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

Friday, March 14, 2014

Conciatore Turns One Hundred

This is the one hundredth post to “Conciatore,” a blog dedicated to the life and times of Antonio Neri. Neri is best known as the author, in 1612, of L'Arte Vetraria, the first printed book entirely devoted to the subject of making glass. Conciatore is also the name of my forthcoming book on the same subject; Neri's life. In late Renaissance Florence, a conciatore was a sort of professional alchemist whose responsibility it was to formulate glass from raw materials. Neri used ingredients like powdered quartz pebbles, roasted seashells and the refined ash from certain special plants. He mixed them with metal pigments and formed an astonishing array of colors in glass, but also in enamels, artificial gems and crystal.  

For much of the past four centuries, the life of Antonio Neri has been shrouded in mystery. Who was this Catholic priest who wrote the first printed book on glassmaking? What was his connection to the world of alchemy? How did he become involved with the powerful Medici family, rulers of Tuscany? Recent discoveries have begun to reveal Neri with satisfying answers, and for me, sleuthing through dusty archives and manuscripts has proved a great personal adventure. I have followed Neri’s trail, met interesting people and formed treasured friendships along the way. Having learned so much, it seems only natural to now share my findings about this fascinating character with a wider audience.

Antonio Neri was much more than a glass worker, however. He was a dedicated Paracelsian chemist and his commitment to careful observation put him in a class beyond many of his contemporaries, yet not above the quest for transmutation. He was a devout Catholic who practiced alchemy, a dedicated empiricist who pursued the philosopher's stone. These are apparent contradictions that give us unique vantage on the birth of modern science. Surrounding these basic assertions are myriad details that expose the vital and very human endeavors of Antonio's life. My goal is to give you a taste of the richness of his world and perhaps an intriguing glimpse of his chemical artistry in glass. Come explore with me the intersection of science and humanity at the end of the Renaissance.

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