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Chymistry beyond the Universities

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Chymistry at Court

The universities of Europe witnessed a growth of chymical teaching in the seventeenth century with the creation of the first lectureship in chymistry at Marburg in 1609. The European university was not, however the only locus of chymical activity. As the careers of the followers of Paracelsus demonstrate, the early modern European court proved to be of fundamental importance for the development of chymistry. It was here that chymical investigators such as Johann Helfrich Jüengken (1648-1726) and Angelo Sala (1576-1637) set up their laboratories.

Chymistry at Court1
Johann Helfrich Juengken, Chymia experimentalis.. (Frankfurt, 1701) titlepage.

Like many another chymist, Jüengken dedicated much of his work to his patron, Princess Elizabetha Amalia of Bavaria, and, in the case of his Chymia experimentalis,  to court officials. The rise of chymistry at both court and university in turn necessitated the creation of chymical textbooks, textbooks which in turn served to popularise chymistry to a growing public. Nicaise Le Fèvre (1610-1669), is a case in point. Le Fèvre had initially been ‘apothecary and distiller in ordinary to Louis XIV and had taught chemistry privately before his move to be ‘court alchemist’ to Charles II. His Traité de la chymie (Paris, 1660), demonstrates his quest to re-position chemistry as essential to an understanding of natural philosophy. This theme was echoed in one of the most famous chymical textbooks of early modern Europe: Nicolas Lémery’s Cours de Chymie. Both these works were owned by Edward Worth.

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Angelo Sala, Opera medico-chymica quae extant omnia (Frankfurt, 1647), 5E1r.

Worth likewise owned a copy of Angelo Sala’s Opera medico-chymica quae extant omnia (Frankfurt, 1647). The career of Angelo Sala (1576-1637), an Italian chymist who travelled widely in Italy, Switzerland, Germany, the Low Countries and Bohemia, is relatively typically of many early modern chymists. In 1617 Sala had been lucky enough to attract the patronage of Count Anton Günther von Oldenburg and settled in Oldenburg, staying for three years. From there he moved to Hamburg, where he lived from 1620-25, producing a number of works. These helped make his name  and he was approached by a number of noble patrons: Duke Ernst of Holstein, the Landgrave Moritz of Hesse and King Christian IV of Denmark. Through his connection with Moritz of Hesse Sala became private physician to the latter’s son-in-law, Johann Albrecht II, Duke of Mechlenburg-Güstrow. With the Duke’s backing Sala set up a laboratory at Güstrow and hired a laboratory assistant. Sala’s fortunes were closely connected to those of his patron: in 1628, when the ducal family was forced to flee at the approach of Wallenstein, Sala joined them on their journey. His loyalty would later be rewarded when the duke died for Sala was allowed to retain his position as private physician to the new duke, the three-year-old Gustav Adolf. Like many other court physicians, Sala was a keen adherent of paracelsian theory but unlike many of the more die-hard adherents of Paracelsus, he did not reject all of galenic thought – so much so that a later writer whose work was also collected by Worth, Jean-Jacques Manget, thought him to be a galenist. In essence, however, Sala represents the compromise of Andreas Libavius (d. 1616), a writer whose work greatly influenced his approach to paracelsian medicine.



Clericuzio, Antonio (2010), ‘“Sooty Empirics” and Natural Philosophers: The Status of Chemistry in the Seventeenth Century’, Science in Context 23 (3), 329-350.

Gelman, Zahkar E. (1994), ‘Angelo Sala, an iatrochemist of the late Renaissance’, Ambix, 41, (3), 142-160.

Moran, Bruce T. (2005), Distilling Knowledge. Alchemy, Chemistry, and the Scientific Revolution (Harvard University Press).

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