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The Alchemist

David Teniers II, Flemish (active Antwerp and Brussels), 1610 - 1690

Made in Southern Netherlands (modern Belgium), Europe


Oil on panel, transferred to canvas

23 1/2 x 33 inches (59.7 x 83.8 cm)

Curatorial Department:
European Painting

Object Location:

Currently not on view

Accession Number:
Cat. 689

Credit Line:
John G. Johnson Collection, 1917

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Using a bellows, an alchemist carefully heats glowing coals under a crucible and watches for a transmutation. According to the theories of the time, it was thought possible that a base metal could be purified and turned into gold by adding the “philosopher’s stone.” Until the Renaissance, experimentation with alchemy was the preserve of royalty, philosophers, and fraud artists. By the time Teniers created this scene, however, the rising merchant classes were trying it too. Although the practice of alchemy was still controversial, its techniques—such as distillation and metallurgy—were contributing a great deal to science and industry.