Faculty of Humanities
University of Amsterdam

Research: Mike A. Zuber, MA

Ongoing research projects: Mike Zuber (PhD candidate)

Theosophical Chymistry in the Early Eighteenth Century (PhD project)

Considering recent developments in the historical study of early-modern chymistry, this project seeks to shed light on the relation between chymistry and religion by investigating ‘theosophical chymistry’. This term refers to the phenomenon of iatrochemical and transmutational chymistry combined and layered with religious or spiritual significance. Particularly relevant were Jacob Boehme’s speculative theosophy and natural philosophy; radical Pietist and Philadelphian notions of faith and spirituality, including the irenic impetus to transcend the confessional churches; doctrines such as millenarianism and the restoration of all things, including nature; personal rebirth, sometimes described as transmutation and extending even to the body. Around 1700, various factors led to a revival of what has been termed ‘theo-alchemy’, which saw its first heyday among Paracelsians and Rosicrucians in the late sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries. The wider availability of Boehme’s works from 1682, the spread of Pietism from 1690, and the Amsterdam-based dissemination of Philadelphian works by Jane Leade and John Pordage in German translation around 1700 all contributed to theosophical chymistry. These givens inspired chymical practitioners—some of them virtually forgotten by posterity—to innovate in ways distinctly at odds with models of scientific chemistry, developed in London, Leiden and Paris around the same time. The better known among these chymists include Johann Conrad Dippel (d. 1734), Georg von Welling (d. 1727) and the mysterious Sincerus Renatus (fl. 1710s; Samuel or Siegmund Richter), whereas very little is known of Johann Philipp Maul (d. 1727), Georg Friedrich Retzel (fl. 1710s) or Johann Georg Förderer von Richtenfels (d. before 1745). The attempts of these pious chymists to bridge the widening gap between science and religion (heightened, for instance, through deism and Cartesian dualism) represent an important but untold story that will contribute to a deeper understanding of the Janus face of the early Enlightenment as well as the parting of the ways of chemistry and alchemy.