© 2014

Laboratories of Art

Alchemy and Art Technology from Antiquity to the 18th Century

  • Sven Dupré


  • Includes accessibly written chapters on the widest range of visual and decorative arts by scholars of history of alchemy and chemistry

  • High-quality images, sometimes of art objects shown here in print for the first time

  • Includes references to art objects included in the exhibition on art and alchemy at the Museum Kunstpalast in Düsseldorf


Part of the Archimedes book series (ARIM, volume 37)

About this book


This book explores the interconnections and differentiations between artisanal workshops and alchemical laboratories and between the arts and alchemy from Antiquity to the eighteenth century. In particular, it scrutinizes epistemic exchanges between producers of the arts and alchemists. In the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries the term laboratorium uniquely referred to workplaces in which ‘chemical’ operations were performed: smelting, combustion, distillation, dissolution, and precipitation. Artisanal workshops equipped with furnaces and fire in which ‘chemical’ operations were performed were also known as laboratories. Transmutational alchemy (the transmutation of all base metals into more noble ones, especially gold) was only one aspect of alchemy in the early modern period. The practice of alchemy was also about the chemical production of things--medicines, porcelain, dyes, and other products as well as precious metals--and about the knowledge of how to produce them. This book uses examples such as the Uffizi to discuss how Renaissance courts established spaces where artisanal workshops and laboratories were brought together, thus facilitating the circulation of materials, people and knowledge between the worlds of craft (today’s decorative arts) and alchemy. Artisans became involved in alchemical pursuits beyond a shared material culture and some crafts relied on chemical expertise offered by scholars trained as alchemists. Above all, texts and books, products and symbols of scholarly culture played an increasingly important role in artisanal workshops. In these workplaces a sort of hybrid figure was at work. With one foot in artisanal and the other in scholarly culture this hybrid practitioner is impossible to categorize in the mutually exclusive categories of scholar and craftsman. By the seventeenth century the expertise of some glassmakers, silver- and goldsmiths and producers of porcelain was just as based in the worlds of alchemical and bookish learning as it was grounded in hands-on work in the laboratory. This book suggests that this shift in workshop culture facilitated the epistemic exchanges between alchemists and producers of the decorative arts.


Alchemical and Artistic Practices Armourers' Art Ceramic Innovation Chemical Knowledge Cipriano Piccolpasso Florentine Renaissance Goldsmiths and Chymists John Dwight Royal Academy of Arts Three Books of the Art of the Potter alchemy and art technology artists’ workshops from Antiquity to the eighteenth century

Editors and affiliations

  • Sven Dupré
    • 1
  1. 1.Freie UniversitätMax Planck Institute for the History of ScienceBerlinGermany

Bibliographic information


“This volume presents a multifaceted study of the complex, and sometimes blurred, relationship between art production and alchemical process, with a focus on artisans who utilized the agency of fire in the transformation of raw materials into objects of art, such as glassmakers, silver- and goldsmiths, and porcelain producers. … present stimulating new ventures into the subject of alchemy through their ruminations on skill and imagination. … excellent research and teaching resources that connect to a wide and diverse audience.” (Donna Bilak, Isis, Vol. 107 (3), September, 2016)