Bernard Trevisan

We take a look at another great influencing character on the golden age of alchemy from the 14th or 15th century.

Bernard Trevisan (Bernard of Treviso, Bernardus Trevisanus) refers to one or more Italian alchemists. These are often confused, or more accurately the name may refer to a shadowy figure or figures.

Bernard of Trévisan is often confused with two other individuals—Bernardo 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.


The figure from the fifteenth century is described as living from 1406-1490. He was born into a noble family in Padua and spent his entire life spending his family fortune in search of the Philosopher’s stone.

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.

He began his career as an alchemist at the age of fourteen. He had his family’s permission, as they also desired to increase their wealth. He first worked with a monk of Cîteaux named Gotfridus Leurier. They attempted for eight years to fashion the Philosopher’s stone out of hen eggshells and egg yolk purified in horse manure.

Again, it could be two or even three people behind the works 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.

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. Baltics, Germany, Spain, France, Vienna, Turkey, and Cyprus, to find hints left by past alchemists

He then worked with minerals and natural salts using distillation and crystallization methods borrowed from Jābir ibn Hayyānand Muhammad ibn Zakariya al-Razi. When these failed he turned to vegetable and animal material, finally using human blood and urine. He gradually sold his wealth to buy secrets and hints towards the stone, most often from swindlers.
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.

In Rhodes he kept working on the Philosopher’s stone until his death in 1490.

He is believed to have been influential on the work of Gilles de Rais in the 1430s.

About his works:

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 volatility, 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 miraculathere 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.

Attributed works

In the sixteenth century alchemical works were attributed to Bernard. For example, Trevisanus de Chymico miraculo, quod lapidem philosophiae appellant was edited in 1583 by Gerard Dorn. The Answer of Bernardus Trevisanus, to the Epistle of Thomas of Bononia, and The Prefatory Epistle of Bernard Earl of Tresne, in English, appeared in the 1680 Aurifontina Chymica.

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.

Treatise of the philosopher’s stone (1400’s):

Sol and Luna, or Male and Female,

Male is hot and dry, Female Cold and Moist (or Fire and Water)

four colors: black, white, yellow, red

sulphur and mercury

as above so below

squaring of the circle

–all in one paragraph.

takes a year to make a perfect stone

when it’s agrent vive, when it’s dry it’s silver, and when it grows red they call it gold.. but it’s all the same thing.

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