Science History Institute
Transmutations: Alchemy in Art
In artistic depictions of alchemy, science and art blend to tell nuanced stories about the cultures that produced the two fields. The tone of European alchemical art from across the centuries can range from representational to humanizing, often using caricature, subtle satire, and theatrical gestures and poses. This exhibition featured depictions of chemistry and alchemy from the 17th through the 19th century.
The paintings’ subjects include detailed scenes of busy workshops where alchemists perform distillation, metallurgy, uroscopy, and tooth pulling. Portrayals of alchemists range from a figure of human folly to that of an honest laborer. Later paintings show a romanticized view of alchemy and illustrate how changes in artistic taste and convention also fueled misunderstandings about the practice of alchemy.
Representations like those featured in the exhibition provide insight into the kind of work that alchemists did and the ways that they have been revered, reviled, and remembered.
This exhibition was made possible by Roy Eddleman, the Fisher Fund of the Pittsburgh Foundation, and the Midland Foundation.
About Chester Garfield Fisher
Chester Garfield Fisher founded Fisher Scientific in 1900 at the age of 20. The company has been a principal supplier of laboratory apparatus throughout the last century. C. G. Fisher was first drawn to alchemical artworks because they included beautifully rendered depictions of laboratory apparatus. He began acquiring alchemical paintings in the 1920s and continued to collect alchemical artworks throughout his lifetime. Fisher Scientific International, Inc., donated its collection (which includes paintings, works on paper, and such artifacts as glassware and instruments) to the Chemical Heritage Foundation in March 2000.