Trouble Comes to the Alchemist. Dutch School,
17th-century. Oil on canvas mounted on board.
From the CHF: “Although the title suggests this is an image of an alchemist, the scene is one of a physician conducting a uroscopy for a female patient. The confusion may be due to the similarity in objects used in both relative practices. These include a mortar and pestle, a variety of flasks and containers, a human skull, an hourglass, a celestial globe, and books. The overt hilarity of the old woman deliberately emptying her piss pot on the physician’s head would have been instantly appreciated by any contemporary viewer of this work. Musical motifs, such as the cello in this painting, were traditionally a symbol of love and warning about sexual promiscuity. The poem on the table, attributed to Socrates, implies that the furious woman above is like Xanthippe, the Greek philosopher’s famously shrewish wife. It reads: I knew well woman, it’s no wonder, it would rain, after this thunder.”