|Don Giovanni di Cosimo I de' Medici|
Don Giovanni's palazzo on Murano was the grandest on the island; previously owned by the father of Grand Duchess of Tuscany Bianca Cappello. She spent time at the palazzo as a child and was the mother of Antonio Neri's sponsor, Don Antonio de' Medici. King Henry III of France stayed there on his tour of glass factories on the island. Later, the palace would be the residence of the bishop of Torcello and ultimately, in 1861, became what it is today: the famous Museum of Glass (Museo del Vetro). If, in the winter of 1603-4, Neri followed the route through Venice to Antwerp suggested by his friend Emmanuel Ximenes, then a visit to this palazzo would have certainly been in order, although not yet occupied by Don Giovanni.
Early in his career, in the 1590s, Don Giovanni commanded troops against the Ottomans in Hungary and his young nephew Don Antonio was directly under his command. The two men would both set up alchemy laboratories in their respective Florentine residences; Don Antonio in the Casino di San Marco on the north side of town and Don Giovanni at his Casino del Parione (today the Palazzo Corsini al Parione) along the Arno River behind the Santa Trinita Church. Don Giovanni's was only steps away from the palazzo Bartolini, Antonio Neri's residence after his ordination, located in front of the church. Santa Trinita was a Benedictine church and the office of Vallombrosan Abbot-General Orazio Morandi. It is unknown if Neri had any association with the church, but Morandi also held a strong fascination with alchemy and wrote that times spent in Don Giovanni's laboratory were among his "most cherished memories." Much later, in 1630, Morandi gave testimony at court concerning a Simon Carlo Rondinelli, saying:
I have known Signor Rondinelli for twenty years, from the time I was in Florence. I met him often there in the house of Alessandro de’ Neri. The said Rondinelli is very well versed in astrology.*The timing places Morandi in the Neri family house when Antonio's younger brother, Alessandro (who had inherited the house), was twenty-one years old. It was shortly before Antonio's return from Antwerp.
While Neri was in Antwerp visiting his friend Emmanuel Ximenes, Don Antonio was leading Tuscan troops nearby, in Flanders, on the side of the Spanish against the Dutch independence movement. Nevertheless, he found time to submit his design for the Chapel of Princes in Florence, and to quarry marble for the project and have it shipped back to Tuscany. It is unknown if Neri and Don Giovanni ever shared a meal in Antwerp, but the decorated soldier/polymath did commission a series of paintings there, for the grand duke, to be hung in the new Medici villa 'La Ferdinanda' at Artemino in Prato. The interior decoration of the public spaces in this villa were being executed by artists Passignano and Poccetti, fresh from finishing their recent collaborative masterpieces; the Neri Chapel and Cestello church on Borgo Pinti, financed by Neri's late father.
* Translation by Brendan Dooley “Morandi's last prophecy and the end of Renaissance politics” (Princeton: Princeton Univ. Press, 2002), p. 22.
This post first appeared here in a slightly different form on September 25, 2013.