The subject of our satirical painting is the folly of the alchemist. With his futile experiments to turn a base metal (lead) into a noble metal (gold) he drops his family into extreme poverty.
Our composition is based on an engraving made after a drawing by Pieter Brueghel the Elder. I know of only two other good versions of this composition, and also a few weaker, younger ones.
About the subject of our painting
Our painting goes back to an engraving made after a drawing from 1558 by Pieter Brueghel the Elder, from the Kupferstichkabinett in Berlin.
It represents the doomed quest of a chrysopoetic alchemist (at left) in his makeshift laboratory. The discredited charlatan tries in vain to create gold from his last lead coin that he drops into a crucible.
At right a scholar, dressed in an archaic costume, comments the scene and the cause of the family’s ruin.
At the centre the alchemist’s wife holds an empty purse. A fool next to her is as stupid as her husband: he tries to blow air with bellows into a melting pot.
Three small children play in an empty cupboard, one of them has an empty cooking pot on his head.
Through the open window we have a look at the close future: destitute, the alchemist and his family go to an almhouse.
Why should you buy this painting?
Because it is an excellent and early interpretation of Brueghel’s lesson: greed leads to ruin.