"Through a Glass Darkly" Showcases Ripley Alchemical Scrolls from Special Collections

April 8, 2022

"Through a Glass Darkly: Alchemy and the Ripley Scrolls 1400-1700," a Princeton University Library (PUL) exhibition shows how European alchemists built on Greco-Egyptian, Islamic, and late medieval foundations to create a golden age of alchemy from the 15th century to the time of Sir Isaac Newton. The exhibition will be on display in the Ellen and Leonard Milberg Gallery, located in the Firestone Library lobby, from April 6 through July 17, 2022.

In pre-modern Europe, alchemy was a science of change. Medieval alchemists pursued medicinal elixirs to counter the public health crisis of their era⁠—the bubonic plague⁠—and attempted to transmute base metals into gold and silver to solve the region's precious metal shortage. They also sought to repair alchemy's old associations with fraud.

"To improve alchemy’s reputation, they presented their work as both a practical art and an ancient philosophical tradition," said Jennifer Rampling, exhibition curator and Princeton University associate professor of history. "One way of doing that was to disguise their secrets using very elaborate, allegorical language and obscure imagery. This fantastical imagery reached its peak with the Ripley Scrolls."

Read more about the exhibit at Princeton University Library or explore the digital exhibit.


The Leonard Smethley Ripley Scroll (1624) Photo credit Brandon Johnson, Communications Specialist, Princeton University Library

The exhibition is open daily from noon to 6 p.m. in the Milberg Gallery, Firestone Library. Open to the public; vaccination self-attestation and sign-in required.

Photo credit: Brandon Johnson, Communications Specialist, Princeton University Library