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, April 11, 2014

Glass Ornaments

Acrylic paint inside clear glass ornaments,
Artist: Alyssa Ruklic (2011?).
In early seventeenth century Florence, scientific investigation and artisanship went hand in hand. In the workshops sponsored by the Medici ruling family. Seemingly unrelated disciplines were practiced under one roof and sometimes even at adjacent workbenches. Skilled artists illustrated rare species of plants that were brought back from around the world by agents of the Grand Duke, these same plants then became the subject of beautiful pietre dure creations, but also the subject of pharmacological experiments in the search for effective medications. Pietre dure was a stone carving art in which scenic images were constructed entirely from inlaid stone and precious minerals. The result of clustering these diverse workshops together was a cross-pollination of ideas and solutions to technical problems that might never occur within a single discipline.

At the Casino di San Marco, the laboratory palace of Don Antonio de’ Medici, glassmaker Antonio Neri was an active participant in this exchange. He worked not only at glass formulation, but also as an alchemist and as something of a pharmacologist. Over his career he made glass for laboratory use and for artistic ends, he searched for ways to transmute metals and practiced his physician father’s skills in medicine. In L'Arte Vetraria, his book on glassmaking, chapter 114 beautifully illustrates the mixing of different arts that was taking place. Here he makes use of glass blowing, painter's pigments and isinglass; a type of glue made from the swim bladders of fish and used by gilders and furniture makers. The result is the creation of unique decorative ornaments. Which he describes as "The Way to Tint Glass Balls, and Others Vessels of Clear Glass, From the Inside, In All Kinds of Colors, So They Will Imitate Natural Stones"

Have a ball of glass, or else glass of another shape, that is clear and beautiful. Take isinglass [fish glue], that has been infused in common water for 2 days. Put this hydrated isinglass into a bowl of clear water, and boil it until it all thoroughly softens. Make sure there is enough water to make the glue quite soft, and then remove it from the fire. When it is lukewarm put some in the glass ball, and swirl it around well. Turn the vessel, and in this manner bathe the entire inside of the glass with the glue. Then pour out the excess. Drain it and have the following colors ground and ready. Start with minium [red lead], pour it inside the ball of glass, sprinkling the color so that it runs in waves. Use a small spoon made of reed to cast the minium in more areas. Next, throw in the blue enamel. Sprinkle it with the reed spoon forming waves [of color] within the ball. In turn do the same with well ground verdigris [green], then with orpiment [yellow] also well ground, then with lake[organic pigment] well ground.


Always for each color, throw it in waves, in new areas. By means of the glue, which will bathe the paste within, all these colored powders will adhere to the glass. Now take well ground plaster of Paris, put some into the glass and quickly turn it all about, so that it will adhere to the entire glass from within [backing the colors]. Do this operation quickly while the moisture of the glue is fresh, therefore the powders will adhere well. Empty the excess plaster inside through the hole in the ball. It will appear tinted in various colors in a most beautiful sight, which resembles natural hard stone toy amusements. In the end, when the glue is fully dry, these colors affix themselves [to the glass] so they will never come loose. From the outside, the colors will always be beautiful. Affix these balls to wooden bases, or other painted materials, and keep them for their beauty on study shelves, and on desks, where they make a very beautiful sight.

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