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Genesis ReduxEssays in the History and Philosophy of Artificial Life$
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Jessica Riskin

Print publication date: 2007

Print ISBN-13: 9780226720807

Published to Chicago Scholarship Online: March 2013

DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226720838.001.0001

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The Homunculus and the Mandrake: Art Aiding Nature versus Art Faking Nature

The Homunculus and the Mandrake: Art Aiding Nature versus Art Faking Nature

(p.119) 7 The Homunculus and the Mandrake: Art Aiding Nature versus Art Faking Nature
Genesis Redux

William R. Newman

University of Chicago Press

This chapter explores a tradition of chemical rather than mechanical attempts to create life artificially. It determines a more general objection on the part of alchemists to the procedures of visual artists, which, the alchemists claimed, imposed merely external, accidental changes on matter rather than shaping it from within. The chapter argues that the aspersions that alchemists cast on the visual arts in comparing their genuine but artificial gold with the superficial changes wrought by painting and sculpture play out in different form when alchemical writers come to discuss the homunculus, or artificial test-tube baby. Paracelsus von Hohenheim argues that the mandrake incorrectly described by necromancers and philosophers is really a homunculus, which they have misidentified. The Paracelsian alchemist can produce a genuine mandrake or Alraun in the form of the homunculus, by sealing up human semen for a proper period of time with the requisite application of heat.

Keywords:   alchemists, visual arts, painting, sculpture, homunculus, Paracelsus von Hohenheim, mandrake, Alraun

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