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Depicting the Medieval Alchemical Cosmos

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Chapter Summary

Alchemical images take many forms, from descriptive illustrations of apparatus to complex allegorical schemes that link practical operations to larger cosmological structures. In the concentric circles of his "lower Astronomy", George Ripley provided a terrestrial analogue for the planetary spheres: encoding his alchemical ingredients as planets that orbited the earthly elements at the core of the work. Alchemical writing often develops the idea of a physical or analogical correspondence between heaven and earth. Wheels and circles are familiar tropes of medieval alchemy, often denoting the "squaring of the circle" the transformation of the four Aristotelian elements. While Ripley was probably influenced by such figures, his own Wheel differs from these pseudo-Lullian models in aiming to condense the entire alchemical opus into a single figure. Ripley's Coelum philosophorum depicts an alchemical rather than astronomical cosmos: a true "lower Astronomy" that describes the generation of heavenly perfection from mutable, terrestrial elements.

Keywords: Coelum philosophorum; cosmos; George Ripley; lower astronomy; medieval alchemy; pseudo-Lullian model



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