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De Mayerne Manuscript.pdf

The De Mayerne Manuscript: A Treasure of Artistic Knowledge

The De Mayerne Manuscript is a collection of notes, recipes, and observations on various aspects of art and science, compiled by the Swiss physician and alchemist Sir Theodore Turquet de Mayerne (1573-1655). The manuscript, which is preserved in the British Library as Sloane MS 2052, covers topics such as painting, sculpture, dyeing, metallurgy, cosmetics, perfumery, medicine, and alchemy. It is considered one of the most important sources of information on the materials and techniques used by artists in the early modern period, especially in England and France.

The Author and His Sources

De Mayerne was born in Geneva and studied medicine at the universities of Heidelberg and Montpellier. He became a court physician to Henry IV of France and later to James I and Charles I of England. He was also interested in alchemy and natural philosophy, and conducted experiments on various substances and processes. He was a friend and patron of many artists, such as Peter Paul Rubens, Anthony van Dyck, Robert Fludd, and Elias Ashmole.

De Mayerne Manuscript.pdf

De Mayerne began to compile his manuscript around 1620 and continued to add to it until his death in 1655. He collected information from various sources, such as books, manuscripts, letters, conversations, and personal observations. He often noted the names or origins of the artists or craftsmen who provided him with recipes or advice, such as Rubens, Van Dyck, Nicholas L'Angevin, Jean Petitot, Jacques de Gheyn, Isaac Oliver, Jean Le Blon, and many others. He also tested some of the recipes himself and recorded his results.

The Contents and Structure of the Manuscript

The manuscript consists of 170 folios (10 x 6 inches), mainly written in French, but with numerous extracts in Latin, English, German, Italian, Spanish, and Dutch. The manuscript is not organized in a systematic way, but rather reflects De Mayerne's eclectic interests and curiosity. The manuscript can be roughly divided into four sections:

  • The first section (folios 1-53) contains notes on painting materials and techniques, such as pigments, oils, varnishes, glazes, grounds, brushes, canvases, panels, colors, shadows, perspective, anatomy, portraiture, landscape painting, etc.

  • The second section (folios 54-108) contains notes on sculpture materials and techniques, such as wax modeling, casting in bronze or plaster, marble carving, polishing stones, etc.

  • The third section (folios 109-146) contains notes on dyeing materials and techniques, such as mordants, dyes from plants or animals or minerals or metals or chemicals etc.

  • The fourth section (folios 147-170) contains notes on miscellaneous topics related to art and science such as metallurgy goldsmithing jewelry making glass making pottery making enamel making cosmetics perfumery medicine alchemy etc.

The Significance and Influence of the Manuscript

The De Mayerne Manuscript is a valuable source of information on the artistic practices and knowledge of the early modern period. It reveals the diversity and complexity of the materials and techniques used by artists and craftsmen in different countries and contexts. It also shows the connections and interactions between art and science in this period as well as the role of experimentation and innovation in both fields.

The manuscript was not published during De Mayerne's lifetime but it was known to some of his contemporaries such as Ashmole who copied parts of it in his own notebooks. The manuscript was later acquired by Sir Hans Sloane who donated it to the British Museum along with his other collections. The manuscript was first edited by Ernst Berger in 1901 who published a transcription with annotations and illustrations. Since then several scholars have studied the manuscript and used it to reconstruct some of the recipes or processes described by De Mayerne.


  • Berger E., ed., Theodor Turquet de Mayerne als Maler und Farbenchemiker: Ein Beitrag zur Geschichte der Technologie und der Alchemie im XVII Jahrhundert (Leipzig: Wilhelm Engelmann Verlag 1901).

  • Neven S., Clarke M., Leonhard K., Dupré S., eds., From Cennini to de Mayerne: Artists Recipes for Painting Materials and Techniques 1400-1650 (Berlin: Max Planck Institute for the History of Science 2010).

  • Werner E., "A 'New' de Mayerne Manuscript", Journal of the Warburg Institute, Vol. 2, No. 2 (Oct., 1938), pp. 142-153.

Some Examples of De Mayerne's Recipes and Experiments

In this section, I will present some examples of the recipes and experiments that De Mayerne recorded in his manuscript. These examples illustrate the variety and richness of his sources, the methods and materials he used, and the results he obtained.

A Recipe for Making Ultramarine from Lapis Lazuli

Ultramarine is a blue pigment made from lapis lazuli, a semi-precious stone that was imported from Afghanistan or Persia. It was one of the most expensive and sought-after pigments in the early modern period. De Mayerne obtained a recipe for making ultramarine from lapis lazuli from a French painter named Nicholas L'Angevin, who claimed to have learned it from an Italian painter in Rome. De Mayerne wrote the recipe in French on folio 13r of his manuscript. The recipe involves grinding the lapis lazuli with water, then mixing it with gum arabic, resin, and wax. The mixture is then wrapped in a cloth and kneaded in a lye solution until the blue pigment is extracted. The pigment is then washed, dried, and stored in a glass jar. De Mayerne added a note that he tried this recipe himself and obtained a good ultramarine, but not as fine as the one made by L'Angevin.

An Experiment on Making Gold from Lead

De Mayerne was interested in alchemy and the possibility of transmuting base metals into gold. He recorded several experiments on this subject in his manuscript, some of which he performed himself and some of which he witnessed or heard from others. One of these experiments is described on folio 161v of his manuscript. It involves melting lead in a crucible, then adding mercury, sal ammoniac, and antimony. The mixture is then heated until it turns red, then cooled and washed with water. The result is supposed to be a yellow powder that looks like gold. De Mayerne wrote that he saw this experiment done by a German alchemist named Johann Thölde, who claimed to have made gold from lead several times. De Mayerne added that he did not believe Thölde's claim, but he wanted to try the experiment himself to see what would happen.

A Recipe for Making Artificial Pearls

Some Challenges and Opportunities for Studying the Manuscript

The De Mayerne Manuscript is a fascinating and rich source of information on the artistic and scientific culture of the early modern period. However, it also poses some challenges and opportunities for scholars who want to study it and use it for their research. Some of these challenges and opportunities are:

The Language and Style of the Manuscript

The manuscript is written in several languages, mainly French, but also Latin, English, German, Italian, Spanish, and Dutch. The languages are often mixed or switched within the same page or paragraph. The manuscript also contains many abbreviations, symbols, codes, and technical terms that are not always easy to decipher or translate. The manuscript also reflects De Mayerne's personal style of writing, which is sometimes clear and concise, but sometimes vague and ambiguous. He often used phrases such as "as I have said", "as I have seen", "as they say", or "as it seems to me", without specifying who or what he was referring to. He also sometimes contradicted himself or changed his mind about some topics or recipes. Therefore, studying the manuscript requires a good knowledge of the languages and the historical context, as well as a careful analysis of the text and its meaning.

The Materiality and Conservation of the Manuscript

The manuscript is not only a textual source, but also a material object that has its own history and characteristics. The manuscript is made of paper, which is a fragile and organic material that can deteriorate over time due to factors such as light, humidity, temperature, insects, mold, etc. The manuscript also contains various substances that were used as ink, such as iron gall ink, carbon ink, red lead ink, etc. These substances can also degrade or fade over time, or react with the paper or other substances in the manuscript. The manuscript also shows signs of use and wear, such as stains, tears, folds, holes, etc. These signs can provide clues about how the manuscript was handled, stored, or transported over time. Therefore, studying the manuscript requires a good understanding of the materiality and conservation of the manuscript, as well as a careful examination of its physical condition and appearance.

The Reproduction and Reconstruction of the Manuscript

The Future of the Manuscript and Its Research

The De Mayerne Manuscript is a unique and invaluable source of information on the artistic and scientific culture of the early modern period. It is also a living and evolving source that can offer new insights and discoveries to scholars who study it and use it for their research. The future of the manuscript and its research depends on several factors, such as:

The Accessibility and Availability of the Manuscript

The manuscript is currently preserved in the British Library as Sloane MS 2052, where it can be consulted by researchers who have a valid reader pass. The manuscript is also available online as a digital facsimile, which can be accessed by anyone who has an internet connection. The digital facsimile allows users to view the


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