SCARCE ALCHEMY – NO COPY RECORDED IN US

Nuova minera d’oro.

Venice, B. Barezzi, 1590.

£4,250

FIRST EDITION. 4to. pp. (viii) 171 (xiii). Italic letter, little Roman. Unicorn vignette to t-p, decorated initials. Small worm trail affecting one letter of t-p and next, and blank lower inner corner of last few gatherings, small tear on K4, faint water stain to lower margins in places. A very good copy in contemporary vellum, traces of ties, joints partly detached but sound, later inscription to upper cover, ‘I 28’ inked to lower blank margin of t-p and title to lower edge.

A very good copy of this scarce alchemical text, obscure and understudied, but full of gems. Little is known of Flavio Girolamo, except that he wrote this in order to demonstrate that ‘the chemical art is very true’ and that ‘it is possible to obtain gold thanks to the philosopher’s stone’. The work celebrates the traditional qualities and nature of the philosophers’ stone—capable of turning base metals into gold—the four Aristotelian elements, the Paracelsian fifth, and the shape of gold. In order to succeed in his enterprise, the mystical alchemist should ‘remain solitary and silent’ and in so doing may contract melancholy, which would affect his observations and study. In fact, ‘external success in the alchemical laboratory’ also depends on a ‘corresponding purificatory transmutation…within the soul of the operator’, a ‘purgative process’ ridding the body of the melancholic humour (Brann, ‘The Debate’, 279). The work is full of references to the biblical figures associated with alchemy (e.g., Abraham and Noah as astrologers and philosophers), classical deities and figures, and related ancient history (e.g., astrologers in Alexandria had to pay a special tax). The work also portrays the practicalities of an alchemist’s life. The reader is allowed to take a glimpse into the everyday work of an alchemist. The ‘chemical rooms’ of the laboratory are portrayed in all their lively aspects—‘cluttered, full of mechanical things, smoky and pokey’. The alchemist has ‘no delicate nostrils’ and, though abhorring the smells that accompany his experiments, he will withstand them considering the ‘glorious end’ of this labour. In the section on ‘good chemical smells’, Girolamo devotes a paragraph to the ‘smell of money’ or ‘profit’, following Juvenal’s anecdote: ‘as Titus complained to his father, Vespasian, of another Urine Tax [for the disposition thereof from public toilets to the city’s sewers], Vespasian picked up one of the coins earned from that tax and put it under his nose, as if to say “now tell me if this smell offends you”.’ A scarce, obscure and engaging alchemical text.

No copies recorded in the US.

BM STC It., p. 306; Duveen, p. 250; Ferguson I, 318-19. N.L. Brann, The Debate over the Origin of Genius (Leiden, 2002).

L3198

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