Donna Bilak

Columbia University

Michael Maier's Atalanta fugiens and playful humanism

2017-2018: Fall and Spring

Donna Bilak is an historian of early modern science, specializing in material culture: her research encompasses the history of alchemy in British North America, England, and the Continent; the study of emblematics; and jewelry history and craft technology. From 2014-17, Bilak was a Postdoctoral Scholar on The Making & Knowing Project at Columbia University, directed by Pamela H. Smith. Bilak's current research project is centered on the Atalanta fugiens, an alchemical emblem book set to music written in 1617/18 by Michael Maier, a German physician and alchemist — this research began during her 2013-14 postdoctoral fellowship at the Chemical Heritage Foundation, Philadelphia. Maier's virtuoso program blends music, images, poetry, cabala, and science into a paean to wisdom achieved through alchemical arts, and Bilak's analysis of this enigmatic work forms the premise of her book project, undertaken this year as an Italian Academy Fellow, 'Catch Me If You Can': Ludic Humanism and Michael Maier's Atalanta fugiens (1618). 

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