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Seattle Art Museum (SAM)

Alchemist or magician at work

Photo: Paul Macapia

Alchemist or magician at work

18th century

This painting depicts an alchemist or magician at work. In his workshop, with his cat at his feet, the alchemist has conjured up a host of demons, presumably by means of the glowing stone he holds before him. Alchemy and other magical arts were widely practiced in the Middle Ages and the early modern world, in Islamic territories and beyond. The boundaries between magic and science were not as well defined then as they are today, and people from all levels of society sought aid from the natural and supernatural worlds in their daily lives. Astrologers, for example, were held in high esteem and were consulted by rulers to determine auspicious days and times to undertake activities such as initiating military campaigns, founding cities and scheduling royal weddings.
Opaque watercolor, ink and gold on paper
7 15/16 x 5 9/16 in. (20.2 x 14.2 cm)
Eugene Fuller Memorial Collection
Provenance: [Mr. S. Craig Preston]; purchased from Mr. Preston by Seattle Art Museum (Eugene Fuller Memorial Collection), January 5, 1940
Photo: Paul Macapia
Not currently on view

Art for the Palace/Tent

Secular Islamic manuscripts feature a variety of themes-some of them fantastic and mythical-illustrating popular literary and poetic works. Other manuscripts represent the lives and daily activities of the people who commissioned them-royal and elite patrons who populated the court in the fifteenth to the eighteenth centuries.

The imagery in these secular Islamic manuscripts mirrors the lives of people in the upper levels of society and depicts their favorite pastimes. The images display a high degree of fantasy: court figures and rulers are represented in an ideal form, as they wished to be seen rather than the way they actually were. A certain tension exists between the real and the imaginary. One cannot be truly certain if what one sees is historically accurate.
The Alhambra, Grenada, Spain
Photo: Jaron Berman

Related Objects in SAM's Collection

Photo: Paul Macapia
Miniature of a bird and scene of lovers with an attendant, ca. 1629-1635, Riza Abbasi, 50.111
Photo: Paul Macapia
Line Drawing of Artist at Work, ca. 1600, Persian, 62.205
Photo: Paul Macapia
Alchemist or magician at work, 18th century, Persian, 40.38


Karen Mathews, Assistant Professor of Art History, University of Miami, discusses art for the palace or tent


Exhibition HistoryParis, France, Petit Palais, "7000 Ans d'Art en Iran (7000 Years of Art in Iran)," 1961 (Circuit 1962-63: Essen, Germany, Villa Hugel; Den Haag, Netherlands, Gemeente-Museum; Zurich, Switzerland, Kunsthaus; Vienna, Austria, Osterreichisches Museum fur Angewandte Kunst; Milan, Italy, Palazzo Reale

Rome, Palazzo Brancaccio, "Exhibition of Iranian Art," 1956
Published ReferencesAl Khemir, Sabiha. "Light / Nur: Light in Art and Science from the Islamic World." Seville, Spain: Focus-Abengoa Foundation in association with Dallas: Dallas Museum of Art, 2013, p. 186, illus. fig. 131, p. 187

Middle East Studies Association Bulletin, Vol. 22, No. 2, Dec. 1988, illus. on cover

Seattle Art Museum Engagement Book, 1968, illus. May 19-25

"7000 Anni d'Arte Iranica." Milan: Palazzo Reale, 1963, p. 183, no. 627

"Kunstschatze aus Iran." Vienna: Osterreichisches Museum fur Angewandte Kunst, 1963, no. 689

"7000 Jahre Kunst in Iran." Essen: Villa Hugel, 1962, no. 598

"7000 Ans d'Art en Iran." Paris: Petit Palais, 1961, no. 1110, p. 198, not illus.

"Mostra d'arte Iranica (Exhibition of Iranian Art)." Rome: Palazzo Brancaccio, 1956, p. 280, no. 526, pl. XCV

Hambis, Louis. "The Ancient Civilizations of Manchuria," in East and West, Vol. 7, No. 3 (October 1956), pp. 218-228, illus. p. 228

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