This is a French painting, one of a pair of paintings thought to be dated around 1700. This one shows the interior of a pharmacy. The walls are piled high with shelves of jars containing prepared medicines and raw materials to be made up into medicines (called materia medica). At this time the causes of most diseases were thought to be non-specific: the same causes might produce different illnesses in different people, and different causes might produce the same diseases in different people. Hence most diseases were named after their symptoms (e.g. plague, or to take a modern example schizophrenia), not after their causes (e.g. filariasis, thought to be caused by a worm called filaria). Therefore most medicines were also designed to treat the symptoms. They were composed mainly of vegetable substances, with some animal and mineral materials, and were processed by chemical means such as distilling, infusion, etc. The finished products could be in the form of ointments, syrups, powders and solids. They were prescribed by physicians and were dispensed by pharmacists in their shops. At the top end of the market, pharmacists could have lavish shops to attract wealthy clients: a wide range of jars, marked with the names of their contents, served to impress the clients as well as to store the products. The fine dress of the customers in the shop in this painting indicates that they have plenty of money to spend on medicines.
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