|At the Neri Chapel in Florence.|
One thing that I find wonderful about Neri's era, the late sixteenth and early seventeenth century, is that we can easily recognize aspects of daily life, it was not so long ago, yet it was a period when alchemy and Aristotle's four elements (earth, air, fire and water) still loomed large. At the same time, men like Galileo were busy laying the foundations for what we now call modern science. It was a time fraught with apparent contradictions, and in taking a closer look at them, we can discover some surprising things about our current attitudes towards art, science, religion and a host of other topics.
American man of letters Guy Davenport once wrote "Religion, science, and art are all alike rooted in the faith that the world is of a piece, that something is common to all its diversity, and that if we knew enough we could see and give a name to its harmony." By extending our knowledge of history to include Neri's era, we can make some progress toward naming that harmony. In his time, it was commonly thought that one metal could be purified (transmuted) into another, and that the "essence" of a substance could be transferred through physical manipulation. It is astonishing that sophisticated chemistry was performed successfully and regularly, albeit based on a model that would soon crumble into dust.
Armed with this, our own history, we cannot help but look at our current concept of the universe, and wonder about which pieces are destined to crumble, despite our technological successes. Knowledge of the past gives us the perspective of time, the space to broaden our view of the world and our place within it. Taking a moment out of our hectic lives to learn a bit of our past can provide a little oasis for the contemplation of larger ideas. I urge you to continue to join me here, and to think big.