Compleat Malleability

Giovanni Georgi, Frontispiece Syntagma Anatomicum by Joannes Veslingius (Detail), 1647, Engraving, 202 x 147 mm, London, British Museum

The term virtuoso was first used in Henry Peacham’s Compleat Gentleman in 1634, In his guide book, first published in 1622 and substantially reworked and augmented in the 1634 edition, Peacham mediates between the heredity of nobility and the dire need for education and training in order to truly become a part of noble society:

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Effective Virtues

Paulus de Kempenaer, Alchemy (Detail), 1606, Mixed Media, 420×290 mm, Amsterdam, Rijksmuseum

In his study of the virtuoso at the interface between art, medicine and antiquity, Craig Hanson refers to the long tradition of the connection between the fields of medicine and art in England (The English Virtuoso 2009). He does not, however, explore its theoretical background.

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Strong Spirits

Wenceslaus Hollar after Leonoardo da Vinci, Study of two Women, 1645, Etching, 84×115 mm, Amsterdam, Rijksmuseum

Links between the project of replicating and perfecting nature through alchemy and the parallel endeavors of the visual arts have existed since ancient times as William Newman has shown in his seminal study (Promethean Ambitions 2004). The claim of alchemy and especially of Paracelsus, however, to not only reproducing and perfecting living bodies with the help of new technologies, but to also creating artificial bodies through art and science, transcended the scope of the pictorial arts.

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Weak Flesh

Peter Paul Rubens, Callisto, 1613, Oil on Canvas, 202 x 305 cm, Kassel, Gemäldegalerie

The most fascinating example of an artist concerned with the human body as an object of both medicine and art is Lady Arundel’s Antwerp acquaintance Peter Paul Rubens. In his Theoretical Sketchbooks he offers a comprehensive theory of the human figure. Continue reading “Weak Flesh”

The Amsterdam Inventory

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

The inventory of Lady Arundel’s house in Amsterdam, drawn up in 1655, provides information about the furnishings of the building on the Singel, which was subsequently sold for a rather large sum. Continue reading “The Amsterdam Inventory”


Johann Dürr, Still (Portrait of Johann Michaelis, Detail), 1653, Print, 276 x 167 mm, Amsterdam, Rijksmuseum

Although Natura Exenterata contains instructions for distilling and preparing chemical remedies such as aurum potabile and antimony, Tart Hall’s 1641 inventory does not mention any stills. This is different in the inventory of Lady Arundel’s house in Amsterdam drawn up in 1654/55. Continue reading “Destillation”


Matthias Stom, Tobias and the Angel, 1630/32, Oil on Canvas, 111×125 cm, Den Haag, Museum Bredius

The only religious painting mentioned in the Pranketing Room is directly related to the medical practice of the Countess. Continue reading “Fisheye”

Processes of Conservation

Peter Binoit, Chicken Dinner, 1600-1625, Oil on Wood, 56,4 x 77,2 cm, Paris, Louvre

The still lifes and market scenes on the walls of the Pranketing Room gallery depict an idealized combination of foodstuff of a variety and freshness that practically unattainable in early modern reality. Enjoying such diversity was made possible only through the eyes mediated by the skill of a painter, or, ideally, through the amazing skills of a gentlewoman or housewife who, similar to the artist, was privy to the art of conservation. Continue reading “Processes of Conservation”

Sugar and Fire

Abraham Bosse, Banketbakkerij, 1635, Etching, 264 x 342 mm, Amsterdam, Rijksmuseum

The ambivalence of inventories, which rarely add the exact purpose of crucibles, pans and preserving jars, requires great caution when classifying rooms as laboratories. Continue reading “Sugar and Fire”

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