Alchemists were often dismissed as charlatans and eccentrics during their lifetimes.
For some people, the word alchemy evokes images of crazed sorcerers in a laboratory trying to turn base metals into gold and silver. Yet this ancient science, which was based on the theory and the practice of transforming matter, had many useful applications.
Rooted in Hellenistic Egypt, alchemy reached a peak of popularity in 17th-century Europe, where it had a profound influence on Baroque glass-makers.
Alchemy was not just about magic, deception, and fraud. As a precursor to modern chemistry, it actually laid the foundation for the material sciences.
Glass is a good medium with which to explore the impact of alchemy, because its raw materials; sand and ash, are transformed into something completely new when mixed together.
This phenomenon specifically relates to the alchemical notion of mutation, the idea that it is possible to change any substance into something else.
Through innovative experiments, alchemists tried to explain natural phenomena, particularly the generation and growth of natural resources, while investigating the technology of materials; such as, glass, metal, ceramics, and their components.
Some alchemists became glass makers themselves. These interactions led to the discovery in the 1670s of crystal in England, where the glass was combined with lead for stability, and central Europe, where either lime or chalk was used as a stabilizing agent.