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Western science began in ancient Greece as a branch of philosophy, but modern science originated in alchemy, the fruitless search for ways to turn base metal into gold. Numerous Dutch and Flemish seventeenth-century paintings mock these activities, but Holland was still a home of modern science and Britain’s Royal Society was founded in 1660. Science became more rational and based on experiments, dramatised in Joseph Wright of Derby’s well-known An Experiment on a Bird in the Air Pump of 1768.

Inventors and scientists are well represented in portrait galleries and the collections of universities and professional institutions. The Arts and the Sciences are also frequently depicted as contrasting symbolic figures, representing two approaches to acquiring knowledge.