Magic Circle of Rudolf II: Alchemy and Astrology in Renaissance Prague / Edition 1

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Overview

Rudolf II—Habsburg heir, Holy Roman Emperor, king of Hungary, Germany, and the

Romans—is one of history’s great characters, and yet he remains largely an unknown figure. His reign (1576–1612) roughly mirrored that of Queen Elizabeth I of England, and while her famous court is widely recognized as a sixteenth century Who’s Who, Rudolf ’s collection of mathematicians, alchemists, artists, philosophers and astronomers—among them the greatest and most subversive minds of the time—was no less prestigious and perhaps even more influential.

Driven to understand the deepest secrets of nature and the riddle of existence, Rudolf invited to his court an endless stream of genius—Danish astronomer Tycho Brahe, German mathematician Johannes Kepler, English magus John Dee, Francis Bacon, and mannerist painter Giuseppe Archimboldo among many others. Prague became the artistic and scientific center of the known world—an island of intellectual tolerance between Catholicism, Protestantism, and Islam.

Combining the wonders and architectural beauty of sixteenth century Prague with the larger than-life characters of Rudolf’s court, Peter Marshall provides an exciting new perspective on the pivotal moment of transition between medieval and modern, when the foundation was laid for the Scientific Revolution and the Enlightenment.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
When Rudolf II was crowned Holy Roman Emperor in 1576, he quickly filled his castle with artistic and scientific treasures. Marshall returns repeatedly to Rudolf's attempt to create a "theatre of the world" in Prague Castle and how it transformed the city into the last great cultural center of the Renaissance. Rudolf himself is relegated to the sidelines for much of the book's middle section, as the focus turns to the brilliant minds attracted to Prague's climate of intellectual openness. The emperor, says Marshall, had a sincere but undiscriminating thirst for knowledge, open to both "fact and fantasy"; thus the community deftly sketched includes alchemists and prophets like John Dee as well as scientists like Kepler and Brahe and artists like Arcimboldo. Marshall, a cultural historian (The Philosopher's Stone), also explores Rudolf's apparent madness, concluding the emperor suffered from manic-depression, and while "eccentric and insecure," he was not insane. The final chapters depict the dwindling of Rudolf's kingdom, as he sank further into melancholy; prolonged conflict with the Vatican over his tolerance of "heretics" (such as Protestants and Jews) led to political intrigues against him. Yet, Marshall argues convincingly, his intellectual legacy bridged the gap between the medieval and modern worlds. 25 b&w illus. (Aug.) Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
Neoplatonism, hermeticism, cabalism, alchemy, astrology-all the magical arts of the late Renaissance fascinated Holy Roman Emperor Rudolf II, who reigned from 1576 to 1612. English magus John Dee, Danish astronomer Tycho Brahe, and German mathematician Johannes Kepler were among those who graced Rudolf's court in Prague at one time or another, along with the bizarre mannerist painter Giuseppe Arcimboldo. The early parts of this book, on Rudolf as art patron, read like a catalog, listing one artist after another; they are neither enlightening nor particularly interesting. Marshall (The Philosopher's Stone: A Quest for the Secrets of Alchemy) hits his stride when he discusses Rudolf's support for the men who helped forge the new science, Brahe and Kepler in particular. But he succeeds only partially in demonstrating what difference Rudolf's involvement meant to a new way of thinking about the world. Did Rudolf make a real difference in shaping modernity? Instead of answering such questions, a book like this easily becomes a summary of curiosities or historical coincidences. The trick is to make sense of what happened, and at that Marshall succeeds only in part. Not an essential purchase for most collections.-David Keymer, Modesto, CA Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Convincing proposal that one of the most inept and eccentric European rulers in a turbulent age was the ultimate promoter of the arts and sciences in Western culture. With good reason, British cultural historian Marshall (The Philosopher's Stone, not reviewed, etc.) devotes considerable attention to the years that a teenaged Hapsburg prince spent at the court of his uncle, Phillip II of Spain. Future Holy Roman Emperor Rudolf II (1552-1612) became fully "Spaniolated" (as one English emissary reported to Elizabeth I) in his courtly and personal manners, but watching Uncle Phillip barbecue heretics and wield the dreaded Inquisition as a weapon against his political foes led Rudolf to reject rigid Catholic intolerance of other beliefs. The court he later founded at Prague's Hradcany Castle (to escape the irritating bustle of Vienna) established that city as an island of tolerance in sectarian-riven Europe. Shy, dyspeptic and melancholy to the point of clinical depression, Rudolf had a regrettable tendency to put off important political decisions, even his own marriage, which were boring in comparison to his preoccupation with alchemy, astrology and the sciences. But he assembled a fascinating collection of both authentic and charlatan brainpower under his patronage. Prague became a beacon to the likes of mathematician Johannes Kepler, who paid his bills doing astrological charts for nobility, and Danish astronomer Tycho Brahe; their collaboration produced the momentous Laws of Planetary Motion. Marshall suggests that his subject may have been the "greatest patron of the arts" who ever lived. Rudolf's reward? A lonely death, and historians' judgment that he was a weak, ineffectual ruler. Arevelatory biography, particularly for Americans whose history classes treat Eastern Europe as the far side of the world.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780802715517
  • Publisher: Walker & Company
  • Publication date: 8/22/2006
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 320
  • Product dimensions: 6.30 (w) x 9.55 (h) x 1.00 (d)

Meet the Author

Peter Marshall has written widely on cultural and intellectual history. He is the author of numerous books, including The Philosopher's Stone, William Godwin, and Demanding the Impossible: A History of Anarchism. He lives in England.

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Table of Contents

1 The making of the Holy Roman Emperor 7
2 A boy of few words 16
3 Dominus Mundi 30
4 The world's stage 43
5 The greatest art patron in the world 58
6 The Kunstkammer 75
7 As above, so below 87
8 Ars Magica 97
9 The magi 110
10 The new Hermes Trismegistus 128
11 The starry heavens 150
12 The new astronomy 170
13 The emperor of darkness 185
14 The recluse of Prague 199
15 The labyrinth of the world 212
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Sort by: Showing 1 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted February 17, 2012

    Good overview of Rudolf's Prague

    First, this is not a textbook, BN needs to pay attention to it's classifications.

    Marshall's book is a good intro to those wishing to learn something about the era in general as well as the importance of Bohemia in the Empire at the time. However, Marshall can be a bit superficial in his discussions and overly repetitive in his conclusions. I like the book, but was hoping for a deeper inquiry.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
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