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UAL Research Online

Alchemy, image and text: the waning of alchemy and the decline of visual discourse in the late Renaissance

Holme, Adrian (2014) Alchemy, image and text: the waning of alchemy and the decline of visual discourse in the late Renaissance. Journal of Illustration, 1 (2). pp. 189-209. ISSN 2052-0204

Type of Research: Article
Creators: Holme, Adrian
Description:

From its obscure origins in antiquity the alchemical tradition enjoyed a late flowering in seventeenth-century Europe with the appointment of alchemists at European Courts and a profusion of alchemical publication within the rapidly expanding output of printed books. Works, such as Michael Maier’s Atalanta fugiens (1618) and Robert Fludd’s Utriusque cosmi (1617, 1621) incorporated fine engravings, with imagery that reflected the Renaissance spirit of synthesis, resemblance, analogy and allegory, and the deployment of a widely accepted range of symbols and emblems. Microcosm and Macrocosm, matter and spirit, the human and the scientific were presented by Fludd and others as a unified cosmos, linked by complex systems of analogy and resemblance, within a framework of NeoPlatonism and Christianity. Alchemical literature employed a balance of text and image, in which visual argument, using analogy, resemblance, emblem and allegory, complemented text. The question of why this system gave way, in the late seventeenth century and ensuing Enlightenment to modern scientific and other serious discourse, progressively stripped of images, is discussed with reference to the writings of Francis Bacon, Edmund Burke, Ernst Gombrich, WJT Mitchell and Marshall McLuhan. The enduring influence of alchemy upon visual artists, from William Blake to Yves Klein and Anselm Kiefer, reflects a continuing concern with the integration of the material and the spiritual, and challenges a linguistics-based semiotics as well as an excessively reductionist science.

Official Website: http://www.intellectbooks.co.uk/
Keywords/subjects not otherwise listed: Alchemy
Publisher/Broadcaster/Company: Intellect Ltd.
Your affiliations with UAL: Colleges > Camberwell College of Arts
Colleges > Central Saint Martins
Date: 1 October 2014
Date Deposited: 07 Aug 2015 16:09
Last Modified: 07 Aug 2015 16:09
Item ID: 8561
URI: http://ualresearchonline.arts.ac.uk/id/eprint/8561

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