This engraving is from the “Chimie” section of vol. 3 of the Recueil de Planches, sur les sciences, les arts libéraux, et les arts méchaniques (Paris, 1763), of the Encyclopédie ou Dictionnaire Raisonné des Sciences, des Arts et des Métiers organized by Denis Diderot and other philosophes.
The eighteenth plate representing chemistry, it depicts a complex and obviously allegorical image of the earth supported by two strong men and a four-headed dragon. Above the earth, another man holds the sun while a woman holds the moon. At the top are philosophers and a phoenix. The plinth at bottom carries the text “PARADIGMA OPERIS PHILOSOPHICI. Libavio.”
This image is derived from that in the Praxis Alchemiae (1606) written by Andreas Libavius (1555-1616), an important German physician and chemist.
Alchemy by the 18th century, and in the Encyclopédie, meant the transmutation of metals, while chemistry meant separation and unification of various substances. The words chemistry and alchemy are old, and their meanings varied over time. Libavius thought the two were synonymous.
“Pl. XVII” appears at the upper right of this image. The “Goussier del.” signature at the bottom left refers to Jacques-Louis Goussier, the artist who drew more than 900 plates for the Encyclopédie. The “Desehrt fecit” signature at lower right refers to a French engraver of the period.
Object Name
date made
Physical Description
paper (overall material)
overall: 15 3/4 in x 9 1/4 in; 40.005 cm x 23.495 cm
place made
France: Île-de-France, Paris
ID Number
catalog number
accession number
Prints from the Physical Sciences Collection
Science & Mathematics
See more items in
Medicine and Science: Physical Sciences
Prints from the Physical Sciences Collection
Data Source
National Museum of American History, Kenneth E. Behring Center

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