Faculty Books

The Secrets of Alchemy

The Secrets of Alchemy brings alchemy out of the shadows and restores it to its important place in human history and culture. By surveying what alchemy was and how it began, developed, and overlapped with a range of ideas and pursuits, this book illuminates the actual ideas and practices of generations of alchemists. The author vividly depicts the place of alchemy during its heyday in early modern Europe, and then explores how alchemy has fit into wider views of the cosmos and of humanity, touching on its enduring place in literature, fine art, theater, and religion as well as its recent acceptance as a serious subject of study for historians of science. In addition, the book introduces the reader to some of the most fascinating alchemists, such as Zosimos and Basil Valentine, whose lives dot alchemy’s long reign from the second century AD to the present day. Through his exploration of alchemists and their times, Principe pieces together closely guarded clues from obscure and fragmented texts to reveal alchemy’s secrets, and—most exciting for budding alchemists—uses them to recreate many of the most famous recipes in his laboratory at Johns Hopkins, including those for the “glass of antimony” and “philosophers’ tree.” This unique approach brings the reader closer to the actual practice of alchemy than any other book.

The Body in Early Modern Italy

Human bodies have been represented and defined in various ways across different cultures and historical periods. As an object of interpretation and site of social interaction, the body has throughout history attracted more attention than perhaps any other element of human experience. The essays in this volume explore the manifestations of the body in Italian society from the fourteenth through the seventeenth centuries.

Adopting a variety of interdisciplinary approaches, these fresh and thought-provoking essays offer original perspectives on corporeality as understood in the early modern literature, art, architecture, science, and politics of Italy. An impressively diverse group of contributors comment on a broad range and variety of conceptualizations of the body, creating a rich dialogue among scholars of early modern Italy.

The True Medicine, by Olivia Sabuco de Nantes Barrera

One of the first printed medical texts to be attributed to a female author, “The True Medicine” (1587) is radically innovative in its rejection of contemporary medical theory for a more pro-feminist physiology and cosmology. With unprecedented clarity and care, Gianna Pomata brings an important text in the history of scientific authorship to the attention of modern-day readers.

The Cabinet of Eros: Renaissance Mythological Painting and the Studiolo of Isabella d’Este

The Renaissance studiolo was a space devoted in theory to private reading and contemplation, but at the Italian courts of the fifteenth century, it had become a space of luxury, as much devoted to displaying the taste and culture of its occupant as to studious withdrawal. The most famous studiolo of all was that of Isabella d’Este, marchioness of Mantua (1474–1539). A chief component of its decoration was a series of seven paintings by some of the most noteworthy artists of the time, including Andrea Mantegna, Pietro Perugino, Lorenzo Costa, and Correggio.

These paintings encapsulated the principles of an emerging Renaissance artistic genre—the mythological image. Using these paintings as an exemplary case, and drawing on other important examples made by Giorgione in Venice and by Titian and Michelangelo for the Duke of Ferrara, Stephen Campbell explores the function of the mythological image within a Renaissance culture of readers and collectors.

Demon Lovers: Witchcraft, Sex, and the Crisis of Belief

On September 20, 1587, Walpurga Hausmännin of Dillingen in southern Germany was burned at the stake as a witch. Although she had confessed to committing a long list of maleficia (deeds of harmful magic), including killing forty—one infants and two mothers in labor, her evil career allegedly began with just one heinous act—sex with a demon. Fornication with demons was a major theme of her trial record, which detailed an almost continuous orgy of sexual excess with her diabolical paramour Federlin “in many divers places, . . . even in the street by night.”

As Walter Stephens demonstrates in Demon Lovers, it was not Hausmännin or other so-called witches who were obsessive about sex with demons—instead, a number of devout Christians, including trained theologians, displayed an uncanny preoccupation with the topic during the centuries of the “witch craze.” Why? To find out, Stephens conducts a detailed investigation of the first and most influential treatises on witchcraft (written between 1430 and 1530), including the infamous Malleus Maleficarum (Hammer of Witches).

Far from being credulous fools or mindless misogynists, early writers on witchcraft emerge in Stephens’s account as rational but reluctant skeptics, trying desperately to resolve contradictions in Christian thought on God, spirits, and sacraments that had bedeviled theologians for centuries. Proof of the physical existence of demons—for instance, through evidence of their intercourse with mortal witches—would provide strong evidence for the reality of the supernatural, the truth of the Bible, and the existence of God. Early modern witchcraft theory reflected a crisis of belief—a crisis that continues to be expressed today in popular debates over angels, Satanic ritual child abuse, and alien abduction.

Piety and Pythagoras in Renaissance Florence: The Symbolum Nesianum

This volume sheds light on the transitions in the intellectual life of Renaissance Florence in the last quarter of the fifteenth century. Its point of departure is a hitherto unedited Latin text, the “Symbolum Nesianum,” whose original version was written by Giovanni Nesi, a follower of the famous Platonist Marsilio Ficino and then of the austere, fiery reformer, Girolamo Savonarola. The first part of the book presents a lengthy introductory study that illuminates the text s cultural context. The second part offers a critical edition, translation, and commentary for the text. The book will be of use to historians and to all scholars interested in the culture of the city often called the cradle of the Renaissance as it underwent one of its most difficult times.”

Contracting a Cure: Patients, Healers, and the Law in Early Modern Bologna

In Contracting a Cure, Gianna Pomata tells the hitherto unknown story of a fundamental shift in the relationship between healers and patients in the early modern Europe. Using a wide array of sources — including the rich archives of Bologna’s College of Medicine and legal records from several European countries — Pomata explores the tradition of the “agreement for a cure” whereby the practitioner was contractually bound to heal the sick person within a specified period and for a stipulated sum. If the patient was not cured, he or she had a legal right to reclaim from the practitioner any money advanced for the cure. The author argues that such contracts implied a “horizontal model” of healing that gave considerable power to patients and that, in consequence, was a serious hindrance to the growing power of the medical profession. The book shows how the “agreement for a cure” disappeared by the end of the early modern period precisely because of the determined opposition of physicians and jurists, who realized that payment by results was incompatible with the professionalization of medicine.

More than a simple history of professionalization, however, Contracting a Cure recreates the vanished world of meanings that patients and healers gave to their encounters in the past and recaptures the usually neglected voices of ordinary patients. With Contracting a Cure, Gianna Pomata brings us a compelling account of the erosion of patients’ rights that was a basic precondition for the dominance of doctors that characterizes present-day medicine. In recountingthe history of the “agreement for a cure” she reveals a notion of justice profoundly different from the one that regulates medical practice today. The history of the cure agreement, she concludes, is but a fragment in a wider history of the notions of justice we have lost.