Ars Transmutationis Metallicae ... [with, as issued] Commentarium theoricae Artis Mettalicae Transmutationis.

[Venice: Tacuino, 1519 (colophon of part I dated September 1518)].

First edition of one of the greatest rarities in the alchemical and chemical literature; this is an exceptionally interesting copy, bound with twelve leaves of contemporary script conveying an all-encompassing ‘tree of human endeavours’, charting the features and visually suggesting the relative position of human faculties and of most fields of knowledge, an extraordinarily wide-ranging array that includes disciplines such as economics and politics amongst more traditional trivium and quadrivium ‘artes’, and of course alchemy. “Pantheus wrote against spurious alchemy and he deals partly with the assay of gold and partly with the chemical preparation of various substances which were made at Venice in his time and were used in the arts. He describes, for example, the manufacture of white lead and of an alloy for mirrors. Pantheus was a priest at Venice, but seems nevertheless to have been devoted to chemical research” (Ferguson). It has only been recognised in the present century that the Ars transmutationis metallicae is also an important, and very early, contribution to atomism, the precursor to modern atomic theory. Emil Offenbacher, the most important dealer in alchemy and chemistry books of the last century, described the first edition of this book as “almost unobtainable today” (his Cat. 37 (1985), item 137, in which he described the 1550 edition). The greatest collector of early chemistry books of the past century, Roy G. Neville, never found a copy. ABPC/RBH list just one copy in the last 80 years (and that in a modern binding). OCLC lists three copies in US (Claremont Colleges, Delaware, Madison (Wisconsin)).

“During the course of the sixteenth century, a pronounced trend emerged toward the permeation of Christian Kabbalah with alchemical symbolism. This convergence of alchemy and Kabbalah was perhaps to be expected as both arts were concerned with knowledge of creation. Both arts, too, advocated a secret transmission of knowledge from master to pupil, with initiations, ordinations, and revelations from God and his angels. To a certain extent, the kabbalists’ reduction of language to its elemental letters corresponded to the alchemists’ reduction of matter to its primal state; the permutation of letters and words corresponding to the circulation and combination of elements and substances. The first known combination of alchemy and Kabbalah can be found in the works of the Venetian priest Giovanni Agostino Panteo (d. 1535), who develops a hybrid “Kabbalah of Metals” in two works: the Ars transmutationis metallicae (Art of metallic transmutation, 1519) and Voarchadumia contra alchimiam (Voarchadumia against alchemy, 1530)” (Forshaw, p. 149).

The alchemical atomist tradition may originate with the De lapide philosophorum attrinuted to one Frater Effararius or Ferrarius, a work probably of late mediaeval origin, much of which is a commentary on Geber’s Summa perfectionis. Geber’s work advocates a corpuscular theory, in which the smallest parts of matter are particles resistant to decomposition by the techniques of the laboratory, but which are not absolutely indivisible as advocated by the atomists.

“Brother Effararius’s atomistic interpretation of Geberian corpuscular theory received considerable expansion in the early sixteenth century, with the publication of Giovanni Agostino Pantheo’s Ars et theoria transmutationis of 1518. Pantheus, a Venetian priest, was deeply interested in linking alchemy to the Cabala, but also in microstructural explanations of matter. He begins these speculations by commenting on a passage from Aristotle, … a ‘heterodox’ version of Aristotle’s definition of mixture … In Pantheus the Aristotelian passage appears thus: “Therefore according to the Philosopher in Book One of De generatione et corruptione, ‘mixture is the union of the altered miscibles conjoined per minima.’ Note ‘miscibilium’, that is, of the elements.” The genuine Aristotle had of course said in Book 1, Chapter 10 of De generatione that ‘Mixture is the union of the altered miscibles.’ The astonishing addition of the words per minima to this definition of mixture has the effect of turning Aristotle into an outspoken corpuscularian, or as Pantheo would have it, an atomist. For the Venetian priest immediately adds the gloss … “Likewise note ‘per minima’, that is, through indivisibles. For if something could be divided, then it would not be a minimum, since every part must be less than its whole. Therefore it appears that the mixture of the elements is brought about through minima, that is, per indivisibilia. And that ‘element’ is the smallest of existing bodies appears through its definition. For ‘element’ is the smallest particle of the body.” After making it clear that he considers Aristotle an atomist, Pantheo then goes on to apply this theory to the alchemical process of ‘putrefaction,’ whereby a metal or other substance is dissolved into minimal particles. He explicitly compares the dissolution to the procedure of calcination, saying that both involve the loss of an interparticular ‘glue’. Pantheo proceeds to develop an elaborate analogy between the body-to-be-putrefied and a home-to-be-demolished: “For an integral whole (for example a house) consists of integral parts. When one part has been destroyed or removed from its place, which it had before, the form in the whole, or the essence of the whole house, is destroyed, although the stones, boards, and cement from which the house was made remain. So it also happens in our subject. For when the moisture is separated from its own place which it had in the elemental mixture, as it were an integral part in the whole, and this occurs through heat raising it, and separating it from the other parts, the form and essence of the mixture itself is annihilated wholly. But the substance of the moisture is not annihilated, nor can it be.” This interesting comparison rests on an analogy between the mortar joining the building-components of the house to the humidity glueing the elemental particles of a dissolving metal together … It is interesting to note that precisely the same house-analogy is used in Isaac Newton’s chymical notebooks to describe putrefaction” (Newman, pp. 302-4).

“In his preface to the pope [Leo X], Pantheus describes his booklet as very recently put together from varied reading of the philosophers. He wishes it to contain the sincere truth of the secret of transmutation, to abolish deceits and incredulity, to reveal the stone to the sons of wisdom and to conceal it from the ignorant. Reading his book would have saved those who have followed false interpretations all their time and expense. Similarly in a second preface to the reader he promises to elucidate completely this most weighty theme of the transmutation of metals. Actually he only succeeds in making the matter more mysterious by various charts, diagrams and columns of letters and numbers as well as the Tetragrammaton and Greek and Hebrew characters. After the manner of the Lullian alchemical treatises he sets letters for stages in the process of transmutation and gives diagrams of the four elements and primary qualities … Numerical equivalents are given for the different letters of the alphabet, and the totals are added up at the base of the columns …

“After the Art of Metallic Transmutation ends with the date, September 7, 1518, there follows a new title page inscribed, ‘Commentary of the Theory of the Metallic Art of Transmutation.’ It is addressed to a noble Pole named William Hyerosky. In it Pantheus alludes to ‘those Institutes of ours edited in former years’ and over which he has heard that Hyerosky pores day and night. He denies that these Institutes were incomplete as published and left something for verbal interpretation like the cabala. But he now explains what his Hebrew characters represent and the numerical value of some letters. He adds some recipes, then reverts to columns of numbers in his closing pages. It is at the close of this Commentary that we find the final date of publication, December 30, 1518. It is not quite clear whether by the title, Institutes, Pantheus refers to the preceding Ars transmutationis, which may have circulated in manuscript form for some time before being printed, or to some other earlier production of his.

“It seems probable that, after the publication of this volume of 1518, someone called to the attention of its author or the papal court or the Venetian government the existence of a papal decretal and a decree of Venice against alchemists. For in 1530 Pantheus brought out with the same printer at Venice a book entitled, Voarchadumia contra alchimiam: ars distincta ab archimia et sophia. As this title suggests, he now professed to be writing not on alchemy but on Voarchadumia, an art distinct from alchemy. This Voarchadumia he represented as true wisdom, the very opposite of alchemy, a sort of ‘cabala of metals’ … Yet he repeats most of his work of 1518 in the course of the Voarchadumia … Both the Voarchadumia and the work of 1518 were reprinted together at Paris in 1550, and again, but omitting both the papal edict and the preface to the pope, in the second volume of Zetzner’s Theatrum chemicum as published in 1615 and in 1659” (Thorndike, pp. 538-40).

Duveen, p. 449 (“of great rarity”); Ferguson, II, p. 167; Hoover 623; Stillwell 866. Thorndike, V, pp. 537-40. This first edition not in Schmiedler, Geschichte der Alchemie. Newman, ‘Experimental Corpuscular Theory in Aristotelian Alchemy: From Geber to Sennert,’ in Lüthy, Murdoch & Newman (eds.), Late Medieval and Early Modern Corpuscular Matter Theories, 2001. On Panteo see A. Perifano, L’Alchimie a la Cour de Come 1er de Medicis: savoirs, culture et politique (Paris 1997), pp. 18-19.

Two parts in one volume with continuous pagination, small 4to, ff. 38 (Ars Transmutationis ff. [1]-26, Commentarivm theoricae ff. [27]-38), with several contemporary marginal annotations and 12 added blank leaves densely annotated in a contemporary hand; printed in Roman, Greek and Hebrew letters; several full-page and other smaller woodcut diagrams in the text, tables, woodcut border on 3r, woodcut initials throughout (first couple of leaves a little waterstained and reinforced at gutter, but generally very good). Eighteenth-century vellum.

Item #4395

Price: $48,000.00