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

Wednesday, November 20, 2013


At the Neri Chapel in Florence.
Today marks the fiftieth post to this blog. It may not be a momentous event, but certainly worthy of a short pause to reflect. I would like to express gratitude to all my readers, regular and occasional, who have taken the initiative to stop by and read about the life and times of Antonio Neri. What started as a promotional platform for my forthcoming book, Conciatore (Feb. 2014), has begun to breathe on its own, with a slightly different rhythm from the book. It is my hope that through either, the book or the blog, a bit of my enthusiasm for the subject will rub off and you will seek to learn more about the fascinating history of glassmaking, alchemy and early modern science.

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.

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