Sala, Angelo (Angelus)

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(b. Vicenza, Italy [?], 1576; d, Bützow, Germany, 2 October 1637)

pharmaceutics, chemistry, medicine.

Sala was the son of Bernhardino Sala, a spinner; nothing is known about his mother. After Sala’s grandfather, Angelo Sala, immigrated to Geneva, Sala followed him (at an unknown date), as did his brother Domenico. There the family converted to Calvinism. Sala probably had already begun his “chymical” studies in northern Italy (1593), perhaps during his years in Vicenza, which was close to Padua and Venice, then the centers of the manufacture and sale of medicines.

The years from 1602 to about 1612 were Sala’s Wanderjahre. He is reported working as a physician in a number of cities, including Dresden (1602), Sondrio and Ponte (1604), Nuremberg (1606), Frauenfeld (1607), and Geneva (1609). In 1610 he served as physician to the Protestant troops under the command of Prince Johann of Nassau in the Upper Palatinate (for example, in Amberg and Neumark). Finally, in 1612, he settled in The Hague, the Netherlands, where for five years he practiced medicine and gave instruction in chemistry to medical students from various countries. He had already published two early works, De variis tum chymicorum, tum galenistarum erroribus ... (n.p., 1608) and the famous Anatomia vitrioli (Geneva, 1609), but in The Hague he engaged in much more scientific research, which is reflected in a number of new works he published during this period.

From 1617 to 1620 he worked as physician in ordinary to Count Anton Günther of Oldenburg, living partly in the city of Oldenburg and partly in Jever. In addition, he supervised all the pharmacies in the count’s territory. In Oldenburg, Salamet Anton Günther Billich, who became his student and an enthusiastic proponent of his chemical theories. In 1625 Billich married Sala’s only daughter, Maria, (It is not known when Sala married his wife, Katherine von Brockdorf, who survived him.)

Sala continued to publish books while at Oldenburg and also at his next place of residence, Hamburg (1620–1625). Beginning in this period he wrote mainly in German (although he continued to give most of his works Latin titles). He made this decision after joining, in 1617, the Fruchtbringende Gesellschaft in Weimar, which promoted the use of the German language. In Hamburg, where he served as Chymiater, Sala published for the first time a list of the medications that he had prepared (Wandsbek [now part of Hamburg], 1624).

At the recommendation of the Landgrave Moritz of Hesse (Kassel), Sala transferred to the service of the rulers of Mecklenburg. Very active henceforth as both a physician (principally in connection with the use of drugs) and a researcher, he lived in Güstrow until 1636 and then, for the rest of his life, in Bützow. To be sure, during the troubles caused by the Thirty Years’ War, he was obliged to move around several times, spending the years from 1628 to 1631 in Bernburg and Harzgerode in Anhalt. On his return trip he spent several days in Lübeck as a guest of the physician Hermann Westhoff. As early as 1622 Westhoff had reported on Sala’s medicinal preparations to his friend Joachim Jungius (also from Lübeck) and had himself brought samples of them to Rostock. In his own theoretical research Jungius therefore drew indirectly on Sala’s chemical studies and perhaps also met him.

Sala recorded his original chemical observations chiefly in his later works, notably those written after about 1620. Of his nineteen books, only a few have attracted the attention of historians. There exists no direct evidence concerning his medical practice. Early in his career, from about 1608, he followed the teachings of Paracelsus and agreed with the principle that “similia similibus curantur.” From about 1625, he prescribed medicines in conformity with the basic principle “that they have a force ... that resists the disease”, and he adopted a skeptical attitude toward the followers of Paracelsus, as previously he had done toward the Galenic physicians. Frequently attacked by representatives of both these medical traditions. Sala said that none of them was willing “to deviate a hair’s breadth from his opinions, no matter whether he was right or wrong.”1

Sala’s chemical ideas proved to be historically influential. He performed the earliest known experiment in which a systhesis was confirmed by analysis (“anatomia”). Sala wished to establish “What blue vitriolum is, and out of what kind of pieces or materials it is composed or put together by nature.”2 As proof that this vitriolum consists of “copper ore, sulfur fumes, and water,” Sala observed that out of it one can distill, successively, water and “sulfur-bearing vapor” (“schweffelischen Dampff,” that is to say, sulfuric acid), with the result that there remains “a reddish-brown substance similar to burned copper” (cupric oxide). Going beyond this qualitative anlaysis, Sala made quantitative observations, notably that these three substances can “exist in combination only in their appropriate proportion.” He further remarked that after distillation of the water, the remainder “cannot weigh more than two-thirds with respect to the previous weight of the raw vitriol.” This weight is now determined to be 64 percent; thus Sala was not yet able to arrive at exact results.3

Closely connected with Sala’s conception of the constitution of vitriol out of constituent parts is his notion that the possibility of reductio (that is to say, of a return to the earlier state) is proof that no genuine transmutatio has occurred. Although Sala thought that the theory of transmutation was valid for salts in general, he did not think it applied to vitriol, since he did not consider it to be a salt. Another example of reductio, he thought, was the precipitation of copper by means of iron. Iron draws (attrahit) copper out of copper out of copper or blue vitriol solution (copper sulfate) but not out of iron vitriol solution or out of sulfuric acid. The reduction consists, according to Sala, of a joining together of the copper particles dispersed in the blue vitriol solution. Previously, in 1603, Nicolas Guibert had also interpreted praecipitatio as a process of attractio, but not from a corpuscular point of view. Both authors went beyond Libau, who still accepted the concept of transmutatio. Still, they did not perceive, as did van Helmont in 1624, that the iron goes into solution. Nor did they realize, as did Jungius in 1630, that an exact exchange of the two metals takes place, both at the metallic precipitate and in the substance in solution.4

Sala did not succeed in carrying out the Anatomia antimonii (that is, of antimony [V ] sulfide).5 It was too difficult at that time to distinguish between synthesis and analysis.6 In the case of sal ammoniac, the synthesis was successful but not the analysis.7 Sala considered sulfur to be a compositum, because he perceived corrosive “smoke” being liberated from it in the process of burning. It should be remembered that for the pharmacists of the period, preparation, and therefore synthesis, was of primary interest. Accordingly, Sala’s attempts to conduct analyses are all the more praiseworthy. It is worth noting that in 1614 Sala reported the blackening of Silver nitrate by sunlight.8

Considering his work as a whole, it is evident that Sala was above all a practitioner. In his view, demonstrations could be carried out only through manual operations (inventionibus manualibus), that is to say, only with the aid of experimental examples, which he clearly distinguished from argumentation. For him, chemistry was still a handicraft (ars).


1. R. Capobus, Angelus Sala (Berline, 1933), 46.

2. A. Sala, De natura, proprietatibus et usu spiritus vitrioli fundamentalis dissertatio. Oder Gründliche Beschreibung, was Spiritus Vitrioli eigntlich sey (Hamburg, 1625), 4–5.

3. R. Hooykaas, Het begrip element in zijn historischwijsgeerige ontwikkeling (Utrecht, 1933), 150.

4. On the history of metallic precipitates, see H. Kangro, Joachim Jungius’ Experimente und Gedanken zur Begründung der Chemie als Wissenschaft (Wiesbaden, 1968), 159–173.

5. Hooykaas (1933), 158.

6. Hooykaas, “The Experimental Origin of Chemical Atomic and Molecular Theory Before Boyle,” in Chymia. 2 (1949). 72–73: H. Kangro. “Ein allgemeines Prinzip, mit dessen Hilfe im 17. Jahrhundert chemische Reaktionen ohne quatitative Analyse gedeutet worden sind,” in Beiträge zum XIII, Internationalen Kongress Für Geschichte der Wissenschaft (Moscow, 1974), 7th section, 225–231.

7. R.P. Multhauf. The Origins of Chemistry (London, 1966), 333.

8. J.R. Partiongon. A History of Chemistry, II (London, 1961), 278: Multhauf. op. cit., 330.


I. original Works. A complete bibliography is in Robert Capobus, Angelus Sala (Berlin, 1933), 53–55, although the titles are abbreviated and not always exact, Part of Sala’s work is listed in the Catalogue of the British Museum and in the Catalogue général des livres imprimé de la Bibliothèque Nationale (Paris). Sala’s Latin Opera medico-chymica appeared at Frankfurt am Main (1647), then at Rouen (1650), and again at Frankfurt am Main (1682).

Single works besides the two early works mentioned in the article and the work in n. 2 are Septem planetarum terrestrium spagirica recensio (Amsterdam, 1614); Emetologia, ou enarration du naturel et usage des vomitoires (Delft, 1613); Opiologia (The Hague, 1614); Ternarius Bezoarticurum, or trois souverains medicaments Bezoardiques (Leiden, 1616); Anatomia antimonü (Leiden, 1617); Anatomia vitrioli, enlarged by the famous Brevis demonstratio, quid sit vitriolum ... (Leiden, 1617); Traicté de la peste (Leiden. 1617); Aphorismorum chymiatricorum synopsis (Bremen, 1620); Descriptio brevis antidoti pretiosi (Marburg, 1620); Chrysologia, seu examen auri chymicum (Hamburg, 1622); Von etlichen Kräfftigen vnd hochbewerthen Medicamenten (Wandesbeck, 1624); De natura ... (Hamburg, 1625); see n.2); and Processus de auro potabili (Strasborug, 1630).

See also Essentiarum vegetablium anatome, darinnen von den fütrefflichsten Nutzbarkeiten der Vegetabilischen Essentzen in der Artzney ... gelehret vnnd gehandelt wird (Rostock, 1630); Tartarologia. Das ist; Von der Natur vnd Eigenschafft des Weinsteins (Rostock, 1632); Hydrelaeologia. Darinnen, wie man allerley Wasser, Oliteten vnd brennende Spiritus der Vegetablischen Dingen, durch gewisse Chymische Regeln, vnd manualia destilliren vnd rectificiren soll ... gehandelkt wird (Rostock, 1633); Spagyrische Schatzkammer. Darinnen von unterschiedlichen, erbrechenmachenden ... spagyrischen Medicamenten ... treulich erwiesen vnd gelehret wird (Rostock, 1633); Spagyrische Schatzkammer. Darinnen von unterschiedlichen, erbrechenmachenden ... spagyrischen Medicamenten ... treulich erwiesen vnd gelehret wird (Rostock, 1634); Saccharalogia. Darinnen erstlich von der Natur, qualiteten, Nützlichem Gebrauch, vnd schädlichem Missbrauch des Zuckers: Darnach, wie von demseben ein Weinmässiger starker Getrank, Brandwein vnd Essig, als auch medicamenten ... können bereitet werden ... angezeiget wird (Rostock, 1637). The last ed. of a work of Sala is the Tractatus II de variis tum chymicorum, tum Galenistarum erroribus (Frankfurt am Main, 1702).

II. Secondary Literature. Apart from the literature mentioned in notes 3,6,7, and 8 there can only be recommended G.F.A. Blanck, Angelus Sala, sein Leben und seine Werke (Schwerin, 1883); and a short biographical sketch in Die Mecklenburgischen Ärzte von den ältesten Zeiten bis zur Gegenwart (Schwerin, 1929), 83.

Gisela Kangro