The Wallace Collection

The Wallace Collection, A Family Collection, A National Museum, An International Treasure House
The Village Alchemist
  • Jan Steen (1626 - 1679)
  • The Village Alchemist
  • Netherlands
  • early 1660s
  • Painting
  • Oil on oak panel
  • Image size: 41.7 x 29.8 cm
  • Signature: 'JSteen', the 'JS' in monogram
  • P209
  • East Galleries II
Further Reading
  • Alchemists first became popular as subjects among the Dutch followers of Caravaggio and Rembrandt, where they seem to have been almost interchangeable with astronomers, philosophers and other scholars. Steen’s alchemist sits hunched and staring into space, as if driven mad. He is oblivious to the poverty of his surroundings and is prematurely aged by his obsession. By contrast, his young wife and child, seen in the background, are in despair. The woman draws our attention to two symbols: empty money bags suspended from the ceiling along with a bloated bladder, symbolising delusion.