Bernard of Trevisan

views updated May 29 2018

Bernard of Trevisan

also known as Bernard of Treviso, Bernard of Treves

(fl. ca. 1378, although also thought to have flourished in the fifteenth or sixteenth century, in France, Italy, or Germany)


Although it is uncertain whether two or even three persons are responsible for the tracts bearing the name of Bernard of Trevisan, his name first appears in manuscript texts of the fourteenth century; and the contents of all of these works fit well into fourteenth-century alchemical thought and practice, both in the nature of the alchemical doctrines expounded and in the authorities or authors cited. For example, in a reply to Thomas of Bologna, physician to King Charles V of France (d. 1380), Bernard maintained against Thomas the dominant fourteenth-century theory that gold is made solely from quicksilver or mercury, although the process might be hastened by the addition of a small amount of gold. Bernard rejected the sulfur-mercury theory of the preceding century. He asserted that mercury contained within itself the four elements—that is, the air and fire of sulfur in addition to the earth and Water usually associated with mercury. All these elements, he reported, remain when the mercury turns to gold. He also rejected Thomas of Bologna’s association of the planets with the alchemical process.

The alchemical doctrine of the composition of the philosophers’ stone by mercury alone was reiterated in the tracts that were printed under Bernard’s name in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, particularly in A Singular Treatise on the Philosophers’ Stone and in the Traicté de la nature de l’oeuvf. In the latter, Bernard asserted that the elixir is made of pure mercury and that this purified substance, which has lost all its terrestrial and consumable feces and which the philosophers call the water of volatiblity, contains within itself the entire magisterium.

Bernard, in common with other alchemists of the fourteenth century, likened the production of the philosophers’ stone to human generation. In this process, he explained, the sun is the male and is hot and dry, the moon is the female and is cold and moist, and both are essential because nothing can be generated and brought to the light of existence without a male and a female. In the philosophers’ stone, however, is to be found everything that is required for the production of the stone. This is demonstrated by the fact that it is composed of both body and spirit or of fixed and volatile elements, which, although they do not appear to be so, are indeed one in substance, i.e., quicksilver.

Furthermore, to demonstrate or explain the alchemical process, Bernard utilized another symbol commonly found in the alchemical literature of the time. He likened the mercury of the philosophers to the philosophers’ egg, which contains in itself two natures in one substance, the white and the yellow, and from itself produces another—the chicken—which has life and the power of generation. Mercury, he held, similarly contains within itself two natures in the one body and from itself produces a whole that has body, soul, and spirit. Moreover, on the authority of Albertus Magnus, whom he had cited for the preceding exposition of the philosophers’ egg as one and many, Bernard likened this oneness of spirit, soul, and body to the Holy Trinity, who are One in God without diversity of substance. In his view, mercury, the egg, contains in itself everything required for the perfection of its own magisterium, without the addition of anything else and without any diminution of its own perfection. It has everything for the production of the chicken.

The works bearing Bernard’s name also reveal the author’s acquaintance with a number of alchemical writers, several of them from earlier centuries and others belonging to the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries. Among the earlier group are Geber, Rasis, Avicenna, Morienus, and Hermes. The later group comprised the Latin authors Albertus Magnus, Thomas Aquinas, Arnald of Villanova, and his brother Pierre of Villanova, as well as Hortulanus and Raymond Lull, John Dastin, and Christopherus Parisiensis. Furthermore, Bernard paraphrased Hippocrates’ Aphorisms and cited Aristotle and Galen.

There are other interesting and engaging features in Bernard’s works. For example, in the Chemica miracula there is a long autobiographical account of his quest for the philosophers’ stone. In another tract he cites as his reason for departing from the usual admonitions to keep the alchemical art secret the fear that so noble an art or science might perish or be lost if it were not imparted to others. Possibly because the works attributed to Bernard reproduced in this attractive form alchemical doctrines and practices that were familiar to his Contemporaries and were to become traditional in the centuries that followed, they were printed and reprinted not only in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries but as late as the eighteenth century.


I. Original Works. For manuscript texts see Lynn Thorndike and Pearl Kibre, A Catalogue of Incipits of Mediaeval scientific Writings in Latin (Cambridge, Mass, 1963). In addition to the MSS there noted are the following, written after 1500: British Museum, Sloane 299, 16c, ff.10v–9r, in English; Sloane 3117, 17c, ff.2r–84r; and Sloane 3737, 17c, ff, 93r-95r, extracts.

Printed editions of Bernard’s “Responsio ad Thomam de Bononia” are found, in Latin, with Morienus, De re metalica (Paris, 1564), in Artis auriferae (Basel, 1610), II, 38, and in J. J. Manget, ed., Bibliotheca chemica, II (Geneva, 1702), 399; in English, as “Epistle to Thomas of Bononia’” in Aurifontina chemica (London, 1680), pp. 187, 269; in German, as “Ein Antwort an Thomam de Bononia,” with Philip Morgenstern, Turba philosophorum, II (Vienna, 1750): in German and Latin, as “Bernardi von Tervis, Vom Stein der Weisen…,” in J. Tanckius, Opuscula chemica (Leipzig, 1605), pp. 215–230; and in French, as “La response de Messire Bernard Conte de la Marche, Trevisane, à Thomasde Boulongne [sic] Medicin du roi Charles huictiesme.” Gabriel Joly, trans., in Trois anciens traictez de la philosophie naturelle (Paris, 1626), pp. 27–89.

Chymica miracula quod lapidem philosophiae appellant (Strasnbourg, 1567; Basel, 1583, 1600), also appeared in L. Zetzner, ed., Theatrum chemicum, I (Strasbourg, 1613), 148–776, and 2nd ed., I (Strasbourg, 1659), 683; and as “Desecretissimo philosophorum opere chemico,” in J. J. Manget, ed., Bibliotheca chemica, II (Geneva, 1702), 388.

De chemia, Opus historicum et dogmaticum ex gallico in Latinum, Gulielmus Gratarolus, trans. (Strasbourg-Basel, 1567), pp. 139–223, also appeared with J. Franciscus Picodella Mirandola., Libri III de auro (Ursel, 1598), p. 149; and with D. Zacaire, Opuscule (Anvers, 1567).

Vom der hermetischen Philosophia (Strashourg, 1574), a translation from the Latin, is also in Hermetischer Rosen-krantz (Hamburg, 1659, repr. 1682), pp. 98–110; and in Hermetische Philosophia (Frankfurt-Leipzig, 1709).

Tractatus singularis Bernhardi Comitis Treverensis, Delapide philosophorum is in Tractatus aliquot chemici singulars (Geismar, 1647), pp. 16–30, and Ginaeceum chimicum, I (Lyons, 1679), 503–509; an English translation is A Singular Treatise of Bernard, Earl of Trevisan, Concerning the Philosophers’ Stone (London, 1683), and in Collectanea achymica (London, 1684), pp. 83–94.

Traicté de la nature de l’oeuvf des philosophes, composé par Bernard, Comte de Treves, Allemand (Paris, 1659), pp. 1–64, also appeared as “Des Herrn Bernhards, Grafens von der Mark und Tervis” in Abhandlungen von der Natur des philosophischen Eije (Hildesheim, 1780).

“La parole delaissée traicté de Bernard, Comte de la Marche Trevisano,” in Trois traitez de la philosophie naturelle (Paris, 1618), pp. 1–52, was also translated as “Verbumdimissum,” in Taeda trifida chimica (Nuremberg, 1674), p.97.

II. Secondary Literature. Bernard of Trevisan is associated with the fourteenth century in Lynn Thorndike, History of Magic and Experimental Science, III (New York, 1934), 611–627, and V (New York, 1959), 601, 622–623, where he surveys both manuscript and printed texts; and in George Sarton, Introduction to the History of Science, IIIBaltimore, 1948), 1480.

John Ferguson, Bibliotheca chemica(Glasgow, 1906), I, 103–104, and II, 466 -467, differentiates between Bernardus Trevisanus of Padua (1406–1409), Bernardo Trevisano of Venice (1652–1720), and Bernardinus Trivisanus of Padua(1506–1583). He also has an extensive bibliography on the three Bernards.

Pearl Kibre

Trévisan, Bernard of (1406-1490)

views updated May 29 2018

Trévisan, Bernard of (1406-1490)

Italian alchemist seeking to discover the philosophers' stone. Trévisan began at an early age to spend large sums of money on the pursuit.

Trévisan was born at Padua. His father was a doctor of medicine, so it is probable that Bernard received his initial training in science at home. At the age of fourteen he devoted himself to alchemy. He read the works of Eastern philosophers Gerber and Rhasis. Trévisan augmented his learning with the writings of Sacrobosco and Rupecissa. He engaged in a long course of reading and praying.

Trévisan heard that Henry, a German priest, had succeeded in creating the philosophers' stone. He went to Germany, accompanied by other alchemists. Henry claimed he would disclose all if they would supply a certain sum of money to procure the necessary tools and materials. After Henry proved fraud Trévisan decided to abandon his search. However, he visited Spain, Great Britain, Holland, and France, trying in each of these countries to learn more about creating the philosophers' stone. Eventually he went to Egypt, Persia, and Palestine and subsequently travelled in Greece.

Ultimately Trévisan found himself impoverished and was forced to sell his parental estates. He retired to the Island of Rhodes and met a priest who knew something of science. Trévisan proposed they should start fresh experiments together. The cleric agreed to help, so the pair borrowed a large sum of money to purchase the necessary paraphernalia. The two found some success.

It is belived that Trévisan was at least partly responsible for an octavo volume published in 1643, Le Bernard d'Alchmague, cum Bernard Treveso, while he is commonly credited with another work titled La Philosophic Naturelle des Metaux. In this latter work he insists on the necessity of meditation by the scientist who would create the philosophers' stone.

Bernard of Trévisan is often confused with two other individualsBernardo Trevisano (1652-1720), a Venetian devoted to languages, mathematics, philosophy, and painting, and Bernardinus Trivisanus (1506-1583), who studied arts and medicine at Padua and became professor of logic and medical theory.

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