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Now recognized as the ancestor of modern chemistry, alchemy is a mysterious and often misunderstood blend of science, philosophy, and spirituality. Alchemists were notorious for making artificial gold, but their impact extended far beyond their desire for noble metals. David Brafman, associate curator of rare books and curator of The Art of Alchemy at the Getty Research Institute, discusses how this medieval magic has had an enduring influence on scientific and artistic culture.

The Ripley Scroll / Alchemical Rolls

The Ripley Scroll, 1700, England. Watercolor. The Getty Research Institute, 950053

More to Explore

The Art of Alchemy exhibition information

The Getty Alchemy Collection archive materials

Featured works in this episode:

  • The Ripley Scroll, ca. 1700, English. Watercolor. The Getty Research Institute, 950053
  • Mummy Portrait of a Woman,  100–110, attributed to the Isidora Master. Encaustic on wood, gilt, linen. The J. Paul Getty Museum, 81.AP.42
  • Crystal Icosahedron (Water Atom), ca. first century. Rock crystal. Staatliche Museen zu Berlin
  • A Chinese Mercury Industrial Complex, 1637, reprint 1929, Chinese. Facsimile of woodcut in Song Yingxing, Tian Gong Kai Wu (Exploitation of the Works of Nature). UCLA Richard C. Rudolph East Asian Library
  • The Chemical Wedding of Hermes and Aphrodite, 1687, Matthäus Merian the Elder. Engraving in Michael Maier, Scrutinium chymicum. The Getty Research Institute, 1380-908

JIM CUNO:  Hello, I’m Jim Cuno, president of the J. Paul Getty Trust. Welcome to Art and Ideas, a podcast in which I speak to artists, conservators, authors, and scholars about their work.

DAVID BRAFMAN:  I think in the end, alchemy was a science that was infused with spirituality and ...

Music Credits

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This post is part of Art + Ideas, a podcast in which Getty president Jim Cuno talks with artists, writers, curators, and scholars about their work.
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