By Tara Nummedal
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Extra resources for Alchemy and Authority in the Holy Roman Empire
Noble courts occupy a central place in this study because they were the most prominent sites of alchemical practice in early modern central Europe and their archives bear rich documentation of that practice. The sources collected at princely courts, however, often reveal a peripheral world as well. In letters and interrogations, practitioners frequently recounted details of their lives before coming to court, relating how they gained their expertise, why they chose alchemy as a career, and what they thought they could accomplish with it.
This is why they say the book explicates the book [liber librum explicat]. 52 Not all alchemists took the time to read so carefully and thoroughly, however. For every well-read alchemist like Sömmering, there were countless more who owned only one or two books, from which they hoped to distill the entire truth of alchemy. The presence of manuscript compendia only compounded the tendency to rely on one book, albeit with several different texts inside. With such a diversity of books to choose from, alchemical practitioners thus came to a variety of truths, all of which had roots in the vast textual tradition available to sixteenth-century readers.
45 These Kunstbücher divulged the secrets of illuminating manuscripts, dying and cleaning fabrics, and working with metals. An indication of alchemy’s widening appeal, one early Kunstbuch even offered its readers alchemical arcana gleaned from a “famous alchemist from Mainz,” Petrus Kertzenmacher. 48 Perhaps most important, the two printers who issued versions of Kertzenmacher’s book did so in a format that was easy to use. The book contained numerous illustrations of stills and furnaces, as well as an index to facilitate fi nding specific recipes.
Alchemy and Authority in the Holy Roman Empire by Tara Nummedal