4to. ff. 69; title and f. 2v printed in four colours (yellow, green, red and gold, the gold oxidised), title within a woodcut architectural border printed in black and yellow, two headlines (f. 7r and f. 8v) printed in yellow, with a double-page map of Venice and 11 full-page woodcut illustrations; without the final blank; contemporary marginal annotation in margin of f. 42r and some early underlining; some light soiling, part of fore-edge of title cut away and neatly repaired (not affecting image); old vellum.
First edition, first issue of this rare alchemical work, highly unusual for its early use of four-colour printing.
Pantheo was a Venetian priest who published, in 1518 the alchemical Ars transmutationis metallicae. ‘Portions of this were reproduced in the Voarchadumia in 1530, but [it] is quite a distinct work and is much enlarged. Pantheus wrote against spurious alchemy and he deals partly with the assay of gold, which is illustrated by drawings of rolling mills, furnaces of various sorts with the accompanying apparatus and a balance and weights, and partly with the chemical preparation of various substances which were made at Venice in his time and were used in the arts. He describes, for example, the manufacture of white lead and of an alloy for mirrors … Pantheus was a priest of Venice, but seems nevertheless to have been devoted to chemical research. The word Voarchadumia – barbarous, as it has been styled by some writers – is compounded, according to the author himself, of a Chaldee word signifying gold, and of a Hebrew expression meaning “out of two rubies”, and he explains it all as equivalent to “gold of two perfect cementations”, that is, thoroughly refined’ (Ferguson).
‘It seems probable that, after the publication of [the Ars transmutationis metallicae], someone called to the attention of its author or the papal court or the Venetian government the existence of a papal decretal and a decree of Venice against alchemists. For in 1530 Pantheus brought out with the same printer at Venice a book entitled Voarchadumia … As [the] title suggests, he now professed to be writing not on alchemy but on Voarchadumia, an art distinct from alchemy. This Voarchadumia he represented as true wisdom, the very opposite of alchemy, a sort of “cabala of metals”, handed down from Tubal Cain through the Chaldeans and Indians … The work opens with prefaces to the doge and to the papal legate. Yet he repeats most of his work of 1518 in the course of the Voarchadumia. The volume also includes woodcuts of alchemical furnaces and apparatus and a bird’s-eye view of Venice and its surroundings’ (Thorndike, A history of magic and experimental science V, pp. 539–40).
In the margin of f. 38r is printed a symbol which is strikingly similar to that used by John Dee in his Monas hieroglyphica. Dee owned and extensively annotated a copy of the Voarchadumia and it seems likely that his symbol, which first appears on the title of the Propaedeumata aphoristica in 1558 and then, most famously, in the Monas hieroglyphica of 1564, is derived from Pantheo’s. ‘For Dee it was a powerful symbol both of creation and of the unity of the sciences’ (Oxford DNB).
Mortimer records the existence of an augmented issue with four leaves between the title and A2; of the 9 US copies of the Voarchadumia recorded on OCLC, we have traced that issue only at Yale (otherwise incomplete).
* Caillet 8275; Duveen p. 449; Ferguson II p. 166; Mortimer 354; Neu 3044; [Olschki 4981]; Rosenthal 649; [Sander 5407].