Giovanni Stradano (Jan van der Straet)
Alchemy Studio, 1571
A 1571 painting by Giovanni Stradano is entitled the Alchemy Studio. It shows Cosmo's son, Francesco I, in the Uffizi surrounded by laboratory equipment and workers. Under the watchful eyes of a senior alchemist, he stirs a chemical preparation over a stove with intense concentration. The prolific glassware in this scene drives home the close relationship between glassmaking and scientific investigation.
By 1588 Francesco's brother, Ferdinando I de' Medici, formally declared this space the Galleria dei Lavori or 'gallery of the works'. There is no direct evidence that Antonio Neri gained his education in alchemy at this facility, but it makes a very attractive candidate. Of note to this story is that the German alchemist Leonhard Thurneysser passed through Florence in 1590, when Neri was fourteen-years-old and by several accounts preformed a transmutation of an iron 'chiodo' [nail] with a special oil. After the demonstration for Grand Duke Ferdinando, the nail remained on display for some time in the Galleria. Neri mentions the nail in his Discorso and Thurneysser is discussed in a 1601 letter to the priest from his friend Emanuel Ximenes.
* UPDATE: 24 Feb 2014, recent scholarship has cast serious doubt that Thurneysser was ever in Florence. This makes a meeting with Neri unlikely. I hope to make this the subject of a future blog post – stay tuned.
This post first appeared on 16 August 2013.