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

Monday, November 17, 2014

Cardinal del Monte Reprise

Portrait of Francesco Maria del Monte
Ottavio Leoni (1578–1630)
In the early seventeenth century, Cardinal Francesco Maria del Monte was the unofficial Florentine cultural ambassador in Rome. He regularly entertained visiting dignitaries and represented the Medici family's interests within the Vatican. He was an avid art collector, glass enthusiast and amateur alchemist.  He was a patron to the artist Caravaggio, to the astronomer Galileo and a dear friend to Neri's employer Don Antonio de' Medici.

There is a chance that he met Glassmaker Antonio Neri in person; in 1602 he visited the Casino di San Marco, where the glass foundry was located and he returned in 1608, although by then Neri was in Antwerp. The strong bond of affection between Don Antonio and Cardinal Del Monte is clear from their extensive correspondence and gifts to each other.  In addition to their passion for alchemy, the two shared a strong interest in glassmaking technology.

Del Monte collaborated with Niccol├▓ Sisti, the grand duke's glass foundry master at Pisa, where Neri also worked for a time. Sisti often provided Del Monte with glassware for Medici customers within the College of Cardinals in Rome. Thanks to the cardinal's patronage, many glassmakers in Rome were brought to the appreciation of the papal court.  

There are indications in Neri's 1600 manuscript that he visited Rome. If so, it is hard to imagine him not seeking an audience with the cardinal, either at his villa on the Pincio,  overlooking the city or at the Palazzo Madama, now offices of the Italian Senate. The palazzo was Del Monte's main residence near the center of Rome, appointed in fabulous luxury and arranged to accommodate a constant flow of dignitaries from around the world. The villa, on the other hand, was where his alchemy laboratory was located. This was a more secluded retreat where the cardinal could entertain guests with more discretion.

Del Monte's will shows that at the palazzo he maintained an entire room, "gabinetto dei vetri" [cabinet of glasswork] that housed five hundred pieces of glassware. It cannot go without mention that he was also the proud owner of what has become one of most celebrated pieces of ancient glass, now referred to as the Portland Vase.

This post first appeared on 27 November, 2013.

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