The Work of the Artist and the Work of the Alchemist

by Sister Hilda Kleiman, OSB

To the early artist, making colors was part of the game of art.
- Philip Ball

In chapter three of his book Bright Earth: Art and the Invention of Color (public library), which is entitled "The Forge of Vulcan: Color Technology in Antiquity," Philip Ball discusses the place of alchemy in the development of color.  The very belief in alchemy made some of the development of many colors seem plausible:

If one insists on searching these ancient texts for analogues of modern chemical concepts, they will indeed seem ill informed.  But the efforts of the ancient protochemists to create new colors established some pivotal ideas in the development of chemical theory.  The importance of the very idea of transformation cannot be stressed enough.  That the substances of the earth are not fixed in composition but mutable under human influence is a phenomenal realization.  The very notion of elements – fundamental constituents of matter – would not have been half so powerful and fecund if it were not believed that they could be interconverted.  Without the conviction that base metals can be transmuted into gold, a great deal of practical chemistry would not have been undertaken (62).

The Alchemist's Workshop: Credit  - Chemical Heritage Foundation - PD-Art