Hektoen International

A Journal of Medical Humanities

Paracelsus: physician and alchemist

Alexandru Gh. Sonoc
Sibiu, Romania


Paracelsus: Physician and Alchemist
Paracelsus, 1935
F. Görtitz. Brukenthal National
Museum, Sibiu, Romania.

This painting shows the famous alchemist and physician Paracelsus holding a retort in his hands and standing in front of a furnace on which is placed a glass balloon. In front of the furnace a pair of bellows lie on the floor, which are covered with plates displayed in a chessboard motif and symbolizing the fight between good and evil. On the sill of the window through which can be seen a landscape with a road leading through hills, there is a book and another glass vase. Over the furnace is rendered the alchemist’s coat of arms and above there is a German legend: THEOPHRASTUS PARACELSUS VON HOHENHEIM / ARZNEI UND ALCHIMEI SOL / ALWEG BEI EINANDER STEHN. The second and third line of the inscription is a quotation from Paracelsus, who said that “medicine and alchemy should forever be together.”

When registered in 1956, this painting was already in the collection of the Brukenthal National Museum, Sibiu, Romania, acquired under unknown conditions. The artist, Franz Görtitz, was a German painter and engraver, born in 1900, still documented in 1960, and known for etchings and watercolors showing cityscapes from Southern Germany (Freiburg in Breisgau, Köln, Ulm, and Rothenburg).



Hrib 2010 (56 and 66) – Dana Roxana Hrib, Gothic. Trăirea Neo-Gotică vs. Modelul Iluminist / Gothic Revival Experience vs. Enlightenment Pattern (Sibiu: Editura ALTIP, 2010).


Related article

Medical art from the Brukenthal Museum, Sibiu, Romania


Editor’s Note

Philippus Aureolus Theophrastus Bombastus von Hohenheim (1493-1541), better known as Paracelsus, is perhaps the most colorful medical figure of Renaissance Europe, a period in which the doctrines of the ancient authorities began to be questioned and replaced by direct observation and experimentation. Born in Switzerland, he studied medicine in various European cities, practiced in Strasbourg and Basel, and eventually wandered through various German, Swiss, and Austrian towns. His death, like that of many other past illustrious figures, has often been subject of speculation, being various attributed to murder, accident, congenital syphilis, liver failure, and also to kidney disease, as suggested by the finding of rickets in his exhumed skull in 1880.

Paracelsus wrote voluminously on many of diseases and pioneered the use of chemicals and minerals for treatment. It is believed that he first used the terms zinc, gas, chemistry, and alcohol. He studied botany, astrology, toxicology, and alchemy; noted that certain patient complaints had a psychological origin; and prescribed opium in the form of a tincture that became known as laudanum. He was particularly interested in dropsy, describing its symptoms and signs, commenting on its prognosis, noting that in its advanced stages “the urine decreases and thickens,” and being the first to use mercury for its treatment. He attempted chemical analysis of the urine, adding wine or vinegar to it and noting that it curdled and precipitated albumin and he also assessed urine by its weight, a precursor of measuring the specific gravity. He combined medicine with alchemy and astrology, claiming to affect many cures with his Tincture of Philosophers. His epitaph in Salzburg says “here lies the distinguished doctor, who with wonderful art cured dire wounds, leprosy, gout, gave the poor all the goods he accumulated, and exchanged life for death in the year of our Lord 1541.”



ALEXANDRU GH SONOC, PhD, MA, MS, is the Director of the Brukenthal National Museum in Sibiu, Romania.


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