Antonio Neri: Alchemist, Glassmaker, Priest

Today’s post comes from Paul Engle, an independent researcher with a long standing interest in the life and times of 17th century glassmaker Antonio Neri. Read the full article, and learn more on Paul’s blog, Conciatore.

Antonio Neri, Libro intitulato Il tesoro del mondo di Pietre Antonio Neri... (MS Ferguson 67, GB 0247, Glasgow University Library, Special Collections, 1598-1600) f. 38r. Courtesy of Paul Engle.

Antonio Neri, Libro intitulato Il tesoro del mondo di Pietre Antonio Neri… (MS Ferguson 67, GB 0247, Glasgow University Library, Special Collections, 1598-1600) f. 38r. Courtesy of Paul Engle.

One of the most interesting figures in the history of glass lived four hundred years ago in Florence, Italy. He was an alchemist, a glassmaker and a Catholic priest. His name was Antonio Neri and he worked for a prince from the Medici royal family.1 Neri is famously known as the author of the first book devoted to the subject of making glass—L’Arte Vetraria, 1612.2 He has often been considered a mysterious figure, steeped in the intrigues of alchemy and transmutation.3 On the other hand, he put great store in careful experimentation and research. As a contemporary of fellow Florentine Galileo Galilei, he experienced both the germination of modern science and the waning days of Aristotle’s four-elements. It was a time when art, religion, ancient philosophy and the pursuit of Nature’s secrets all went hand-in-hand.

Today, we recognize Neri’s L’Arte Vetraria as the first printed book solely devoted to the art of glass formulation. It is a work committed to the subject of refining raw materials and combining them into a range of glasses and a rainbow of colors.

That Neri’s book was the first of its kind in print is a notable distinction, but one that his deeper accomplishment easily surpasses; L’Arte Vetraria preserves a rare glimpse of skilled practical knowledge. In his era, prized techniques were frequently lost to subsequent generations, lost because artisans so often spared the pen. Their precious knowledge went purposely unrecorded, passing in strict confidence from master to apprentice working side by side. In 1612, Neri published his expertise to the world, preserving the techniques and science of glass practices, but also its art. Just as a great painter relies on the quality of pigments at hand, so must a master glass artisan depend upon the materials of the melt.

Read the full article: Antonio Neri: Alchemist, Glassmaker, Priest.

View the digitized first edition L’arte vetraria and Christopher Merret’s English translation The Art of Glass.


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