Art and alchemy in Düsseldorf’s Museum Kunstpalast

May and June have a lot of bank holidays in the Netherlands, and this year we decided to use one of the bank holiday weekends for a short road trip to Germany. It gave me to opportunity to visit the exhibition Art and Alchemy at the Düsseldorf Museum Kunstpalast, which alone was worth the trip. This extremely well-researched exhibition brings together unique documents and objects, like the Ripley Scrolls, the Leiden Papyri, porcelain, glass, distillation apparatus and historical and contemporary art works.

Museum Kunstpalast, Düsseldorf

Museum Kunstpalast, Düsseldorf

As I have discussed before on this blog, alchemy was strongly connected to medicine in the early modern era, so this was an exhibition I definitely wanted to see. The curators have done a great job, visualizing the connections between early modern art, alchemy and medicine through intelligent matching of objects, images and texts.

The exhibition is divided over two spaces: one focuses on the historical connections between art and alchemy, primarily in the early modern period, and in the other space, contemporary art influenced by alchemy takes centre stage. Whereas the historical section was a feast of recognition for me, I was pleasantly surprised by the contemporary section of the exhibition.

Exhibition catalogueI especially enjoyed Rebecca Horn‘s works, like ‘The chemical wedding,’ a glass reservoir half filled with blue water and a quotation from Johann Valentin Andreae’s 1616 novel The Chymical Wedding of Christian Rosencreutz, anno 1459, printed on top. The blue water -blue symbolized the female in Rosicrusian symbolism- evaporates and condenses on the top plate, thus endlessly dividing and reuniting in this hermetic vessel.

An impressive and surprisingly friendly priced hard cover catalogue accompanies the exhibition. As the exhibition was created in cooperation with the Art and Knowledge in Pre-Modern Europe research group at the Max Planck Institute for the History of Science in Berlin and the Chemical Heritage Foundation, the catalogue contains contributions by leading experts in the field, such as Lawrence M. Principe, Sven Dupré, Jennifer Rampling and William R. Newman, and is available in both a German and English. If your happen to be in Düsseldorf before 10 August, do not miss Art and Alchemy!


About mariekehendriksen

I am a historian of science and art, specialized in the material culture of eighteenth-century medicine and chemistry. I received my PhD from Leiden University in 2012, worked at the University of Groningen as a postdoc, and am now based at Utrecht University. I have been awarded fellowships by the National Maritime Museum in London, the Max Planck Institute for the History of Science in Berlin, the Wood Institute at the College of Physicians, the Chemical Heritage Foundation (both in Philadelphia), and a Wellcome Trust Grant at the Royal College of Surgeons of Edinburgh Library and Archives. The topics of my publications range from historical anatomical collections and medicine chests to anatomical preparation methods and the production of coloured glass. At Utrecht University I work as a postdoctoral researcher within the ERC-funded project Artechne. The project studies how technique was taught and learned in art and science between 1500 and 1950. Although the term ‘technical’ is readily used today, presently a history of the shifting meanings of the term ‘technique’ in arts and science is sorely lacking. My research is aimed at closing this gap in intellectual history, a.o. through the development of an interactive semantic-geographical map of ‘technique’ and related terms.
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One Response to Art and alchemy in Düsseldorf’s Museum Kunstpalast

  1. Reblogged this on PRAELUDIA MICROCOSMICA and commented:
    Marieke Hendriksen (University of Groningen), my blogging colleague from the Medicine Chest, also stopped by at the alchemy exhibition in Düsseldorf, filling you in on the modern section of the exhibition I had missed…

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