[Alchemy] [Rosicrucianism] [Hermeticism] [Early Chemistry]

Michael Maier

hoc est, De Montibus Planetarum septem seu Metallorum;
Tractatus tam utilis, quam perspicuus, quo, ut Indice Mercuriali
in trivijs, vel Ariadneo filo in Labyrintho [...]

Printed in Rouen: for Jean Berthelin, 1651.

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Illustrated with an allegorical extra engraved title-page and seven engravings in text.

RARE Second Edition of this classic alchemical and emblematic work dealing with the seven metals and their corresponding planets. The Viatorium was first published by De Bry in Oppenheim in 1618.

Widely regarded as "the deepest of the Rosicrucians" (Yates), Michael Maier (1568 - 1622) was a celebrated German alchemist, physician and a counsellor to Holy Roman Emperor Rudolf II Habsburg at Prague. Maier's ideas exerted a strong influence on Sir Isaac Newton.

Maier "gives brilliant expression to the themes of spiritual alchemy." (Yates)

"De Bry's plates in this edition are charming examples of the beauty of his engraving." (Gardner, Bibliotheca Rosicruciana, 356)

The allegorical engravings of this 1651 edition (slightly modified versions of De Bry's engravings for the first 1618 edition) have been often reproduced and referred to by Carl Gustav Jung in his Psychology and Alchemy and other works.

"Maier's Viatorium, that is, Concerning the Mountains of the Seven Planets or Metals, an Ariadne's thread through the ocean of chemical errors, considered each planet or metal in turn, beginning with Mercury, and stated three things as to each: its use in making gold, in tincture, and in medicine. Each was further accompanied by a picture. That for Mercury showed Thebes in Boeotia with the problem which of the seven gates to enter, while Saturn was accompanied by the combat of dragon and elephant. With the moon went the circumnavigation of the globe by Magellan, and with the sun a representation of the grateful lion." (Lynn Thorndike, A History of Magic and Experimental Science, vol. 7, p.172)

"The Viatorium is a characteristic statement of Maier's alchemical mysticism which he loves to present in mythological guise, hidden in the fables of the poets. The theme of the book, thus disguised, is the search for the materia philosophica, the truth hidden in the arcana of nature, by holding fast, like Theseus, to the Ariadne's thread which will lead through the labyrinth. One should begin the study of Maier with the Viatorium, the dedication of which to Anhalt immediately places him and his spiritual alchemy within the circle of the most important of the advisers of the Elector Palatine". (Yates, op. cit., p.82)

The dedicatee of the Viatorium, Christian of Anhalt (1568 - 1630), was a German prince, a member of the House of Ascania, and an advisor of Frederick IV, Elector Palatine. As a diplomat, in 1608 Christian played an important role in the formation of the Protestant Union. Prince Christian employed Oswald Croll, the Hermetick Philosopher and author, as his physician, and (as Yates and others speculate) may have himself been involved with the Rosicrucian brotherhood.

[For further details on this work and its engravings see e.g. J. B. Craven, Count Michael Maier, p.105-110, and Klossowski De Rola, The Golden Game: Alchemical Engravings of the Seventeenth Century, p.127-132.]

Michael Maier was born in Rendsburg, Holstein, in 1568. He studied philosophy and medicine at Rostock, Frankfurt, and Padua. He attained in 1596 a doctorate in medicine at Basel, and returned to Rostock to practice the medical profession. Around 1601 he became interested in alchemy. In 1608 he went to Prague, and in 1609 became the physician and imperial counsellor of Rudolf II. The interest of the emperor in the occult was the reason of his high esteem for Maier. Maier also served other German princes, particularly the prince of Nassau, a great protector of alchemy. In 1611-6 he spent time in England at the court of James I. Maier had a strong influence on Sir Isaac Newton.

Maier was also involved in the Rosicrucian movement. "Count Michael Maier [...] was an outstanding figure in the Rosicrucian controversy. There is little doubt that he was an initiated member of the Rosicrucian Fraternity, empowered by the Order to promulgate its secrets among the philosophic elect of Europe. [...] He was profuse in his use of emblems and the greater part of his philosophical lore is concealed in the engravings which illustrate his books." (Manly P. Hall, The Secret Teachings of All Ages, p.141)

Bibliographic references:

Caillet 7006; Duveen 383; Craven, Maier, p.105-110; Ferguson, Bibl. Cbemica,II, 65; Gardner, Bibl. Rosicruciana, 356; Graesse IV, 342; Klossowski De Rola, The Golden Game, p.127-132.

Physical description:

Octavo (leaves measure 160 mm x 102 mm). Contemporary full vellum binding; spine with raised bands over binding cords and a manuscript title.

Pagination: 224 pp. (signatures [A]8 B-O8) COMPLETE.

With a superb extra engraved title incorporates Maier's portrait (top center), with other seven compartments depicting the gods and goddesses, which are also planetary symbols, and representations of the seven metals. The book is further illustrated with seven fine copper-plate alchemical engravings in text.

Letterpress title with woodcut vignette depicting a six-ray star with the planetary signs. Woodcut decorative head- and tail-pieces and initials.

Text printed in roman letter, with side-nites printed in smaller italic type.

Preliminaries include laudatory verses on Maier ('Epigramma authoris') on verso of the letterpress title; Dedication to Christian I, Prince of Anhalt-Bernburg (leaves [A]3r-4r), and the author's preface ('Praefatio ad Lectorem' on leaves [A]4v-8v).


Very Good antiquarian condition. Complete. Binding slightly rubbed. Engraved title with very light reddish discoloration at the top. Some light scattered foxing, and light toning to paper (mostly marginal); a few very minor ink-spots. In all, a clean, solid, well-margined and completely unrestored example, with excellent impression of all its magnificent engravings.

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