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Furnace and Fugue

A Digital Edition of Michael Maier's "Atalanta fugiens" (1618) with Scholarly Commentary


An innovative open-source digital archive
Fully searchable English translation sourced from a seventeenth-century manuscript housed in the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library at Yale University
High-resolution, zoomable images
Newly commissioned, manipulable vocal recordings of Atalanta’s music
Downloadable performance edition featuring modernized musical notation
  • Edited by Tara Nummedal and Donna Bilak

An Innovative New Open-Access Resource

In 1618, on the eve of the Thirty Years’ War, the German alchemist and physician Michael Maier published Atalanta fugiens, an intriguing and complex musical alchemical emblem book designed to engage the ear, eye, and intellect. The book unfolds as a series of fifty emblems, each of which contains an accompanying "fugue" music scored for three voices. Historians of alchemy have long understood this virtuoso work as an ambitious demonstration of the art’s literary potential and of the possibilities of the early modern printed book.

Atalanta fugiens lends itself unusually well to today’s digital tools. Re-rendering Maier’s multimedia alchemical project as an enhanced online publication, Furnace and Fugue allows contemporary readers to hear, see, manipulate, and investigate Atalanta fugiens in ways that Maier perhaps imagined but that were impossible to fully realize before now. An interactive, layered digital edition provides accessibility and flexibility, presenting all the elements of the original book along with significant enhancements that allow for deep engagement by specialists and nonspecialists alike.

Three short introductory essays invite readers to get acquainted with early modern alchemy, and Michael Maier. Eight extended interpretive essays explore Atalanta fugiens and its place in the history of music, science, print, and visual culture in early modern Europe. These interdisciplinary essays also include interactive features that clarify and/or advance the authors’ arguments while positioning Furnace and Fugue as an original, uniquely engaging contribution to our understanding of early modern culture.

Supported by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, the Gladys Krieble Delmas Foundation, and the Office of the Vice President for Research and the Social Science Research Institute at Brown University.


Getting Acquainted:

“Early Modern Alchemy” by Jennifer M. Rampling

“Michael Maier: An Itinerant Alchemist in Late Renaissance Germany” by Hereward Tilton

“Atalanta fugiens in the Printing Office” by Stephen Tabor

Scholarly Essays:

“Interplay: New Scholarship on Atalanta fugiens” by Tara Nummedal and Donna Bilak

“Sound and Vision” by Tara Nummedal

“The Emblem in the Landscape” by Michael Gaudio

“Weight, Number, Measure” by Eric Bianchi

“Michael Maier and Mythoalchemy” by Peter J. Forshaw

“John Farmer’s Sundry Waies, The English Origin of Michael Maier’s 'Alchemical Fugues'” by Loren Ludwig

“Learned Failure and the Untutored Mind” by Richard J. Oosterhoff

“Chasing Atalanta” by Donna Bilak


A remarkable collaborative study of a remarkable book. Maier’s volume invites all sorts of participatory activities—art, music, alchemical, poetry, emblems. It requires a broad range of expert scholars to present its various facets, and a pathbreaking mode of presentation to make it available in its full significance and variety. This interactive and interdisciplinary project is as rich and variegated as the original.

Thomas Forrest Kelly, Morton B. Knafel Research Professor of Music, Harvard University


This landmark edition of Michael Maier's intriguing Atalanta fugiens is a tour de force at multiple levels - intellectually, visually, digitally, and aurally. It is both deeply learned and a playful performance worthy of Maier himself. Quite simply magnificent.

Pamela H. Smith, Seth Low Professor of History, Director of the Center for Science and Society, Columbia University




About the Editor(s): 

Tara Nummedal is Professor of History at Brown University and author of Anna Zieglerin and the Lion's Blood: Alchemy and End Times in Reformation Germany. Donna Bilak is Creative Director of 12 Keys Consultancy & Design, LLC, and an Independent Scholar.




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