To a Chemist who is interested in the origin and the history of the Science, a glimpse of its predecessor, Alchemy, presents a fascinating view.
The word Alchemy, derived from the Arabic work al-kimia, is both a philosophy and an ancient practice focused on the attempt to change base metals into gold as well as investigating the preparation of the “elixir of longevity.” Alchemists often persuaded the powerful and rich noblemen that they could further enrich and empower them with their skills. Having their own Alchemist was a sign of a nobleman’s elevated status. Although alchemy involved a large amount of “magic”, some of the more practical aspects of alchemy formed the basics of modern inorganic chemistry.
In the late 18th and early 19th centuries, some of the more curious and talented Alchemists used their techniques to conduct what we now know as Chemistry. The first distillations and filtrations were carried out in the 19th Century by the early and famous Chemists, such as Robert Boyle (1627-1691), Sir Humphrey Davy (1778-1829), and Antoine Lavoisier (1743-1794), commonly regarded as the fathers of modern chemistry.
The discovery of the chemical elements has a long history beginning with alchemy and culminating in the creation of the Periodic Table of the Chemical Elements by Dmitri Mendeleev (1834-1907). By classifying the elements according to their chemical properties, he developed the Periodic Table for which he is generally given credit.
Some of the greatest painters of the 16th-19th Century – the Teniers and Brueghel – chose Alchemists as subjects, sometimes in admiration, sometimes in satire.
Michael Bolgar, the founder of AccuStandard, Inc., has long been an admirer and collector of art featuring Alchemists and alchemy. It is thanks to him that we are able to share some of this artwork with you.