|Montpellier, France, in the seventeenth century.|
Since before the Renaissance,
Montpellier was an established center for
medical and legal education, a strong tradition that continues at the university
there; today, it houses the oldest running medical school in the world. This
prestigious institution "was founded perhaps by people trained in the Spanish
medical schools; it is certain that, as early as 1137, there were excellent
physicians at ."  In 1529,
Nostradamus entered to study for a doctorate in medicine, but shortly
thereafter, he was expelled when it was discovered that he previously worked as
an apothecary; a 'manual' skill that was banned by the school's rules of
Paradoxically, these impugned 'manual' arts account for some the region's more intriguing activity. Along with medicine, the area became known for the production of paint pigments, for glassmaking and finally for alchemy. All of these turn out to be closely related to each other, but perhaps not obviously so. Throughout the Renaissance, apothecaries were responsible for a wide range of distillations and extracts used by physicians to treat disease. They were also the de facto suppliers of pigments and other fine art supplies and even sourced some of the materials for glassmaking. Glassmakers often relied on painters to embellish their products, painters used ground glass in their pigments and apothecaries needed glassmakers to produce the flasks, beakers and other alchemical equipment required for their profession.
the fourteenth century, called the Liber diversarum arcium [Book of
Various Arts], offers us one of the most complete guides to the production of
pigments to have survived from that period.  Another, later writing of the
sixteenth century offers an extensive collection of glassmaking recipies
brought to Montpellier Montpellier from . This one is titled Recette per fare vetri colorati et smalti
d’ogni sorte havute in Murano 1536 [Recipes to make colored glasses and
enamels of every kind as in Murano, 1536].  Venice
Local history points to the town of
Claret just north of as the seat
of regional glassmaking. Beginning in 1290, the oak forests on the Causse de
l'Orthus attracted glassmakers and their families. "So maybe the oaks got used
for fuel. (A 'causse' is a geological
term for a limestone plateau.) [also a material of glassmaking] At any rate, the
glassmakers were ennobled by the King and formed a guild of premium glassmakers
whose wares were sold all over Montpellier Europe from the
market at Sommières." 
In the early seventeenth century, Pierre-Jean Fabre (1588-1658) studied medicine at
discovered the works of Paracelsus, to which he became a devotee.  After
securing a medical degree, he returned to the nearby town of his birth, Castelnaudary,
to work as a doctor. Eventually, he was awarded the status of "Royal Physician"
by Louis XIII, probably for his work on treating victims of the plague with
chemical preparations.  Montpellier
Fabre's first book, of a total canon numbering sixteen volumes, was on the subject of alchemy and medicine titled "Palladium spagyricum" 1624.  The book, written in Latin, contains advice on the transmutation of metals, turning water into "good wine" and elixirs to cure all disease. It contains one recipe that is of particular interest on the subject of glassmaking; a malleable form of glass, known in legend since the
Roman Empire as Vitrum Flexile.
Next time, we will take a closer look at Fabre's specific recipe for a glass that is malleable at room temperature and trace a bit of the legend's history.
 Wikipedia, “University of
 Mark Clarke: Mediaeval Painters' Materials and Techniques: The
Montpellier Liber diversarum
arcium ( :
Archetype Publications, 2011). London
 Montpellier 1536, MS. H. 486: Recette per fare vetri colorati et smalti d’ogni sorte havute in Murano 1536, Bibliothèque de l'Ecole de Médecine de Montpellier, see also Zecchin 1987, v.1 p 247-276. Although the manuscript is dated 1536 it is probably copied from much earlier Venetian sources.
 Ed Ward, Blog: City on a Hill, 1 Nov. 2010 post “Where the Glass-Blowers Were.” http://wardinfrance.blogspot.com/2010/11/where-glass-blowers-were.html . Also see Halle du Verre regional glass museum website http://www.cc-grandpicsaintloup.fr/-Halle-du-verre-.html .
 Paracelsus (1493-1541) was a Swiss born physician and alchemist who looked to nature rather than ancient texts for remedies to disease. He was widely condemned durring his lifetime but became very popular after his manuscripts were printed in the late sixteenth century.
 The definitive reference on Fabre is Bernard Joly: La rationalité de l'alchimie au XVIIe siècle (France: Vrin, 1992), pp. 35-
A good English treatment can be found in Allen George
Debus: The French Paracelsians: The
Chemical Challenge to Medical and Scientific Tradition in Early Modern France
Cambridge University Press, 2002) pp, 75, 76.
 Pierre-Jean Fabre: Palladium spagyricum Petri Ioannis Fabri doctoris medici Monspeliensis ... (
Toulouse: Bosc, 1624), p.
276. Later translated into several English editions, notably by William Salmon: Polygraphice: Or the Arts of Drawing,
Engraving, Etching, Limming, Painting … ( London: T. Passenger & T. Sawbridge,
1685), pp. 598, 599.