Course Description

Course Name

Alchemy & Mysticism in the Visual Arts of Prague

Session: VPGS1324

Hours & Credits

6 ECTS Credits

Prerequisites & Language Level

Taught In English

  • There is no language prerequisite for courses at this language level.


1.    Course Description
This course explores the long tradition of alchemy and mysticism in visual arts with a focus on Prague and the Bohemian Lands. The goal of this course is to familiarize students with the main themes of alchemy and mysticism as well as to introduce them to the basic terminology of the alchemical process and to the related hermetic symbols. The major themes include sacred geometry of the cathedrals and of the medieval urbanism, hermetic meaning of the Renaissance architecture, the alchemists at the imperial court of Rudolph II. as well as at the residences of aristocrats, the Jewish mysticism and Golem, the magic of dr. Faust as well as the taste for occultism around 1900 as expressed in the creations of symbolist artists. The influence of secret societies on artist such as Alfons Mucha, and of spiritism on Frantisek Kupka or Josef Vachal, as well as the influence of occultism on contemporary surrealists will be explored. The course will be complemented by excursions to the old Prague in order to discover the authentic sites related to alchemy and hermetism. 

2.    Student Learning Outcomes
Upon successful completion of this course, students should be able to:
●    Sharpen critical thinking skills through proactive learning assignments
●    Outline and explain the history of alchemy and mysticism with a focus on the Bohemian Lands
●    Name and describe major figures, events and movements through presentations
●    Independently capture course content in final projects

3.    Reading Material
Compulsory readings: 
●    Bauduin, Tessel, M. “Abstract Art as “By-Product of Astral Manifestation”: The Influence of Theosophy on Modern Art in Europe”, in: Olav Hammer (ed.), Handbook of the Theosophical Current, Leiden, Boston, Brill, 2013, p. 429-451. (provided by the instructor on NEO)
●    Opus Magnum, The Book of Sacred Geometry, Alchemy, Magic, Asrology, the Kabbala, and Secret Societies in Bohemia, exhibition catalogue, Gallery of the City of Prague, 1997. (provided by the instructor on NEO)
●    Putík, Alexandr, Sixtová, Olga, ed., Path of Life, Rabbi Judah Loew Ben Bezalel, Prague, Academia, 2009. (provided by the instructor on NEO/ Jewish Museum Library)
●    Rakušanová, Marie, Josef Váchal, The Magic of Seeking, Prague, Paseka, 2014, p. 301-303. (provided by the instructor on NEO)
●    Ramirez-Weaver, Eric, “Reading the Heavens: Revelation and Reification in the Astronomical Anthology for Wenceslas IV”, Gesta, Vol. 53, No. 1, The University of Chicago Press, 2014, p. 73-94. (provided by the instructor on NEO)
●    Roob, Alexander, Alchemy & Mysticism, The Hermetic Museum, Taschen, 2021. (provided by the instructor on NEO)
●    Rybar, Ctibor. Jewish Prague, Guide to the Monuments. Most, 1991. (provided by the instructor on NEO/ AAU Library)
●    Urban, Otto M., Mysterious Distances: Symbolism and Art in the Bohemian Lands, 1880-1914, Prague, 2014. (selected chapters, provided by the instructor on NEO/ AAU Library)

Recommended readings: 

●    Hay, Elisabeth S., The Art of the Occult, A Visual Sourcebook for the Modern Mystic, 2020. 
●    Meyrink, Gustav,The Angel of the West Window, any edition.
●    Meyrink, Gustav, The Golem, Vitalis, Prague, 2003 (AAU Library)
●    Szeghyová, Blanka (ed.), The Role of Magic in the Past, Bratislava, Pro Historia, 2005.
●    Szönyi, György E., “The Lure of Dee and Kelly for Eastern Europe”, John Dee’s Occultism, Magical Exaltation Through Powerful Signs, State University of New York Press, 2004, p. 248-270. (provided by the instructor on NEO)
●    Urban, Otto M., Decadence: In Morbid Colours- Art and the Idea of Decadence in the Bohemian Lands 1880-1914, Arbor Vitae, 2006. 


4.    Teaching methodology
This course will be based on slide-based lectures and discussion, and will be supplemented by visits to galleries, museums and excursions to the Old Prague and the imperial Star-shaped hunting lodge. 

*Course content subject to change