Reference : Alchemy and Art Technology in German Medieval and Early Modern Recipe Books
Parts of books : Contribution to collective works
Arts & humanities : History
Arts & humanities : Art & art history
Alchemy and Art Technology in German Medieval and Early Modern Recipe Books
Neven, Sylvie mailto [Université de Liège - ULiège > Transitions/Dé rech.sur le M.Â. tardif & la 1è Modernité > Transitions/Dé rech.sur le M.Â. tardif & la 1è Modernité >]
Laboratory of Art
Dupré, Sven
Springer Science+Business Media
[en] In the Middle Ages and premodern period, artisanal knowledge was transmitted via collections of recipes often grouped concomitantly with alchemical texts and instructions. Except for some very well-known artistic treatises, such as those by Eraclius or the Schedula diversarum artium, attributed to Theophilus, detection and identification of alchemical content within recipe books has been rare and fraught with difficulty. In a broad sense, alchemy could be defined as the ‘art of transmutation’, referring to the perfection of base or impure matter (often metal or stone) into perfect substances. In this context, alchemical procedures rely on artisanal or craft practices. Thus, any overlap between alchemy and art-technological procedures can be explained by the use of various identical materials and substances. Both are concerned with the description of colours—especially in regard to processes of change, the making of pigments, the production of artificial gemstones, the imitation of gold and silver and the transmutation of materials. Both require procedures involving precise and specifically defined actions, prescriptions and ingredients. So both use identical rhetorical recipe formulations that reflect a ‘step by step’ procedure. Assuming that alchemical and artistic texts have the same textual format, raises the question: did they also have the same methods of production and reception? Using a corpus of about forty manuscripts produced in Northern Europe between the fourteenth and the sixteenth centuries, this paper investigates the authorship and the context of production behind these writings, and scrutinizes the process of their compilation and dissemination. This serves, on a variety of levels, to elucidate information about their former nature and use. Finally, this paper examines the various ways alchemical and artisanal recipes were embedded within recipe books. It also proposes some clues to help in locating, identifying and demarcating this type of alchemical writing within the literature of recipes.

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