Turris Philosophorum

On the Alchemical Iconography of the Tower

Bibliographic Entry

Plaisance, Christopher A. "Turris Philosophorum: On the Alchemical Iconography of the Tower." In Alchemical Traditions: From Antiquity to the Avente-Garde, 325–354, ed. Aaron Cheak. Melbourne: Numen Books, 2013.


Throughout alchemical tracts from the fifteenth century onward, one of the more commonly employed emblems was that of the tower. At times, these towers appear to be full-sized structures surrounded by, or containing, people; at others, they appear as miniature castles set within the alchemist's laboratory. What is it that links these depictions of realistically proportioned towers with their diminutive counterparts? What is the origin of this image, and what did it symbolize? The purpose of this paper is to investigate the image of the tower as an alchemical icon — to inquire into its genesis and significance. To accomplish this, we begin with a brief overview of the history and doxography of the alchemical tradition, continue into a discussion on the importance of laboratory equipment within the context of alchemical work, focus our inquiry into the athanor furnace, and conclude with an analysis of the iconography of the tower within the context of the previous sections.


alchemy, iconography, symbolism, tower, athanor


Kulystin, Tai Fenix. "Destruction in the Name of Healing and Transformation: The Phoenix and the Tower." In Numen Naturae: Dismantling the Tower, edited by Casandra Johns. Portland: House of Hands, 2017.
Van Ackooy, Alinda. "Through the Alchemical Looking Glass: An Interpretation of Stephan Michelspacher's Cabala: Spiegel der Kunst in Natur, in Alchymia Concerning the Tincture of the Alchemists." MA thesis, University of Amsterdam, 2016.