A Lifelike Portrait Of Louis Pasteur

Albert Edelfelt's portrait of scientist Louis Pasteur captures an important moment in the annals of modern microbiology

Saptak Choudhury Updated: Aug 7, 2020 20:19:38 IST
A Lifelike Portrait Of Louis Pasteur Louis Pasteur by Albert Edelfelt, oil on canvas, 60 X 50 inches, 1885 (Photo courtesy Wikimedia Commons)

Louis Pasteur was among the medical luminaries, alongside Robert Koch, Pierre-Paul-Émile Roux and Ferdinand Cohn, who changed microbiology forever, with their important contributions. Not only did Pasteur’s findings lend overwhelming support to the germ theory of disease, he also discovered pasteurization, a technique to treat bacterial contamination in milk and wine, and the first vaccine for rabies.

In the lifelike portrait of Pasteur, the Finnish artist Albert Edelfelt pictures the scientist in his natural habitat (Edelfelt himself was present there and set up the scene with Pasteur’s consent)—his laboratory in the rue d’Ulm, Paris, amidst his equipment.

It captures a significant moment—the scientist holding a jar containing the nerve tissue of a rabbit infected with rabies, which he would use to develop and test the rabies vaccine. The delicate use of light coming through from an unseen window—with a touch of the technique of chiaroscuro—realistically highlights Pasteur’s grace, poise and thoughtful expression, while conducting this experiment.

The popular portrait is currently housed in the Musée d'Orsay museum in Paris.

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