Giamabattista Della Porta’s Natural Magick

[Post by Richard]

“Natural Magick” by Giambattista Del Porta was the rare book I analyzed in the John Hay Library last class. It was written in 1535 in Latin although the copy I was holding was a 1658 translation into English. The book contained recipes from cooking and perfume to transmuting metals and counterfeiting gold. Certain elements of the text such as the making of perfume, fireworks, and distillation, reminded me of modern day DIY culture, that we might see taking place on youtube or even like the Anarchist Cookbook by William Powell, which contained recipes for drugs such as LSD, explosives, and napalm. Much like Natural Magick I can only conclude that both were primarily written for entertainment. The recipes in the “Anarchist Cookbook” are infamously unreliably while many of the recipes for transmutation in “Natural Magick” are just plain wild, such as feeding a cooked cock to a hen in the hopes of it laying a precious metal instead of an egg.

The lens I was given to analyze this book was the word replicate, which traditionally means to make an exact copy or replica, but when thinking about it in this context I would give it a new definition. To replicate more in the appearance of an object rather than duplicating it’s physical properties. I don’t doubt some of the recipes produced exciting results and a gold like or emerald like object was the fruition of this. I find this very similar in art making, the creation of something artificial with the aim of invoking poetic or allegoric significance. This can be seen in something like Olafur Elaisson’s “Beauty” in which an artificial rainbow is created indoors or even in many Turrell pieces where light is changed into a seemingly physical object. Even though there is a level of trickery I still believe the feelings of sublime and wonder that come with these instances are very real and important. Regardless of the result of the processes in Del Porta’s Natural Magick there is beauty in the writing which is why the book is so valuable and has been maintained for over four hundred years.

If I were to turn this into a semester long project influenced by the themes of replication and “Natural Magick” I would pursue creating a recipe for a meteorite. I believe this would be interesting to work backwards from the thought of reproducing in appearance but not physical property. In this instance I would be creating something similar in physical property, containing mainly iron and a few trace elements, but missing the history of travelling through space and crashing into the Earth.

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