The Alcyhmist, in Search of the Philosopher’s Stone, by Joseph Wright of Darby (1771)
The Philosophers’ Stone
In keeping with the intellectual pursuits of many of his contemporaries, Maier strove to produce the philosophers’ stone. But what exactly did this mean? The early modern alchemist understood himself as being a “philosopher by fire,” that is, one dedicated to the love, study and pursuit of wisdom, whereby knowledge of Nature and Creation was attained by reworking elemental matter into a lasting and incorruptible substance – the philosophers’ stone – through a series of laboratory procedures that relied on the purifying flames of the alchemical furnace. The term “stone” or “lapis” in the early modern pharmaceutical lexicon signified a potent medicinal substance that had been rendered into a solid rock-like mass through the process of boiling. Thus, the philosophers’ stone was understood to be a powerful medicine for restoring perfect health and longevity to humankind. Its undertaking required deep theoretical knowledge from the alchemical corpus that informed a complex laboratory process of successive stages of purification and recombination of matter.