Promethean Physicians

Abraham Jacobsz. after Jan Symonsz. Pynas, Alchemist, 1639-41, Etching, 250×205 mm, Amsterdam, Rijksmuseum

Lady Arundel’s iatrochemical experiments and passion for the arts shaped her spaces in London, Amsterdam and Amersfoort. As Pamela Smith has shown for the Leiden physician Franciscus Sylvius, paintings are to be associated with their concrete environment: a cycle of the five senses can be read as an indication of the importance of sensory experience for medical practice (Science and Taste: Painting, Passions, and the New Philosophy in Seventeenth-Century Leiden 1999. The intersections of medical alchemy and the visual arts did not end at illustrative commentaries or mere visualizations of natural philosophical concepts. Their expertise on influencing the delicate balance of the body advanced the practitioner and the experienced housewife to the prestige of artists.

In the recipes of Lady Arundel, Lady Kent, and doctors like Theodor Turquet de Mayerne, the human body was conceptualized as a substance, as a material, to be shaped by the tools of pharmaceutics. Their medical interventions can thus be read as artistic practices. From surgical interventions resembling sculptural approaches, to treatments with tinctures and ointments bearing traits of painterly practice, physical treatments construct the body as material to be shaped, mended and perfected. With the help of chymiatria, iatrochemical remedies, medical interventions go even further than art.

The art of medicine allows for the perfection of the real, living flesh and body. Doctor and housewife act as a minister naturae, as Natura‘s dedicated assistants. William E. Burns has analyzed Francis Bacon’s interpretation of this crucial concept (A Proverb of Versatile Mutability: Proteus and Natural Knowledge in Early Modern Britain 2001). Medical practitioners enable the body as a material to perfect its form, guiding it to a higher state, healing it with the cosmic forces of minerals and plants (William Newman, Promethean Ambitions 2004).

Cite this blog post
Jennifer Rabe (2022, February 27). Promethean Physicians. Lady Arundel 1654–2054. Retrieved May 23, 2024, from

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