Dear Readers,

As you may have seen elsewhere, in mid February my wife and I suffered the loss of our home in a fire, in the hills of central Massachusetts. The good news is that we got out safely and had no animals in our care at the time. The fire crews were able to contain the fire from spreading, in what turned into a 3-alarm, 5-hour-long ordeal in subzero temperatures; they did amazing work, and no one was injured. The bad news is that all of my physical historical materials and research of 30 years have gone up in smoke. As a result I have decided to suspend this blog for the time being. It will remain online as a resource for those interested in the history of glass and glassmaking in the seventeenth century and beyond. I do intend to resume writing when I can, but for now my time and energy are required in getting us back on our feet.

Friends are providing temporary shelter for us nearby and our intention is to rebuild as soon as possible. To those who have reached out with a steady hand, to those who have opened their wallets, and offered advice in our time of need, we thank you from the bottom of our hearts. In what are already difficult times for all of us, you have made a huge difference in our lives.

Paul Engle
6 March, 2021

Monday, August 26, 2013

From Beads to Belief

In 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 thin rods of glass drawn out and cooled, to be used later over an oil lamp. The rods are heated in the flame and wound around a metal wire, forming individual "spiei" beads which can then be decorated with other canes 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. 

In chapter 47, he 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.

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.

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