Glass of the Alchemists: Lead Crystal–Gold Ruby, 1650–1750
Alchemists are often perceived as somewhat strange and mystical individuals who were obsessed with transmuting the base metals into gold. As we know today, they pursued this goal in vain, and most of their theories have been refuted by modern chemistry. However, among the many charlatans and windbags (whom the 17th-century alchemist George Starkey likened to sheared hogs whose “squeaking far exceeds the wooll”), there were a few serious scientists: practical people who strove to improve the various technological processes of their day. These men engaged in what we would call today the science of materials. They had a lasting impact on such technologies as metallurgy and the preparation of pigments and medicinals. And some of them had the knowledge and experience that were required to advance the melting of glass.
This book, which was written to accompany a major exhibition at The Corning Museum of Glass in 2008, brings together the results of studies by scholars in four countries. The first two chapters introduce the concept of alchemy in the 17th century and its relationship to artisans. Five contributions trace developments in European glassmaking and advances made by alchemists /glass technologists. The success of European glassmaking in the Baroque period is illustrated by a catalog of 117 objects in the collections of the Corning Museum and other institutions. The catalog includes 35 gold ruby glasses, as well as the gold and silver ingots that the alchemist and porcelain inventor Johann Friedrich Böttger reputedly “transmuted” in 1713.
The seemingly endless possibilities of glass continue to attract materials scientists, six of whom conclude this volume by providing some insights into their work.