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Many alchemical paintings, engravings, woodcuts were made to illustrate the numerous alchemical texts of the past centuries. Then alchemy almost died out in the 19th and 20th centuries. Now there is a renewed interest, primarily in the spiritual or hermetic aspect of alchemy. With this, some artists have made drawings and paintings based on the old illustrations, but modified with their own vision, and enriched by their use of artistic techniques not available in the past centuries. Below is a selection of contemporary artists and their alchemical expression on canvas or paper.
Albín Brunovskı (19351997) was a Slovak painter, graphic artist, lithographer, illustrator and pedagogue, considered one of the greatest Slovak painters of the 20th century. When he was young, Brunovsky exhibited surrealistic tendencies. Later his work became more evaluative and critical of Man in relation to himself and society.
This work is a simple but expressive image of the male and female duality, with sun and moon, and the royal lion at the top, symbol for the final result of the alchemical work.
A more comprehensive alchemical engraving. At the bottom we have the fire that heats the alchemical glass vessel. The figure on the left has a winged helmet, and thus represents Mercury; above him is the crucified serpent, symbol for the fixation of the volatile or spirit. Right we have a pregnant woman, symbol for the gestation period of the Great Work; above her is a tree, symbol for growth. In the glass vessel we have a naked woman, Nature, holding the Sun and Moon. Above her is reborn man.
Michael Maschka (1962- ) is a German painter, sculptor, graphic artist and designer. He is an artist of Fantastic Realism. He uses the vocabulary of the visible reality to trace the invisible structures of a spiritual reality that he has perceived. The motifs of his works always rotate around the topics of destruction and renewal within nature or mankind, having been dormant in the human subconscious.
Hermes Trismegistus in a traditional form. here standing in an oven, the fire heating a glass vessel containing the Sun and Moon. He is holding the caduceus staff of the god Hermes/Mercury. He is holding a disk with the mercury sign and the text Tabula Smaragdina Hermetis, the Hermetic Emerald tablet.
The Alchemist, 1995
Similar to the previous image.
Homage to Albrecht Durer, 2020
This is a variation to the famous engraving of Melencolia of Albrecht Dürer. Both contain many alchemical symbols, although in different ways.
Sun and Moon are present, also the three colors of the three stage od the Great Work: Blackness (the armored leg), Whiteness (the white sleeve), Redness (the red stockings and shoes).
Leigh Joseph McCloskey (1955- ) is an American actor, artist, author and philosopher. As a painter, McCloskey has produced a number of works focused on occult, alchemical, and esoteric themes, including his own Tarot deck, called Tarot ReVisioned. It is a 22 card major arcana, in black-and-white detailed drawings, and very symbolic or esoteric. Two cards have clear alchemical depictions:
The card on the left is traditionally The Magician, here represented by Mercurius. The card on the right is traditionally Strength, here expressed by two lions with heads joined issuing forth the Water of Life, with an eastern image of the rising kundalini above it. The two lions with the water of Life is an image that comes from the alchemical text Philosophia reformata (1622), by Daniel Mylius.
Laurence Caruana (1962- ) is a Maltese artist, writer, and lecturer noted for his contribution to the contemporary visionary art movement. he actively pursued visionary experience (dreams, entheogens) as a source for his painting and writing.
On his website, Laurence Caruana, the painter has a long explanation for this painting of the Christ Alchemist. I will just highlight the alchemical elements. In the middle we have the glass vessel with the philosophical son in gestation. He is the soul of the alchemist that after purification, and growth, will become Christ as a symbol for the purified, divine Self. Above the vessel we have the phoenix, symbol of transformation and rebirth. To the right the caduceus around a Christian cross with the symbol of Mercury. To the left the griffon, not so much used in alchemy, and it mostly stands for the end of the Great Work. On the heart of Christ is a rose, symbol of love.
Paul LeBlanc is an American artist who teaches painting and gives graphic design courses on occasion at a local college in addition to undertaking illustration work on a freelance basis.
This painting is a the artist's version of a section that appears of the famous Ripley Scroll.
A version of a well-known alchemical engraving of the Rebis, featured in many alchemical books.
The Alchemist, painted in a more classical style.
Robert Ellaby(1946- ), an English painter, is simultaneously a student of esotericism and a surrealist artist. His paintings are deeply thought out and often grounded in esoteric ideas from kabbalah and alchemy.
This painting is the artist own version of one of the plates of Splendor Solis. A man in black comes out of the mud (Nigredo), with white and red arms (Albedo and Rubedo), with his head as the Moon, accepting a red cloth (Rubedo) from an angel (the Soul). A black crow (Nigredo) is to the left, flying upward. At the bottom, is a skull with the text As Above So Below, taken from the Emerald tablet. At the top is the Hebrew word for YHVH.
Madeline von Foerster (1973- ) is an American born painter, now living in Germany, whose paintings are made with a mixed technique of oil and egg tempera, developed by the Flemish Renaissance Masters. She has made some beautiful alchemical paintings. There is no explanation on the website of Madeline von Foerster.
The explanations given here are mine, and not necessary what the painter intended.
The Chemical Wedding, 2006
Visita Interiora Terrae Rectificando Invenies Occultum Lapidem.
Visit the interior of the earth, and by rectifying you will find the hidden stone.
The broken egg means a new birth. Three colors of the three stage of the Great Work: Blackness in the background, the White Queen and the Red King.
Von Foerster has an interesting alchemical series called Solva et Coagula (Dissolve and Coagulate), painted in 2006. The paintings are inspired by the images in the manuscript Pretosissimum Donum Dei (the most precious gift of God) ascribed to Georgius Aurach de Argentina (1475), although there have numerous versions of this work. The content of the images differs as she displays her own vision of the alchemical terms.
The Perfect Solution, showing the union of the White Queen with the Red King, or Sun and Moon.
Putrefaction, with black background, white corpses, and a red aura around the vessel, with the crow's head (Caput Corvi) as the stopper sealing the vessel. Strangely the corpse suggests an androgen being in the process of becoming.
Purification, with subtitle Mercurius Sapientia, or the Wise Mercury. We see a process of distillation, sublimation at the top of the vessel, and the dove flying downwards symbolizes the subsequent coagulation or fixation.
An Ash of Ashes: As Donum Dei states: "The black fogs have settled on her body, from where they started, and there has arisen a unity between the earth and the water and there has arisen an ash. This ash should not be underestimated, for in it, according to the legendary alchemist Morienus, is the diadem of the king."
The tree shows growth, superimposed on an anchor. An anchor is nut used in alchemical symbolism, but can be seen here as anchoring or settling the process.
Fixation: after distillation and volatilization, the spirit needs the fixated again. It completes the process of distillation, but also points to a repeated process, as indicated here by the two dragons (one wingless, or fixed, and the other winged, or volatized) in the form of a circle. The fire needs to be kept going during this time. The three flowers are the union of body, soul and spirit, at the end of the process.
Cerated Projection. Ceration is a chemical process of continuously adding a liquid by imbibition to a hard, dry substance while it is heated. I am not sure what the painter wanted to display. We see a broken vessel, which indicates that a failure of the work. Inside is a typical depiction of Chaos.