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Published on the eve of the Thirty Years’ War, Michael Maier’s extraordinary alchemical emblem book, Atalanta fugiens (1618) is an allegorical paean to wisdom achieved through alchemical knowledge and praxis. Best known for its fifty exquisite engravings of emblems that visually render the hermetic vocabulary, the Atalanta’s emblems are also paired with scored music for three voices – Atalanta, Hippomenes, and the Golden Apple, who represent the elemental triad of Mercury, Sulphur, and Salt. But Maier’s Atalanta is much more than an elegant audio-visual articulation of alchemical theory and practice for producing the philosophers’ stone, the panacea that would restore perfect health and longevity to humankind. It is a virtuoso work of allegorical encryption that fuses poetry, iconography, music, mathematics, and Christian cabala to extol hermetic wisdom, while evoking alchemical technologies and laboratory processes. And… Maier’s emblem book functions as a game or puzzle that the erudite reader must solve, decode, play. Presented by Bard Graduate Center 2014 PhD alumna Donna Bilak (Columbia University, History), with musical examples performed by solo-voice ensemble Les Canards Chantants, directed by Graham Bier, this analysis of Maier’s music-image-text offers a re-assessment of early-modern reading practices, and resituates Maier’s alchemical project within the wider cultural and intellectual context of seventeenth-century Europe.

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