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Khunrath's Amphitheatrum sapientiae aeternae

Central image of Alchemist's laboratory

Heinrich Khunrath, Amphitheatrum sapientiae aeternae [Hamburg: s.n., 1595] is an alchemical classic, the best known of Heinrich Khunrath's works. The work is infused with a strange combination of Christianity and magic, illustrated with elaborate, hand-colored, engraved plates heightened with gold and silver. The tension between spirituality and experiment, and the rich symbolism of Khunrath's writings and their engravings brought condemnation of the book by the Sorbonne in 1625, and now attracts attention from scholars.

Located in the Duveen Collection in the Department of Special Collections, University of Wisconsin-Madison, this is a rare copy of the first edition of this work, published probably in Hamburg in 1595. There are several other editions, some with additional plates, though lacking in general the generous margins and hand-coloring of the copy in Madison. Only two other copies of this first edition, described by Denis Duveen as "one of the most important books in the whole literature of theosophical alchemy and the occult sciences," are known to exist.

With funding generously provided by the Brittingham Fund, the Department of Special Collections has undertaken the construction of this Web-based introduction to Heinrich Khunrath's Amphitheatrum sapientiae aeternae (1595). Because the engraved illustrations are packed with symbolic as well as textual information arrayed either on radii or concentric circles, we have provided for close-up examination of important iconographic features, and also transcribed the engraved text surrounding the circular images. A version of the text on all four engraved plates, encoded according to TEI (Text Encoding Initiative) standards, is forthcoming.

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