The Alchemist, c. 1558

Not on Viewexpand_more

It was typical in depictions of alchemists to include a scholar seated at a lectern. In this print, Brueghel inserts a figure on the right side that gestures out at the scene in front of him and draws the viewer's attention to the foolish behavior in his midst. The alchemist works in his makeshift lab as he tries to discover the philosopher's stone, a material that will turn base metals into gold and silver. He is assisted in his pursuits by a fool, who is shown squeezing air from a bellows onto coals in a brazier. The alchemist's wife sits behind the fool and displays her empty purse, a sign that her husband has squandered all that they had in his quest for the philosopher's stone.

Through the window we see the eventual outcome of the alchemist's folly as he and his family are welcomed at the poorhouse.

The Alchemist
Artist Life
1537 - 1612
Accession Number
(Olimpia Theodoli Fine Prints, London); sold to MIA, 2000.
Catalogue Raisonne
Leeber 27; St. Louis (1995) 46; Bast. 197 i/iii; Holl. 197 ii/iv
Curator Approved

This record has been reviewed by our curatorial staff but may be incomplete. These records are frequently revised and enhanced. If you notice a mistake or have additional information about this object, please email

Does something look wrong with this image? Let us know

Zoom in on the left to the detail you'd like to save. Click 'Save detail' and wait until the image updates. Right click the image to 'save image as' or copy link, or click the image to open in a new tab.