‘From Figure to Glyph: The Transmission of Meaning in Alchemical Texts, c.1450-1700’
Early modern alchemical texts famously depicted extraordinary images of fantastical beasts, copulating couples, and surrealistic landscapes. These allegorical, emblematic images were one method authors used to communicate meaning to the reader. Another method of transmitting knowledge was through abstract signs, symbols, and ‘hieroglyphs’, such as the glyphs of the planets to represent their related metals, or an upright triangle to represent fire. From the late medieval era through to the end of the early modern period, the ways in which these two types of illustrations were used within pictorial texts evolved. The premise of my doctoral project is that early modern pictorial alchemical texts inclined towards a more abstracted, codified methodology of representing and communicating meaning than had the medieval period. By making an analytical study of these two forms of communication within visual alchemical texts in the period c. 1450-1700, my research will demonstrate how and why abstract glyphs grew in complexity and importance. It will also examine how their insertion into texts containing figurative imagery shifted the pictorial language shared by early modern alchemists.