Khunrath’s Amphitheatrum sapientiae aeternae (1595)

Heinrich Khunrath’s Amphitheatrum sapientiae aeternae is an alchemical classic, the best known of Khunrath’s works. The work is infused with a strange combination of Christianity and magic, illustrated with elaborate, hand-colored, engraved plates heightened with gold and silver. The tension between spirituality and experiment, and the rich symbolism of Khunrath’s writings and their engravings brought condemnation of the book by the Sorbonne in 1625, and now attracts attention from scholars.

Located in the Duveen Collection in the Department of Special Collections, University of Wisconsin-Madison (call number: Duveen D 897 flat), this is a rare copy of the first edition of this work, probably published in Hamburg in 1595. There are several other editions, some with additional plates, though lacking in general the generous margins and hand-coloring of the copy in Madison. Only two other copies of this first edition, described by Denis Duveen as “one of the most important books in the whole literature of theosophical alchemy and the occult sciences,” are known to exist.

The work consists of four engraved, hand-colored plates, plus a letterpress title page, 24 pages of letterpress text, plus a final unnumbered page (entitled, in Greek, Epilogos). The plates are signed “Paullus von der Doort Antverp. sculpsit Hamburgi anno a Christo nato 1595 […]”; the last plate is also signed “HF Vriese pinxit.”  Click on the images for larger image files.

Alchemist's laboratory. From Heinrich Khunrath, Amphitheatrum sapientiae aeternae (Hamburg, 1595). Duveen Collection, Department of Special Collections, Memorial Library, University of Wisconsin-Madison.

Alchemist’s laboratory. From Heinrich Khunrath, Amphitheatrum sapientiae aeternae (Hamburg, 1595). Duveen Collection, Department of Special Collections, Memorial Library, University of Wisconsin-Madison.

The hermaphrodite,  also from the same volume: Khunrath, Amphitheatrum sapientiae aeternae (Hamburg, 1595). Special Collections, University of Wisconsin-Madison.

The hermaphrodite, also from the same volume: Khunrath, Amphitheatrum sapientiae aeternae (Hamburg, 1595). Special Collections, University of Wisconsin-Madison.

The four, the three, the two, the one, also from the same volume: Khunrath, Amphitheatrum sapientiae aeternae (Hamburg, 1595). Special Collections, University of Wisconsin-Madison.

The four, the three, the two, the one, also from the same volume: Khunrath, Amphitheatrum sapientiae aeternae (Hamburg, 1595). Special Collections, University of Wisconsin-Madison.

The cosmic rose, also from the same volume: Khunrath, Amphitheatrum sapientiae aeternae (Hamburg, 1595). Special Collections, University of Wisconsin-Madison.

The cosmic rose, also from the same volume: Khunrath, Amphitheatrum sapientiae aeternae (Hamburg, 1595). Special Collections, University of Wisconsin-Madison.The cosmic rose: