Chymistry and crucibles in the Renaissance laboratory : an archaeometric and historical study
This thesis studies crucibles at the interface of alchemy, chemistry and metallurgy. For this, a critical literature review is combined with the analytical study of a range of archaeological remains. The main case study is that of Oberstockstall (Austria), the most comprehensive Renaissance laboratory ever recovered, but samples from other sites in Germany, Portugal, England and the United States of America are also examined. The analytical techniques employed are optical microscopy, energy dispersive X-ray fluorescence (ED-XRF) and scanning electron microscopy energy dispersive spectrometry (SEM-EDS). A substantially revised historical framework is defined, with a stress on the need to avoid applying present-day labels such as 'alchemy', 'chemistry' and 'metallurgy' to Renaissance laboratory activities, using 'chymistry' instead as a generic and historically more appropriate term. This is particularly relevant as regards the operations of metallurgical analysis or 'fire assay'. Furthermore, the scientific archaeology of alchemy and chemistry is presented as a new research avenue, with well-defined epistemology and applications. The scientific analyses, in combination with contemporary written information, allow a comparative characterisation of the formal and material properties, as well as the performance characteristics, of the high-temperature ceramics used in Oberstockstall. From a wider perspective, it is established that dark, usually graphitic, crucibles produced in Bavaria and surrounding regions, competed with the historically better-known sand-tempered, bright Hessian wares, and that both of these high-quality crucibles co-existed with ad hoc productions in a variety of contexts of utilisation. The manufacture, appearance and technical standard of the different vessel types are addressed within the wider sociotechnical system. A preliminary approach is presented to the reasons behind choices in the production and consumption of technical ceramics, with an emphasis on past perceptions of different materials. Finally, further directions for the study of pyrotechnological laboratories are suggested.