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.

josephwright-alchemist

«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

Sources:

  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.
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18th century Art on Science: Joseph Wright’s “An Experiment on a Bird in an Airpump”

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“An Experiment on a Bird in an Airpump” (1768). Joseph Wright. 

Unlike his self-explanatory “Alchemist discovering phosphorus,” another painting of Joseph Wright of Derby, “An Experiment on a Bird in an Airpump” (right) is an enigma for a 21st-century viewer. Who are people surrounding the table? Why is the parrot in a glass bowl?

What is an air pump?

I don’t think I need to convince you that air has pressure and you can remove air from a vessel leaving a vacuum – or more likely thin gas – inside. But for people in pre-scientific time air was something indivisible like other elements – fire, earth, and water.

The air pump, which can suck the air out of a vessel, was invented by Otto von Guericke in 1650. One of the lucky first possessors of the air pump was “the first modern chemist” Robert Boyle. You may remember him from Boyle’s Law. Boyle conducted experiments with the pump and published a book about it in 1660. One of the experiments describes air removal effect on a bird:

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18th Century Art on Science: Joseph Wright’s “Alchemist discovering phosphorus”

Image from Wikimedia Commons

The picture, oil on canvas, by Joseph Wright of Derby (1734 – 1797), first  exhibited in 1771 with the original full title of “The Alchymist, in Search of    the Philosopher’s Stone, discovers Phosphorus, and prays for the successful  conclusion of his operation, as was the custom of the ancient chymical  astrologers” (derbymuseums.org, 2014).

Joseph Wright was an English landscape and portrait painter, who was “the  first professional painter to express the spirit of the Industrial Revolution”.

 Historical Background

Just as astrology – study of cosmic objects alleged influence on human life –  was a forerunner of astronomy, alchemy was a predecessor of chemistry.  Alchemy studied ways to obtain a magical substance, Philosopher’s Stone,  which was supposed to be a source of eternal youth and, as a side effect,  converted common, cheap metals such as lead to gold.

“Alchemist discovering phosphorus” is the Wright’s depiction of a real event.  In 1669 German alchemist Henig Brand after collecting and evaporating  human urine discovered a waxy substance emitting white light. Later,  analysis has shown that the substance was a chemical element, phosphorus.

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