Museums and Art

“The Alchemist Discovering Phosphorus”, Joseph Wright - description of the painting

“The Alchemist Discovering Phosphorus”, Joseph Wright - description of the painting

Phosphorus Discovery Alchemist - Joseph Wright. 127 x 101.6 cm

Scientists from time immemorial were engaged in the search for a philosopher's stone that turns any metal into real gold. Astrologers, alchemists, thinkers, and simply adventurers hoped to experimentally create a recipe promising infinite wealth and, of course, fame.

It is not surprising that the artist Joseph Wright, who was a big fan of scientific and technological progress, captured this plot. Perhaps the fast-moving Age of Enlightenment will finally solve this daunting task?

But on the master’s canvas we see not an advanced scientist of the 17th century, but a certain druid with a gray-haired beard in the interior resembling a Gothic temple with sharp high arches and lancet windows. The old philosopher hoped to discover a wonderful stone, but accidentally received an amazing luminous substance - phosphorus. His eyes are open from surprise, he fell on one knee, saying a prayer according to the ancient custom of chemical astrologers (this is indicated in the full name of the picture).

Wright not only romanticized the plot, moving it to the temple, but also ennobled the process as a whole. After all, the recipe for creating a stone prescribed to evaporate old urine (more than 50 buckets), in which worms had already started!

And then, and today, the picture evokes many interpretations and interpretations. Some argue that the canvas depicts the true discoverer of phosphorus Henning Brand, while others are looking for quotes and allusions from paintings by other artists (El Greco, Thomas Wake). However, sketches and sketches of the painter’s close friend, Peter Bardet, have been preserved, which show that Bardet is the author of the composition, arrangement of figures, and background of the work. Wright could only masterfully embody the original idea, with a focus on the luminous vessel.

During Wright's life, the picture was surrounded by an aura of mystery, and no one decided to buy it. The mysterious "Alchemist" found its owner only after the death of the author through the famous auction "Christie".


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