Iconography and Alchemy
“The practice of alchemy is nothing new, after all. And it is not so different from the way you made your Michael. The iconographer takes wood and pigments and uses them to make a bridge—a bridge between the picture and the saint. The alchemist works with metals and tries to touch heaven. They are both paths to God,” Makarios explained.
From Nonna's Book of Mysteries
Emilia Serafini of Nonna's Book of Mysteries was an alchemist, painter, and iconographer who created holy images on panels of wood in the 15th century. Her faith and her understanding of alchemy were closely connected.
Some Thoughts on Emilia’s Iconography:
- During Emilia’s day, the idea of turning lead into gold was an entirely real possibility and the process of alchemy was nothing new. The philosopher’s stone, the secret to the transformation, could truly be achieved.
- In alchemical drawings from those days, the Philosopher’s Stone was sometimes symbolized as a royal baby, which to alchemists suggested the Christ child.
- The Medieval mind encompassed alchemy as well as the Gospels. Alchemy was merely another way of describing their spirituality.
- Alchemists looking at conventional, religious paintings sometimes saw allusions to alchemical themes. For example, a mandorla, or elliptical shape behind a full length Christ, might have suggested the sealed alchemical vessel in which the experiment took place.
- In the Image Maker Emilia’s painting of Christ in a flowerbed with dead trees in the background combined her religious beliefs with her understanding of the phases of alchemy.
- To view some beautiful icons painted by a modern day iconographer living in Chicago, visit Joseph Malham’s website at www.TrinityIcons.com.