The Philosophers’ Paradise

The 15th century saw the emergence of elaborate sequences of alchemical illustrations, which usually illustrated treatises in codex form. In these images, ingredients and processes are represented allegorically, suggesting analogies with other aspects of creation: from human generation and reproduction to the motion of heavenly bodies.

The second panel unrolls to reveal a subversive reinvention of the Garden of Eden, in which the alchemical King and Queen (gold and silver) take the place of Adam and Eve. The serpent of Eden is a hybrid creature, part-human, part-dragon, representing an alchemical solvent — the “philosophical mercury”. As the royal couple eats grapes from the tree, they dissolve and become volatile: a transformation suggested by white and yellow feathers. The philosophical child is born: an essential “soul” drawn from the metallic bodies of its parents through the agency of the philosophical mercury.