The Alchemist

Philips Galle, Flemish, 1537 - 1612. After a drawing by Pieter Bruegel the Elder, Netherlandish (active Antwerp and Brussels), first documented 1550, died 1569. Published by Hieronymus Cock, Netherlandish, c. 1510 - 1570.

Made in Antwerp, Netherlands (historical name, 15th-16th century), Europe

c. 1558


Plate: 13 1/4 x 17 1/2 inches (33.7 x 44.5 cm) Sheet: 14 5/8 x 19 7/16 inches (37.1 x 49.4 cm)

Curatorial Department:
Prints, Drawings, and Photographs

Object Location:

Currently not on view

Accession Number:

Credit Line:
The Muriel and Philip Berman Gift, acquired from the John T. Morris Collection given to the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts in 1925 by Lydia Thompson Morris, with funds contributed by Muriel and Philip Berman, gifts (by exchange) of Lisa Norris Elkins, Bryant W. Langston, Samuel S. White 3rd and Vera White, with additional funds contributed by John Howard McFadden, Jr., Thomas Skelton Harrison, and the Philip H. and A.S.W. Rosenbach Foundation, 1985

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Alchemy, a pseudoscientific practice that sought to turn base metals into gold, is depicted here as a vain and fruitless pursuit. The alchemist (at far left) drops a silver coin into a bucket, while his wife reveals an empty coin purse and his children rummage for food in an empty cupboard. The consequences of this futile quest for riches are shown in the background, where the alchemist and his family are about to enter the poorhouse, designated “hospital” above the door.