[Occult & Esoterica] [Alchemy] [Rosicrucianism] [Kabbalah]

Heinrich Khunrath


Hanau: Wilhelm Anton, 1609.

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Text in Latin (some words in German, Hebrew and Greek). Edited by Erasmus Wolfart.

Illustrated with an engraved title, engraved frontispiece portrait of Hunrath and 8 (of 9) splendid double-page engraved plates.


This remarkable work was initially published in 1595 in Hamburg in a shorter version (with four plates only), however that edition is now virtually unobtainable. This enlarged 2nd edition was edited by Khunrath's student and friend Erasmus Wolfart, "who shared his secrets".

Klossowski de Rola notes that the Privilege given by Emperor Rudolph II is dated 1 June 1598, which indicates that the manuscript of the work in its original form had been completed at that time. It was not however printed until 1602, which date appears on the engraved title-page, on Khunrath's portrait and on the five large rectangular folding plates which are captioned. The same date appears at the conclusion of the whole work (p. 222). He suggests that all these seven plates were probably executed by Jan Diricks van Campen, who was active at Magdeburg (although only Khunrath's portrait is actually signed by him); the four undated circular plates (which appeared in the 1595 1st edition) were designed by Khunrath and executed by the Dutch engraver Paulus van der Doort. "Hans Vredeman de Vries, who drew the circular plate of the Laboratory (subsequently engraved by Paulus van de Doort in Antwerp), was an architect and an architectural painter of note. Born in Leeuwarden (1527), he studied in Amsterdam, then moved to Antwerp, Hamburg (1591), Prague and Leipzig. His ideas on perspective and architecture gained currency through his books, including Theatrum vitae humanae (1577)." (S. Klossowski de Rola, The Golden Game, p.30)

The Amphitheatrum Sapientiae, the most important work of the German follower of Paracelsus, Heinrich Khunrath, "is a theosophical commentary on selected verses from the Solomonic texts of the Bible, in which Khunrath seeks to propound his 'way of correctly philosophising' by a 'mystical Ladder of Seven Orthodox Grades'." (P. Forshaw, 'Alchemy in the Amphiteatre', in Jacob Wamberg (ed.), Art & Alchemy, p. 196),

Forshaw further emphasizes the particular importance of the work's magnificent engraved plates, the "detailed and complex images which have been numbered among the most important and remarkable mystical drawings in the world depicting remarkable illustrations of a kind of sophic Utopia, the whole symbolic landscape of the occultists. Umberto Eco describes them as 'complex verbal-visual constructions, where banderoles, subscript texts, [and] compositions in rebus merge with symbolic representations", displaying 'surreal landscapes, initiatory journeys [...] a sort of Dantean ascent to a magical passage [resembling] Christian Rosencreutz's tomb in the Fama and Jacques van Lennep likens them to 'visual mazes' and logographs, constituting what Urszula Szulakowska calls the 'first Paracelsian illustrative cycle'. They are, indeed, of particular interest in the history of alchemical imagery in that they predate the famous alchemical emblem books of, for example, Michael Maier, Johann Daniel Mylius, and Daniel Stolcius, and are far more sophisticated than anything that had come before, such as Arnold of Villanova's famous Rosarium Philosophorum series (1550) or the illustrations in Petrus Bonus' Pretiosa Margarita Novella (1546)." (Forshaw, Op. cit., p. 196-7)

"One of the most beautiful books ever produced in the cause of alchemy is alchemist and physician Heinrich Khunrath's Amphitheatrum sapientiae aeternae. A pioneering argument for the use of alchemy for the purposes of spiritual transformation and regeneration, Khunrath's volume in its [2nd] edition (1609) bore an expanded title that indicates his treatise's grand ambitions [...] [and] which Peter Forshaw translates as 'The Universal Ter-tri-une Christian-Cabalist, Divinely Magical, and Physico-Chemical Amphitheatre of the Only True Eternal Wisdom'. It immediately became famous, however, less for its text than for its illustrations, which sparked a rage for sophisticated illustration techniques in alchemical emblem books. In four elaborate [...] circular engravings, the Amphitheatrum illustrates alchemy in action as a process that washes clean the impurities of body and soul." (Katherine Eggert, Disknowledge: Literature, Alchemy, and the End of Humanism in Renaissance England, p.110)

Klossowski de Rola was "particularly impressed with Kuhnrath's pursuit of the Philosopher's stone for the avowed end of merging with Divine Wisdom, his combined use of Kabbalah, music and alchemy and alchemy and his bold interpretation of the holy scriptures. His emblems are a veritable treasure-house, and a prolonged study will constantly yield subtler levels of meaning. Their perusal with s good magnifying glass is recommended." (The Golden Game, p.30)

Frances Yates considered Khunrath to be A LINK BETWEEN THE PHILOSOPHY OF JOHN DEE AND ROSICRUCIANISM: "Ashmole states that on 27 June 1589, when at Bremen, Dee was visited by 'that famous Hermetique Philosopher, Dr Henricus Khunrath of Hamburgh'. The influence of Dee is in fact apparent in Khunrath's extraordinary work, 'The Amphitheater of Eternal Wisdom'. Dee's 'monas' symbol, the complex sign which he expounded in his Monas hieroglyphica [...] as expressive of his peculiar form of alchemical philosophy, can be seen in one of the illustrations in the 'Amphitheatre', and both Dee's Monas and his Aphorisms are mentioned in Khunrath's text. Khunrath's 'Amphitheatre' forms a link between a philosophy influenced by Dee and the philosophy of the Rosicrucian manifestos. In Khunrath's work we meet with the characteristic phraseology of the manifestos, the everlasting emphasis on macrocosm and microcosm, the stress on Magia, Cabala, and Alchymia as in some way combining to form a religious philosophy which promises a new dawn for mankind.

"The symbolic engravings in 'The Amphitheatre of Eternal Wisdom' are worth pondering over as a visual introduction to the imagery and the philosophy which we shall meet in the Rosicrucian manifestos. [...] One engraving shows a great cave, with inscriptions on its walls, through which adepts of some spiritual experience are moving towards a light. This may well have suggested imagery in the Rosicrucian Fama, and the engraving of a religious alchemist is suggestive of the outlook, both of John Dee and of the Rosicrucian manifestos. On the left, a man in an attitude of intense worship kneels before an altar on which are Cabalistic and geometrical symbols. On the right is to be seen a great furnace with all the apparatus of the alchemist's work. In the centre, musical instruments are piled on a table. And the setting of the whole is in a hall drawn with all the expertise of the modern perspectivist, indicating knowledge of those mathematical arts which went with architecture in the Renaissance. This engraving is a visual expression of the kind of outlook which John Dee summed up in his Monas hieroglyphica, a combination of Cabalist, alchemical, and mathematical disciplines through which the adept believed that he could achieve both a profound insight into nature and vision of a divine world beyond nature." (F.A. Yates, Rosicrucian Enlightenment, p.38-9)

Éliphas Lévi in his vastly popular Dogme et Rituel de la Haute Magie speaks highly of Hunrath's work 'The most curious things which we have found on this subject [The Great Work] are indicated by the mystical figures and magical legends in a book of Henry Khunrath, entitled Amphitheatrum Sapientae Aeternae. Khunrath represents and resumes the most learned Gnostic schools, and connects in symbology with the mysticism of Synesius. He affects Christianity in expressions and in signs, but it is easy to see that his Christ is the ABRAXAS, the Luminous Pentagram radiating on the Astronomical Cross, the incarnation in humanity of the sovereign sun celebrated by the Emperor Julian; it is the luminous and living manifestation of that Ruach Elohim that, according to Moses, brooded and worked upon the bosom of the waters at the birth of the world; [...] and in the four-fold legend of the evangelists, Khunrath finds the allegorical key of the Great Work. One of the pentacles of his magical book represents the philosophical stone erected in the middle of a fortress surrounded by a wall in which there are twenty impracticable gates. One alone conducts to the sanctuary of the Great Work. Above the Stone there is a triangle placed upon a winged dragon, and on the Stone is graven the name of Christ, qualified as the symbolical image of all Nature. 'It is by Him alone,' he adds, 'that thou canst obtain the Universal Medicine for men, animals, vegetables and minerals. The Winged Dragon, dominated by the triangle, represents therefore the Christ of Khunrath - that is, the Sovereign Intelligence of Light and Life." (Eliphas Levi, tr. by A.E. Waite, Transcendental Magic: Its Doctrine and Rituals, chap. XII)

The 'Laboratory' engraving in Khunrath's 'Amphitheatre' has become deservedly famous as "ONE OF THE MOST FAMILIAR REPRESENTATIONS OF THE EARLY MODERN OCCULT ADEPT" (Peter Forshaw, 'Behold the Dreamer Cometh', in Joad Raymond (ed.): Conversations with Angels: Essays Towards a History of Spiritual Communication, p.175). This stunning large circular engraving depicts "a man, presumably the author himself, on his knees before the tabernacle in his Lab-Oratorium. It is an image that has appeared in countless publications on early modern occult philosophy, so much so that the Amphitheatre is considered 'one of the most important books in the whole literature of theosophical alchemy and the occult sciences, [and] its author 'one of the most remarkable theosophists and alchemists of the late Sixteenth Century'. Khunrath's striking image originally appeared as the final engraving in a sequence of four circular 'Theosophical' figures in the first edition of his [Amphitheatrum] (1595). Following the order in the Amphitheatre's title, the three preceding engravings concern themselves with the tasks of knowing God, Oneself and Nature, through Cabala, Magic and Physico-Chymistry; this fourth figure represents Khunrath's synthesis of these complementary realms of experience." (ibid)

Heinrich Khunrath (c. 1560 - 1605) was a German physician, hermetic philosopher, and alchemist. He was born in Dresden, Saxony, the son of a merchant; he was the younger brother of the Leipzig physician Conrad Khunrath. In the winter of 1570, he may have enrolled at the University of Leipzig under the name of Henricus Conrad Lips. The uncertainties surrounding his life stem from his supposed use of multiple names. It is certain that in May 1588, he matriculated at the University of Basel, Switzerland, earning his Medicinae Doctor degree in 1588. His name, in the spelling "Henricus Künraht" was used as a pseudonym by the publisher Jan Rieuwertsz on the title-page of the 1670 first edition of Baruch Spinoza's Tractatus Theologico-Politicus.

A disciple of Paracelsus, Khunrath practiced medicine in Dresden, Magdeburg, and Hamburg and may have held a professorial position in Leipzig. He travelled widely after 1588, including a stay at the Imperial court in Prague, home to the mystically inclined Habsburg emperor Rudolf II. Before reaching Prague he had met John Dee at Bremen on 27 May 1589, when Dee was on his way back to England from Bohemia. Khunrath praised Dee in his later works. During his court stay Khunrath met the alchemist Edward Kelley, who had remained behind after he and Dee had parted company (Kelley was arrested on 30 April 1591 as an alleged imposter). In September 1591, Khunrath was appointed court physician to Count Rosemberk in Trebona. He probably met Johann Thölde while at Trebona (one of suggested possible alchemical authors behind the pseudonym of "Basilius Valentinus").

Khunrath's brushes with these esoteric thinkers and his Paracelsian beliefs led him to develop a Christianized natural magic, seeking to find the secret prima materia that would lead man into eternal wisdom, most comprehensively expressed in his famous Amphitheatrum Sapientiae Aeternae, a work on the mystical aspects of the alchemical art, The book, first published at Hamburg in 1595, then made more widely available in our 1609 expanded edition, Amphitheatrum becameis an alchemical classic. In it Khunrath showed himself to be an adept of spiritual alchemy and illustrated an intricate path to spiritual perfection, combining both Christianity and magic. Khunrath's work was also influential in Lutheran circles, as evidenced e.g. by the fact that Johann Arndt (1555 - 1621), an influential writer of Lutheran books of pietiesm and devotion, composed a commentary on Amphitheatrum. On the other hand, Khunrath's opus magnum elicited a great deal of controversy and open hostility in Catholic circles where he was "condemned as an 'example of alchemy's spiritual extremists', accused of 'disgusting arrogance and ignorance', of writing 'not from the Spirit of God, but from the ignorant devil of pride', and was condemned a heretic in his lifetime. The Amphitheatre has been derided as a 'theosophical-magical and astrological frenzy', and was condemned by the Sorbonne in 1625 as 'pernicious, blasphemous, blasphemous, impious and dangerous to faith ... a damnable book swarming with impieties, errors and heresies and the continuous sacrilegious profanation of passages from Holy Scripture, and abusing the very sacred mysteries of the Catholic Religion, precisely in order to entice its readers into the secret and pernicious arts'." (P. Forshaw, Curious Knowledge and Wonder-Working Wisdom in the Occult Works of Heinrich Khunrath, in R.J.W. Evans, A. Marr (eds.): Curiosity and Wonder from the Renaissance to the Enlightenment, p. 109-110)

Bibliographic references:

Brunet III, 658; Ferguson I, 463; Wellcome I, 3560. Caillet II, 5747; Bibliotheca Esoterica, 2363; Duveen, 1, 56; Klossowski de Rola, The Golden Game: Alchemical Engravings of the Seventeenth Century, p. 29-44; Macphail. Alchemy and the Occult, 62.

Physical description:

Folio; leaves measure 30 cm x 19 cm. Bound in 18th- or early 19th-century speckled boards. Edges speckled red.

Pagination: [4 (engraved title; engraved portrait)], 60, 222, [2] + 8 double-page plates + 2 double-page tables.

Without the often lacking small 'wise owl' plate and one of the double-page plates (see the note below).

Illustrations: engraved title-page; engraved full-page portrait of Khunrath signed by Johann Diricks Van Campen (both printed as plates with blank versos; both dated 1602); engraved portrait of Khunrath, engraved title-page, woodcut initials, head- and tailpieces, 4 double-page ‘circular’ plates, all signed Paullus Vandre Doort; 4 double-page ‘rectangular’ plates (of 5) dated '1602'; 2 double-page letter-press tables (hors-texte). Woodcut decorative initials, head- and tail-pieces.

Main text printed in double-columns within ruled borders.

Colophon on recto of the final (unnumbered) leaf.

Note: As noted by many bibliographers, this book, scarce in any condition, is rarely found complete. Caillet (and S. de Guaita) say that this edition: "est rare de trouver cet ouvrage complet aussi bien de texte que de gravures", particularly, "La planche qui représente Khunrath entouré de ses ennemis (déguisés en oiseaux bridés et en insectes d'Enfer)" is often missing. This plate (depicting Khunrath's opponents as grotesque birds and/or insects) is lacking in this example as well.

The only other plate lacking, a small allegorical engraving of an old owl wearing glasses, is also frequently missing, and, according to a Krown & Spellman Catalogue #44, Klossowski stated "in conversion, that the 'owl' plate was added after the original 1609 edition was printed which would explain it being missing from many copies. In this opinion he seems to agree with Guita as quoted in Verginelli, page 179."

All the most important plates including all the 4 circular plates from the 1695 First Edition (the splendid “Laboratory” among them) are present in our example.


Two 18th- or 19th-century ownership signatures (unidentified) to front free endpaper: 'Herold' and 'Ulfers'.


Very Good antiquarian condition. Essentially complete (lacking only the small 'Owl' plate and the plate portraying Khunrath's enemies as infernal birds). Binding rubbed, with some soiling and minor staining, and some edge-wear. Interior with some age-toning and occasional moderate browning, but much less than in most other copies. Two of the double-page plates with closed tears along the central fold (clean tears without loss, and easy to repair). Title-page and a few other leaves harmlessly reinforced at gutter. Light marginal water staining to some leaves at the end of volume. Occasional light soiling. Generally a pleasing unsophisticated, solid, well-margined example of this important and rare book, with excellent impression of its magnificent plates, much brighter and less browned then usual.

Please click on thumbnails below to see larger images.