George Ripley and the Philosopher's Stone

George Ripley was an Augustinian canon and influential alchemist best known for his work The Compound of Alchymy which he dedicated to Edward IV in 1471.

Written in verse, Ripley’s treatise reveals ‘the right & perfectest meanes to make the Philosophers Stone’, the legendary substance that can turn base metals into gold and silver, and confer long life or even immortality on the possessor. Its discovery was the supreme object of alchemy and the popularity of Ripley’s writings contributed to the revival of alchemical learning in England, particularly in the seventeenth century in the years following the Civil War.

The ‘Ripley scrolls’ were copied for the most part in the 16th and early 17th centuries by various artists from a now lost original version (or versions). The dense imagery of the alchemical emblems derives from Ripley’s poem and illustrates the various processes involved in the preparation of the philosopher’s stone.

Twenty-three of these scrolls are now known to exist. The Bodleian houses five of them; others are held in various institutions in Britain, America and France. A striking figure drawn at the end of two of the Bodleian scrolls is said to be George Ripley himself, carrying his distinctively-shod horseshoe staff. 

Alchemy was a branch of esoteric study and practical craft whose primary goal was the transformation of physical substances from a state of imperfect temporal existence to one of spiritual perfection. Through the use of various chemical and magical processes, alchemists attempted to prepare a universal elixir, the philosopher’s stone, which had the power to transmute base metal into gold and confer longevity, immortality and ultimately redemption on the possessor.  

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