Creative Natures

Creative Natures. St. Joachimsthal, Goldsmiths, and Metallogenesis

Henrike Haug

One of the main metallurgical research interests of the early modern period was to discover how metals and minerals were formed. Another was to attempt to transmute one material into another by purifying components, disturbing their ratio, or by changing the consistence of its elements. Starting from the presumption that nature creates metal from the four elements fire and water, air, and earth, or alternatively, by mixing sulphur and mercury with an addition (or not) of salt, it was tempting to imagine that a human artifex would be—in imitation of the godlike creative processes—able to transform one substance into another.

This Working Group paper project discussed metallogenetical positions expressed in the famous sermon Collection of Johannes Mathesius, the "Sarepta oder Bergpostille" from 1562. Mathesius’ explanations and conceptions were compared with other writings from the sixteenth century, such as Probierbüchern, alchemical texts, and texts from the developing scientific metallurgy (Bergbaukunde). In a second step, this theoretical approach to nature will be confronted with a "Doppelscheuer," a goblet built from a coconut, which displays an artificial mountainside in its interior, created by a Goldsmith from St. Joachimsthal. In the synopsis of this artificial object and the theoretical positions explaining natural creative processes, it became apparent that goldsmiths and natural philosophers share a comparable background and base their work on the same concepts of nature. Both positions question how and to what extent a human artifex can engage with nature and matter and what has to be done to raise from an "imitatio" of nature to an "superatio" of its creational powers. Only by understanding the modus operandi of natural processes would one be able to imitate and to excel nature—in form and in function.