Friday, August 2, 2013

Great Princes

Today, we recognize 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, over a rainbow of colors. 'First in print' is a notable distinction, but one that is surpassed with ease by Neri's deeper accomplishment. His book provides a rare glimpse of skilled practical knowledge. This was an era when 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, dedicating his book to Prince Don Antonio de' Medici the son of Grand Duke Francesco I:

In all consideration, it is my proud duty to dedicate this book to none other than you, most Illustrious Excellency; for you have always been my outstanding patron. You are a gifted leader in this and in all other noble and worthy developments made continually in all the arts.

The prince had played a major part in Neri's life, elevating him into the upper stratum of Florentine craftsmen and to the forefront of alchemical research in Europe. However, in another manuscript, Discorso, we see a different side of Neri. On the subject of turning base metals into gold, the priest was less forthcoming:

I would add that God's providence over human affairs must not easily allow many to acquire this art, particularly not the great princes. It should not be made clear and common to the vulgar, because in this way, gold and silver and consequently coins lose their value, so that the good order of human trade will be disrupted and we should go back to the ancient barter of things that are necessary to a civil life, creating great disruption and confusion.

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