Oblivious to his cluttered surroundings, the unkempt figure of an alchemist sits among a chaotic jumble of paraphernalia. He holds a scale while weighing out a substance for one of his experiments in making gold. By the seventeenth century, alchemy was no longer considered to be a respectable science, and its practitioners were often the subject of ridicule.
In this genre scene, Cornelis Bega commented on time wasted on materialistic and futile pursuits. Like other Dutch artists of his time, Bega was a close observer of natural appearances. Textures and surfaces of the assorted cracked clay and glass vessels are accurately described. Light pouring in through the open window and the harmonious tones of brown, gray, and blue give the painting a cozy warmth.