The ancient art of Alchemy is at the heart of Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone. The mysterious Stone in question had been made by Nicolas Flamel, and taken in secret to Hogwarts. What readers of the Harry Potter stories may not have realised is that Flamel was a real person, a wealthy landlord (and reputed alchemist) who lived in medieval Paris, where he died in 1418.

'The ancient study of alchemy is concerned with making the Philosopher's Stone, a legendary substance with astonishing powers.'
Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone

'The Stone will transform any metal into pure gold. It also produces the Elixir of Life, which will make the drinker immortal.' Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone

'"Nicolas Flamel," she whispered dramatically, "is the only known maker of the Philosopher's Stone!"'
Hermione Granger, in Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone

Nicolas Flamel was once believed to have discovered the Philosopher’s Stone, but in reality he made his fortune as a landlord in medieval Paris. Far from using the elixir of life to live to 665 years and beyond, as reported in Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, Nicolas died in 1418.

He and his wife Perenelle are depicted in this illustration of a memorial they had commissioned in Paris to the Holy Innocents.

The Age-Old Chemical Work
According to legend, Nicolas Flamel had discovered a rare manuscript that explained how to make the Philosopher’s Stone. This book claims to be a translation of that lost text, and is attributed to the Rabbi Abraham Eleazar. In this picture, a serpent and a crowned dragon form a circle, head-to-tail. This symbolises the unification of ‘primary matter’ with the ‘universal spirit’, essential in the creation of the Philosopher’s Stone.

Alchemical Books

The Splendour of the Sun
Splendor Solis (‘Splendour of the Sun’) is one of the most beautiful alchemical manuscripts. The authorship of Splendor Solis is unknown, but it has often been attributed in error to Salomon Trismosin, who claimed to have made the Philosopher’s Stone.

This page depicts an alchemist holding a flask, from which unfurls a scroll saying, in Latin, ‘Let us ask the four elements of nature’.

The Book of the Seven Climes
The Book of the Seven Climes was written by the alchemist Abū al-Qāsim al-‘Irāqī, and is the earliest study to focus on alchemical illustration. According to al-‘Irāqī, this image depicts a complex alchemical process. In reality, it reproduces an ancient monument erected in memory of King Amenemhat II, who ruled Egypt nearly 4,000 years ago.

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