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Old Master, Philosopher Laughing at Magick, David Teniers, Antique Print, London, c. 1775 (Sold)

David Teniers the Younger (1610-1690) (after)
Philosopher Laughing at Magick
Carington Bowles, London: c. 1775
Hand-colored mezzotint on laid paper
13 x 9 inches, platemark
14.5 x 10.25 inches, overall

This item is sold. It has been placed here in our online archives as a service for researchers and collectors.

­Allegorical print of a “philosopher” seated at a draped table, surrounded by objects of scientific study and experimentation: a human skull, a beaker, and four books. The scene is lit my a mysterious kneeling human figure shown from the back in a black hooded cloak holding a giant candle. Sitting behind the philosopher is a dog-faced man hugging a human man. Shadowy bat-like creatures fly above them in the background. It might be presumed that the fantastical creatures and supernatural forces associated with alchemy and magic that surround the philosopher — a man of reason — are described in the book that he is reading with a bemused and skeptical smile on his face.  The title of the print states that the philosopher is laughing at magic, but its overwhelming presence in the print makes his relationship with mysticism and the occult somewhat ambiguous. Is he instead an alchemist or fascinated by the theories of alchemy?

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The subtitle of the print states that it was “painted by Teniers after the manner of Rembrandt.” There are numerous extant paintings by Teniers of alchemists somewhat akin to the offered print. Generally they show the alchemist studying in his large laboratory with a variety of chemical apparatus. In contrast, the subject of the offered print is said to be a philosopher. The reference in the subtitle to the renowned 17th century Dutch artist Rembrandt might be to two paintings long attributed to him:  Philosopher in Meditation and Philosopher in Contemplation, referred to collectively as the Philosophes. These paintings were sold in the mid 18th century. Thus it is plausible that the publisher Carington Bowles was aware of these paintings and therefore mentioned the influence of Rembrandt in the subtitle. The Philosophes have long been the subject of exhaustive study and opinion, but today, the Philosopher in Meditation has been retitled in the official catalogue raisonne of Rembrandt’s works as Interior with a window and a winding staircase and Philosopher in Contemplation is now attributed to Salomon Koninck (1609–1656), a Rembrandt imitator. Like Philosopher Laughing at Magick, the Philosophes each feature a seated older man with books in a dark, atmospheric interior. The Teniers/Carington Bowles print, however, in contrast, is rich in the iconography of the supernatural. Please Email us if you have references to scholarly interpretations of this print.

David Teniers the Younger was a remarkably prolific Flemish painter and printmaker, who over his long career depicted a variety of subjects, including history, genre, landscape, portrait and still life. He is particularly known for his scenes of alchemists and physicians, and was a principal contributor to this genre and its iconography in Flanders.

Three generations of the Bowles family were printsellers and publishers in 18th-century London. John Bowles (1701-1779) traded under his own name, mainly in Black Horse, Cornhill, c. 1724-1754 and 1764-1779. His brother Thomas Bowles (1712-1767) had a similar business in St. Paul’s Churchyard. John trained his son Carington Bowles (1724-1793) and they traded together as John Bowles and Son from 1754 to 1764. When Thomas retired in 1764, Carington took over his uncle’s business and began trading under his own name, publishing maps and prints, while John continued trading as John Bowles. Between 1765 and 1791 he produced numerous guides, traveling maps, pocket maps and atlases, especially for cities and countries in the British Isles. He frequently worked in collaboration with Robert Sayer, including the republication of plates acquired from John Rocque. He also was known for humorous and satirical prints, writing books and other subjects; there are over 85 portraits published by Bowles in the collection of the National Portrait Gallery in London. Carington was succeeded by his son Henry Carington Bowles (1763-1852), who published under the name Bowles and Carver. John Bowles was succeeded by Robert Wilkinson.

Full publication information, lower margin: Painted by Teniers, after the manner of Rembrandt. Printed for Carington Bowles, Map & Printseller at No. 69 in St. Pauls Church Yard, London. [Numbered 222]


Maxted, Ian. “The London book trades 1775-1800: a preliminary checklist of members.” Exeter Working Papers in British Book Trade History.  U.K.: Devon Library and Information Services. 20 June 2001. (20 May 2005).

Worms, Laurence and Ashley Baynton-Williams. British Map Engravers : A Dictionary of Engravers, Lithographers and Their Principal Employers to 1850. London : Rare Book Society, 2011. pp. 101-102.

Additional information


18th Century