MOST IMPORTANT ALCHEMY

Trois traitez de la philosophie naturelle non encore imprimez. Scavoir Le secret livre du tres-ancien philosophe Artephius, traitant de l’art occulte & transmutation metallique,

Paris, chez Guillaume Marette, 1612

£10,500

FIRST EDITION. 4to. pp. 103 [i]. Roman and Italic letter. (Latin in Italic and French in Roman letter in first work). Floriated woodcut initials, folding woodcut (between pp. 48-49) and 8 allegorical woodcuts in text, occasional ms underlining and marginal note, large armorial bookplate of the Dukes of Arenberg by E. Vermorcken and A.F. Schoy, with the motto “Christus protector meus”, and ms. shelfmark in three frames on pastedown. Age yellowing, some very minor spotting, blank lower outer corner of C4 torn, t-p fractionally dusty. A very good copy, crisp and clean with good margins in handsome French speckled calf c. 1700, spine with gilt ruled raised bands, double gilt ruled in compartments, filled with gilt scrolls, red morocco label gilt, edges and inner dentelles gilt, combed marble endpapers, a.e.r., extremities a little rubbed, blue silk marker.

Rare and important first editions of this collection of three foundational alchemical texts, illustrated with 8 beautiful emblematic woodcut figures; it contains the first edition of ‘The hierogliphiques figures’ by Nicolas Flamel, The Secret Book of the unknown alchemist Artephius and the True Book on the Philosopher’s Stone ascribed to the Greek Abbot Synesios.. Although Arnauld claims Flamel’s work to have been translated by himself from Latin into French, it is most probably an original composition ascribed to Flamel in order to benefit from the latter’s legendary fame as an alchemist.

“Flamel’s most recent editor, Laurinda Dixon, notes that the Exposition of the Hieroglyphical Figures (first French edition, 1612) “was destined to inspire debate and conjecture not only in its own century, but for three hundred years thereafter”. The controversy centers primarily on questions about Flamel’s identity as alchemist and author: was he – along with his beloved wife and alchemical partner, Perrenelle – a real, fabulously successful medieval adept whose transmutations resulted in many charitable acts in Paris and Boulogne (as reported in the Introduction to the Exposition, precisely dated 1413), or was the “Flamel legend” a fiction created by the work’s first publisher, P. Arnauld de la Chevalerie, in the early seventeenth century? Current scholarly opinion favors the latter view, while admitting the existence of a wealthy medieval Parisian named Nicolas Flamel, a scrivener by trade, whose tombstone is still to be seen along a stairway in Paris’s Musée de Cluny. Indeed, no manuscript or printed text of the Exposition that dates from before the seventeenth century has been discovered. Flamel’s Exposition is an excellent example of the combining of visual and verbal mediums so characteristic of alchemical discourse before and after the invention of printing. Most of the work is, in fact, given over to explication of the painted figures that he commissioned for an arch in the churchyard of the Innocents in Paris; these were no ordinary representations but imitations of the allegorical illustrations from the famous book of Abraham the Jew, that had served as Flamel’s alchemical inspiration.” S. Linden (Ed.), ‘The Alchemy Reader: From Hermes Trismegistus to Isaac Newton.’ Nicolas Flamel is perhaps now most famous for his appearance in the work “The philosophers Stone” by J K Rowling, the first of her Harry Potter series. 

BM STC Fr. C17th A-916. USTC 6016663. Caillet 3976. Duveen (1949) 27. Ferguson I:47-48 (variant issue). “Most of the copies I have examined have been imperfect damaged stained or dirty. The large folding plate of Flamel’s heiroglyphics is usually wanting” Rosenthal, Bibl. magica, 53.

L3037

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