Maria Prophetissa

Oil on Panel

20″ x 30″

Maria Prophetissa, otherwise known as Maria the Prophet or Mary the Jewess, was an early alchemist from around the 1st-3rd century AD. She is credited with the invention of several kinds of chemical apparatus and is considered to be the first true alchemist of the Western world. She is also credited with the alchemical precept, The Axiom of Maria: “One becomes two, two becomes three, and out of the third comes the one as the fourth.” 

This portrait developed in an unusual way, in that I did not set out to make a portrait of Maria Prophetissa. I liked a portrait shot of a model that I had, and decided to use it as a basis for the painting. I arrived at the concept for the piece by looking at the image and letting whatever thoughts and feelings I had to arise. The idea of alchemy came to me quickly, but at first I pursued a more abstract concept, that of the alchemical stages of distillation and sublimation. The imagery as you see it in the piece came before I knew anything about Maria. Slowly, it felt that I was creating a portrait of someone in particular, but did not know who. By chance, I came upon the historical figure of Maria Prophetissa while idly researching alchemical apparatus. It turns out she is credited for several apparatus that are still in use in chemistry labs today. One of these is the bain-marie (Mary’s Bath) which is named after her and is used in modern kitchens. I was surprised that I had never heard of her, as she is considered an important figure in the history of alchemy and chemistry. Perhaps it is because she was both a woman and Jewish. I now feel as though this portrait is an attempt to reawaken her legacy.