Art and Alchemy

Art and Alchemy

Sven Dupre, Steve Wharton, Anke Timmermann, Thijs Weststeijn

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Jan I Brueghel, Fire, 1611. Musée des Beaux-Arts de Lyon.

Giorgio Vasari in the mid-sixteenth century and later Karel van Mander in his Schilder-boeck (1604), portrayed Van Eyck as “a man who delighted in alchemy” whose experiments allegedly led to the invention of oil paint. The portrayal of the painter as an alchemist is not as far fetched as one might think as both occupations shared craft processes and materials. In particular, the arts of goldsmiths and glass-makers had strong connections to alchemy. Moreover, some artists’ interests went beyond the practical chemical operations involved in the production of pigments as they became involved in the more spiritual and theoretical aspects of alchemy. This project is interested both in the shared practical knowledge between artists and alchemists and the way alchemy was used to differentiate the identity of artists from craftsmen.