Wednesday, November 13, 2013

The Inquisition

Insignia of the Inquisition, 1574.
The mandate of the Catholic Church's inquisition was to stamp out heresy. Empowered to impose sanctions that included torture and execution, they were not an organization with which to trifle. In 1600, just over a decade before Neri's book was printed, former Dominican friar Giordano Bruno was tortured, convicted of heresy and burned at the stake in Rome's Campo de' Fiori market. Shortly before that, the inquisition ordered Neapolitan polymath Giambattista della Porta to disband his group of scientific investigators and to cease all publication without special written permission from the Church. Famous French essayist Michel de Montaigne complained of having books confiscated upon entering Rome, although in Florence he was welcomed with open arms by Francesco de' Medici at the Casino di San Marco, where Antonio Neri would later work.

There was special attention paid to books, because they carried the potential to 'corrupt' large numbers of people over a wide geographic area. Heresy was considered a disease of the mind, the devil's work, and books were seen to be a potential source to spread the infection, especially books from the Protestant quarters of Europe, but also from the 'misguided' notions of early scientific investigators.

The last page of Neri’s L'Arte Vetraria is devoted to the official permissions that were necessary to print and sell the book. Here we read that Pie[t]ro Niccolini, Vicar of Florence (a man destined to become the archbishop) ordered Canon Filippo del Migliore of the Florentine archdiocese to review the manuscript. Upon doing so, he found nothing that "contrasts with Christian conscience." Next, it was passed to the Holy Office of the Inquisition, where the head inquisitor of Florence, Fra Cornelio Priatoni from Manza, assigned that the manuscript be reviewed by Agostino Vigiani, Regent of Servants. Final approval came from Florentine Senator Niccol├▓ dell’ Antella.


Within a few years, Cornelio Priatoni would  be embroiled in the investigation of Galileo. In fact, the reviewers of Neri's glass book reads like a cast of characters from the initial investigation of the famous astronomer. The Galileo case would also include Ferdinando Ximenes, the brother of Antonio Neri's good friend Emmanuel. Ferdinando was prior of Santa Maria Novella where the inquisition was based. In fact, Emmanuel's uncle, after whom he was named, also worked in the Holy Office of the Inquisition in Florence and would give testimony in the Galileo affair.

Writing that could be perceived to defy the Church's teaching was a serious concern for authors in Italy, even those under the protection of the liberal Medici family. Although not overtly heretical, Neri's other manuscripts could have easily fallen into this category. Thankfully for our alchemist and glassmaker, upon reading Neri's book, Vigiani stated "I have not found anything repugnant to the Christian conscience and good customs, but [a book] full of things and natural secrets, no less useful than curious."  

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