Days of Medieval Manuscripts

Alchemical Manuscripts – Day Twenty-Nine of Medieval Manuscripts

Alchemical recipes and processes from Wellcome Library’s MS. 446 (late 15th-century alchemical manuscript in French and Latin), f. 27v–28r. Wellcome Image no. L0031726 .

In preparation for Halloween, I decided that today’s post should have something to do with something magical(ish) and eventually settled on alchemy. Alchemy is probably more of pseudo science than it is magic, but it was in Harry Potter, so I’ll let this slide. Alchemical treatises and illustrations were common in manuscripts of the Western and Eastern worlds alike during the Middle Ages. Alchemy was often lumped together with other scientific pursuits, including medicine, astronomy, and chemistry. Unfortunately, I know very little about alchemy besides what the Philosopher’s Stone is and the fact that alchemists aimed to transform base metals into gold, so I have no idea what any of these apparatuses and diagrams mean. However, they certainly are interesting to look at!

A diagram from BL MS Sloane 3747 f.80v. Medical miscellany, including a dialogue (ff. 66-71); tract on mercury (ff. 53-54); Ripley’s Mystery on alchemy (ff. 110-115); two treatises on the Philosophers’ stone. England, 15th cen.

Speaking of Halloween, I’m about to transform myself into Evil Queen Regina and go off to a Halloween party. While I’m gone, you can check out this “Art and Alchemy” blog post from the British Library. The manuscripts featured, the Ripley Scrolls, are a little later than those I usually post here, but they are pretty spectacular and definitely worth a look. You may also enjoy The Alchemy Website, an online museum dedicated to alchemy in all its many facets.

Image from a series of astrological and alchemical treatises in British Library MS. Oriental. Add. 25724. Via The Alchemy Website.

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