Turquoise Lore of Anselmus de Boodt
The wish to possess and use objects of beauty and art, far from being a snare and temptation, is perfectly consistent with the highest morality.
~Jacques and Marcus (1882)
Something about Neglected Gems
The court of the Holy Roman Emperor Rudolf II (1552–1612) was filled with alchemists, lapidaries, and artists who wielded considerable power. Rudolf II did not enjoy being a leader. He was more interested in studying the occult sciences, including astrology and alchemy. An avid patron of the arts, Rudolf II was known to be a decent painter and lapidary. He was also a hypochondriac who assembled a league of astrologers and physicians to counsel him on the healing and occult power of gemstones. His extensive collection of gemstones and exotica reportedly included several bezoars, a ruby the size of a hen’s egg, mermaid teeth, unicorn horns, phoenix feathers, and nails from Noah’s Ark.
Rudolf II’s collection was catalogued and maintained by a famous mineralogist, alchemist, and physician, Anselmus de Boodt (1550–1632). De Boodt was appointed “physician in ordinary” to Rudolf II in 1584, a position he retained until the king’s death. There is no evidence that de Boodt ever exercised any authority as the king’s physician; instead, he seems to have enjoyed the king’s patronage for his alchemical experiments and mineralogical work.
Of his patron, de Boodt quipped:
“The emperor loves precious stones not as a means of enhancing his own dignity and majesty, whose greatness requires no external support, but to contemplate the greatness and ineffable power of God in the stones, which unite the beauty of the whole world in such tiny bodies.”
In 1647 de Boot published one of the most influential mineralogy texts ever written, the Gemmarum et Lapidum Historia. In this major opus, de Boodt described some 600 minerals and provided information on their properties, including their occult and medical applications. In general de Boodt exercised restraint when ascribing medical and mystical virtues to gemstones, and his work is considered a great advancement in the science of gemology. Nevertheless, de Boodt was a product of his times. In the case of turquoise, he opined that no gentleman was considered well dressed without one, and of its occult virtues, he wrote (Pogue, 1915):
“The turquoise is believed to strengthen the sight and spirits of the wearer; but its chief commendation is against falls, which everybody believes it takes upon itself so that the wearer escapes hurt—a property beyond the scope of reason. I can solemnly affirm that I always wear one set in a ring the property of which I can never sufficiently admire.”
De Boodt told how his father gifted him with a turquoise ring purchased for a pittance due to its dull color. Because it had little value, De Boodt had the turquoise engraved and wore it as a signet ring.
“Hardly was it on my finger a month when its original color returned, though not so bright as before, in consequence of the engraving and the inequality of its surface. Everybody was surprised, more especially as the color grew finer every day. Perceiving this, I never took it off my finger, just as I do still.”
De Boodt went on to relate two occasions where his turquoise ring appeared to have spared him from injury, the stone itself breaking instead. De Boodt offered his own explanation for this phenomenon:
“Its wonderful virtue in the case of a fall (if really proceeding from it) I have myself experienced…I am convinced that naturally this precious stone can not prevent the accident from being harmful, nor attract upon itself the evil. It is necessary then to attribute these results to an occult agent, that is to say, to good and evil spirits (God being willing and permitting this), as I have explained in the chapter on the forces of precious stones. At least I can certainly assert (which does not attribute power to precious stones, as is commonly done) that I have never believed, nor do I now believe, that such a thing ever naturally happens to the turquois.”
“The change of color also takes place in a natural manner. Because this precious stone is not perfectly hard, it can easily assume a fine, pale, or ugly color by absorbing the vapors and exhalations that perpetually transpire from the pores of the skin. Yet if it loses its color and beauty when its owner dies, and seems to be doing devilish work by pitying his fate, then this is a circumstance surpassing all human reason and is a matter for metaphysics, as I have mentioned in the case of falls and accidents.”
De Boodt went on to debunk the myth that turquoise can tell time:
“Some believe that the turquois performs the office of a clock and sounds the time of day, if held suspended by a thin thread from the thumb and middle finger between the walls of a small glass. It is of a truth admirable that this should be the belief of persons vain and little versed in the nature of things. In fact, however, the stone is ruled by the hand, and the hand by the imagination of the individual, and this happens for every blow, until the true number of hours is sounded; the hand is in accord with the imagination and gives the stone an imperceptible movement, until the number of blows and throbs shall be complete. The hours are not instituted by nature, but by man; and are different in different countries. Now, how can a stone know that man has arranged such things if it has no mind? Further, how can it, without being invested with knowledge, accommodate itself to different countries, which count the hours differently?”
De Boodt concluded his sober discussion of the properties of turquoise with the following:
“Say adieu then to impostures of vain men and enchanters! The turquois should be praised, however, because if carried, it allays and prevents pains in the eyes, and in the testes; it serves to stop enmity in some, and reconciles the love of man and woman.”
- Natural vs. Treated Turquoise
- Garnet in Barbarian Jewelry