In 1576, Holy Roman Emperor Rudolf II chose Prague to be his home. More than any other person, Rudolf made Prague a hotbed of alchemical interest. Rudolf lived in the Prague Castle, where he welcomed not only astrologers and magicians but also scientists, musicians, and artists. In addition to noted alchemists Edward Kelley and John Dee, Prague was also home to the astronomers Tycho Brahe and Johannes Kepler, the painter Arcimboldo, the poet Elizabeth Jane Weston, among others. Rudolf arguably spawned the most intense period of occult activity in history.
If you want to know more about the reign of Rudolf II, you could do a lot worse than Peter Marshall’s The Magic Circle of Rudolf II: Alchemy and Astrology in Renaissance Prague.
Celebrating this alchemical contributions of Rudolf II is the Museum of Alchemists and Magicians of Old Prague, located at Jansky Vrsek 8 on the western side of the Vltava. The museum consists of two levels of displays and tableaux that document Rudolf’s alchemists in Prague, especially Kelley. (There is a sister museum called the Speculum Alchemiae Museum, but that’s on the other side of the river, at Hastalska 1.)
Quoting Altas Obscura,
The main floor has displays and replica artifacts of the trade alongside such fantastical scenes as a failed magician being stolen up into the ceiling by the Devil while cackling sorcerers huddle around the glowing runes beneath. The second floor, which claims to be the actual tower where the real Kelley performed his esoteric experiments if decked out like an alchemists lab, all aged scrolls and stacked grimoires, complete with a half-completed homunculus, the ultimate alchemical achievement.
The museum is more than a little sensational in its presentation, but to be fair these alchemists were likely more than a little bit showmen themselves. What better way to remember and learn about their arcane history than with a little bit of magical realism?
Here’s a peek at some of the treasures within. The first six pictures here come from Altas Obscura; all of the others (including the picture at the top of the post) come from TripAdvisor users. The mechanical model of the solar system is known as an “orrery.” Strictly speaking, you didn’t need to know that, but if you know the word orrery and along comes a reason to use it, you’re damn well going to use it!