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Van Helmont, shown here aged about fifty-three, was a celebrated alchemist and physician. This portrait was probably commissioned by Lady Conway of Ragley shortly after Van Helmont arrived in England in 1670.

An inscription on the pedestal in the lower right corner, probably added in the eighteenth century, describes one aspect of the skills which brought Van Helmont fame: ‘Anne Finch Viscountess Conway dying at / Rageley 1678 while her Lord was in Ireland / She was preserved in her Coffin by Van Helmont / with a Glass over her face, till Lord Conway’s return ...’

August 2004