Alma and Robert D. Milne Fund 1995.2
Catalogue raisonné: Clayton 163; Chaloner Smith 44
State: III/V; I/II
Traditionally, the chief pursuit of alchemists was the search for "the philosopher's stone," which would miraculously transform base metals into gold. The alchemist pictured here, however, accidentally discovered phosphorus, to his own amazement and awe. Despite the Gothic setting and picturesque details, Wright's purpose was not to ridicule superstition, but to commemorate the birth of chemistry as a modern science, beginning with the discovery of phosphorus in 1676. Wright strove for accuracy in depicting the alchemist's apparatus, since many of his friends and patrons were scientists and intellectuals who had stimulated the artist's interest in scientific inquiry.
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