17th Century Art on Medicine: The Candlelight Master

A Doctor Examining Urine. The first half of 17th century.  (Image via Wikimedia Commons)

The Candlelight Master was an unknown  French, Italian or Northern European artist who worked in Rome from 1620 to 1634 (and possibly later). His paintings were attributed to famous contemporaries, such as Gerrit van Hoonthorst, Matthias Stomer, and George de La Tour. Researchers have tried to equate him with representatives of the dynasty of the Bigot painters from Aix-en-Provence  –  Trophime Bigot the Elder and Trophime Bigot the Younger, as well as with the Italian artist Master Giacomo (or Giacomo Massa).

Different art historians credit the Master of Candlelight with up to 50 different paintings, which are now part of the collections of major European and American museums, as well as private collections.

The main feature of his paintings is a religious or everyday scene illuminated by the candlelight that makes it stark and striking.

The Master of Candlelight did not paint scientists on purpose, but in the context of this blog he is interesting because of his painting «A Doctor Examining Urine». On the painting, we see a bearded middle-aged man with the lined brow. The doctor looks at us while holding a transparent vessel filled with a cloudy liquid.  In the bottom left corner, you can see the container for the vessel carrying made of some material akin to birch bark,  then the candlestick,  a folded sheet of paper and inkpot with writing feather.

Introduced by Ancient Greek physician and father of Western medicine Hippocrates urine examination is one of the few diagnostic methods that are still in use today. The pre-modern doctors looked at urine and by its state tried to diagnose a disease. For example, cloudy urine was an indication of kidney problems (now we know that diseased kidneys leak protein into urine). The urine that attracted flies due to sugar accumulation was a sign of diabetes (not that they could do anything about it, except informing relatives that they need to prepare for the inevitable).

The urine on the painting looks cloudy, the patient is probably in trouble.

An Iron Forge (1772) by  Joseph Write of Derby. (Image via Wikimedia Commons)

It’s interesting to compare this painting with those of science and industry painter Joseph Write of Derby.  His scientific and industrial scenes also happen during dark hours and have a single light source illuminating a scene. Sometimes (An experiment on a bird in the air pump, Two Girls Dressing a Kitten by Candlelight) it’s a candle,  but sometimes it’s a flask with phosphorus (Alchemist discovering phosphorus), lamp (A Philosopher by Lamplight) or red-hot iron (An Iron Forge). The time moved both scientifically and in art.


  • Rosenberg, Pierre. Candlelight Master // France in the Golden Age: Seventeenth-century French Paintings in American Collections. — New York: Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1982.  ISBN 978-0870-9929-57.
  • Medicine: The Definitive Illustrated History// DK (an imprint of the Random House)   —Cambrige, 2016.  ISBN: 978-0241225967.

19th Century Art on Medicine: “Homeopathy looks at the horrors of Allopathy”

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Homeopathy looks at the horrors of Allopathy, by Alexander Beideman (1857) (Image via Wikimedia Commons)

“Homeopathy looks at the horrors of Allopathy” — an allegorical painting by Russian artist Alexander Beideman, painted in 1857.

The allegorical image was created by Alexander Beydeman in Munich in 1857. According to the homeopath Nicholas Gabrilovich, the painting was commissioned by his father, Eugene Gabrilowitsch, who at that time studied in Munich.

“The positive pole of the scene” is located in the right part of the picture. In the background an allegory of soaring in the clouds Homeopathy. In front of her in a red cloak,  the god of medicine Aesculapius holding a symbol of medicine snake in the right hand. His left hand raised in anger and indignation. Behind him,  the goddess Athena who protects the sciences and shadowy Jupiter-like figure. At the right edge of the canvas is the German physician Samuel Hahnemann, the founder of homeopathy. Goddess of Justice is holding a balance and flaming sword in the background. I can only guess who is the winged child with a flame on his head (god of light Apollo?) and I cannot even guess who is the half-hidden woman.

All gods and heroes look with disapproval and indignation at associated with allopathy (modern medicine) “negative pole,” located on the left side of the picture where doctors mistreat a patient. One of them is sawing off the patient’s  leg, two other filling an enormous spoon with the medicine intending to shove it into the patien’d moth. The third MD is prizing the patient’s mouth open to receive the medicine under duress. In the corner, black-clad doctors congregate.

In the foreground, a doctor attaches leeches to the patient lower arm and belly – a popular universal remedy and one of the very few medicines available to pre-modern conventional doctors. The figure of Death is waiting for patient’s demise in the doorway. Patient’s wife sobbing and crying children depicted in the lower left corner.

«The Alchemist Discovering Phosphorus» (1771).

Let’s compare the picture with painted a century earlier Joseph Wright’s. Gone is the divine inspiration in form of light beam. It’s replaced by Roman gods and a saint – Homeopathy founder. Gone is the lonely, hermit-like figure of scientist replaced by the group of untrustworthy-looking black-clad group of men. Gone is the uplifting harmony of Enlightenment and it’s replaced by a black and white struggle.

“Homeopathy looks at the horrors of Allopathy” is a blatant propaganda via 19th-century medium – painting.

Note: I used my translation of Russian Wikipedia article by  Adavyd  as a starting point for this post. CC-BY-SA 4.0


  1.  DK (1 September 2016). Medicine: The Definitive Illustrated History. Dorling Kindersley Limited. pp. 107–110. ISBN 978-0-241-28715-6.
  2.  Государственная Третьяковская галерея — каталог собрания. 4: Живопись второй половины XIX века, книга 1, А—М. М.: Красная площадь. Я. В. БрукЛ. И. Иовлева. 2001. ISBN 5-900743-56-X.
  3.  Верещагина, Алла Глебовна (1958). “Александр Егорович Бейдеман” (Русское искусство: очерки о жизни и творчестве художников. Середина XIX века. ed.). Москва: Искусство. А. И. Леонов: 275—286.