Monday, May 19, 2014

From Beads to Belief Reprise

A modern lampworked bead being made
In his book L'Arte Vetraria, Antonio Neri makes sixteen distinct references to the production of glass for beads. In chapter 22 he gives a recipe for 200 to 300 pounds of aquamarine colored glass for beadmaking cane. 'Cane' is the term for glass drawn out into thin rods and cooled, to be used later, over an oil lamp. The canes are heated in the flame and wound around a metal wire, forming individual "spiei" beads which can then be decorated with others of different colors. Neri says:
I demonstrated this method of making aquamarine in Florence in the year 1602, at the Casino, and I made many batches of it for beadmaking cane, which always resulted in a most beautiful color.
After cooling, the beads were removed from the wire and often strung as rosaries. Using these beads in the recital of prayer dates back at least to the thirteenth century. In 1569, only a few years before Neri's birth, Pope Pius V officially established devotion to the rosary. As a priest, the production of glass for beads may have formed a part of Neri's ecclesiastical duties.

It is worth spending a moment considering the end use of these beads. These carefully formed bits of glass were spread around the world. They could end up as trade currency in any number of locations from the Americas to Africa to Asia to the far east. As mentioned above, they also could find use locally as sets of  rosary beads, known as  "paternostri" or "our fathers." In both cases they were invested with a value that transcended the raw materials. In the former case it was purely monetary; a unique unit of trade that was distinctive, artful and difficult to reproduce. In the latter case, they served as sequential placeholders in prayer, as objects made by man in the fashion of natural stones or gems, which were physically held and invested with hopes and dreams.  

In chapter 47, Neri describes a garnet colored glass which is appropriate for small "ferraccia," or pan-fired beads. For these, small lengths of cane were nipped off and pierced with a sharp metal point. A large number of these were then placed in an iron pan, in the furnace, and agitated in order to round them. Neri would supervise the production of beadmaking cane not only in Florence, but also in Pisa, and possibly in Antwerp.

The praying of the rosary is sometimes started with a recital of the Apostles' Creed, and Neri makes use of that in the recipe for an emerald-green lead-glass in chapter 65:
…Mix the powders, and always give them to the glass in six portions, stirring the glass well. Set the interval from one portion to the next by reciting the creed.
Assuming he used the creed of Pius IV, adopted at the council of Trent in 1564, recitation takes a little under three minutes. Later in the book, in chapter 117, he uses Psalm 51(Have mercy upon me, oh God...) to time the extraction of kermes dye. At first blush, it might seem that religion would be at odds with alchemy and glassmaking. In reality, practical elements of Neri's religious life integrate seamlessly with his work at the furnace and in the laboratory.

1 comment:

  1. Great blog and I'm excited for the book! Just a couple of notes on bead making:

    1) Cane can refer to solid cane for wound bead manufacture, such as with lampworked beads, but in this case it most likely refers to hollow canes used in drawn bead manufacture.

    2) "Spiei" also suggests drawn beads, not wound beads. In the 17th century the Paternostri bead making guild used a "spiei," or multi-pronged spit, to heat beads within a furnace and round the short segments of hollow bead cane into finished beads-- also known as the "a speo" method. See Karlis Karklins' great 1993 article in "Beads: The Journal for the Society of Bead Researchers" about this process.

    3) "Ferraccia" beads are also drawn beads manufactured from a hollow cane; they are not pierced. In the 17th century these were manufactured by members of the Margareteri bead making guild.