I just got back from a week in London and a week in Turkey. Highlights of the London leg include communing with the Treadwell's crew, getting to hold the breathtaking new issue of Abraxas in my hands, stopping into the British Museum, and swooning over the Signs, Symbols, Secrets show at the Science Museum, where I got weak in the knees in front of an actual Ripley Scroll and other priceless alchemical manuscripts:
Signs, Symbols, Secrets: an illustrated guide to alchemy
The quest for the philosophers’ stone was a major preoccupation of the early modern world. This precious substance was said to transform base metals into silver and gold, heal sickness, and unlock the mysteries of God and nature. Its recipe was a closely guarded secret and a bewildering array of signs and symbols were used, both figuratively and allegorically, to convey key processes and ideas in the search for the fabled stone. This exhibition follows the theme of a recipe using the same sources devised and decoded by the alchemists themselves.
The exhibition displays 22 of the most striking images from the rich collection of the Science Museum’s Library & Archives. Dating from the 16th to the 18th centuries, these works reveal the power and intricacy of alchemical art, whilst allowing us to attempt an interpretation of the hidden meanings behind the symbols.
At the heart of the exhibition is a newly discovered manuscript: a Ripley scroll. These rare scrolls include some of the most complex and fascinating alchemical imagery in existence. For the first time, this object can be viewed alongside selected texts and images from the Museum’s collections.Its rich symbolism offers clues – both practical and theoretical – for the creation of the philosophers’ stone.
Only 23 Ripley scrolls are known to exist. This one dates from the 18th century and is the most recently discovered. Scholars believe that all the surviving examples are copies and variations upon a lost 15th-century original. They are named after the famous English alchemist George Ripley, although there is no evidence that Ripley designed the scrolls himself. The scrolls range in size, but are all too long to be viewed and understood in a single glance. Scholars are still investigating how they are meant to be read and used. It is possible that the original scroll was created for a wealthy patron interested in alchemy. Over time, the scrolls have become prized for the quality of their imagery.
Turkey was an adventure to be sure. We spent most of the week in Istanbul, which was at times trying (weather, much of the food, pushy tourist-hungry shop owners), at times delightful (Museum of Innocence, fresh fish sandwiches on the Bosphorus, the Spice Market, Turkish bath at Cagaloglu Hammami [well, delightful for me. My husband has a very different story!], Topkapi Palace), and at times absolutely transcendent (Hagia Sophia, Blue Mosque, whirling dervishes). My favorite spot in the city was easily the Basilica Cistern, an ancient underground waterkeep, filled with columns and carp and darkness and mysterious Medusa heads:
And I must thank Laura Battle for insisting we go there! I'm not sure we would have made it otherwise, and it was utterly otherworldly. If it were in my own city, I would visit it all the time.
We also took a day-trip to Selcuk in the countryside, to see Ephesus and its environs, and it was glorious glorious glorious. We visited Mary's alleged final home, the ruins of the ancient city of Ephesus, and I got to make a lifetime-in-the-making pilgrimage to the site of the Temple of Artemis:
Words can't describe how it felt to be there and get to make a small offering of flowers and thanks to a goddess I've loved my whole life. And though the only remains of the temple are one reconstructed column and a few other bits of marble, the charge there was tremendously holy. I was especially moved by how wild of a place it's become - marshland full of geese and sweet, free-roaming dogs, and a stork's nest on top of the column. So perfect for Artemis Ephesus. And I couldn't believe how both this site and the city of Ephesus were virtually unguarded and thoroughly accessible to visitors. You could walk up and touch all of the ruins, explore archways and building facades, and clamber over broken columns, - there were even people sitting on them like benches! - and the city was full of feral but gentle cats:
I wish we had more time in Selcuk, but I'm so grateful for the day we did have there. Unforgettable. Many more Turkey photos here, if you're curious. Haven't gotten around to captioning them, but you'll get the flavor at least.
After two weeks of travel, I'm a bit behind on posts, emails, life in general. Thank you for your patience with me while I catch up. And more updates forthcoming!