(b. Florence, Italy, 29 February 1576; d. Pisa or Florence, ca. 1614)
Almost nothing is known with certainty about Neri, except that his father, Jacopo, was a physician; that Neri was ordained a priest before 1601; and that he led a wandering life. He appears to have learned the art of glassmaking at Murano, near Venice, and to have continued his studies of this and other chemical arts in the Low Countries. From about 1604 to 1611 he was at Antwerp, lodging in the house of Emanuel Ximenes, a Portuguese; he published his book and spent the last years of his life in northern Italy. The evidence for the date of his death is very scanty.
Neri is remembered only for L’arte vetraria (1612), a little book in which many, although by no means all, of the closely guarded secrets of glassmaking were printed for the first time. He recommended that glass be made from rocchetta (a fairly pure sodium sesquicarbonate from the Near East) and tarso, which he described as a kind of marble but which must have been some form of silica. He did not indicate the source of the necessary proportion of lime. The main part of the text deals with the coloring of glass with metallic oxides to give not only clear and uniform colors but also various veined effects. There are chapters on making lead glass of high refractive index and enamel (opaque) glass by the addition of tin oxide.
There are no illustrations, and the operations are not described in much detail. The proportions of ingredients are often left to the experience of the operator. It is difficult to believe that the book could have been of great value to a practical glassmaker, but it served as a nucleus for the observations of later writers.
I. Original Works. The full title of Neri’s book is L’arte vetraria distinta in libri sette, ne quali si scoprone, effetti maravigliosi, & insegnano segreti bellissimi del vetro nel fuoca & altre cose curiose (Florence, 1612). Later Italian eds. appeared at Florence (1661), Venice (1663, 1678), and Milan (1817). The book and its various eds. and trans. are discussed by Luigi Zecchin in “Il libro di prete Neri,” in Vetro e silicatic7 (1963), 17–20.
An English version was prepared by C. M. (Christopher Merrett) for the Royal Society as part of its plan for “histories” of trades, and published as The Art of Glass … With Observations on the Author (London, 1662). The “observations” are a collection of explanations, additions, and emendations which double the length of the text. The British Museum copy is heavily annotated, perhaps by Merrett, clearly in preparation for a drastically rev. 2nd ed., which never appeared.
Merrett’s version and notes were trans, into Latin as Ars vitraria … by Andreas Frisius (Amsterdam, 1668). It was also trans. into German by Friedrich Geissler (1678 and appeared as part of Johann Kunckel’s Ars vitraria experitmntalis(Frankfurt-Leipzig, 1679, 1689). A French version by M. D. (Baron d’Holbach), entitled Art de la verrerie (Paris, 1752), incorporated the additions of Merrett, Kunckel, and d’Holbach himself. De l’ Art de la Verrerie, by Haudicquer de Blancourt (Paris, 1697), is a French version, without acknowledgment, of the Neri-Merrett text, expanded by redundant verbiage to nearly twice the original length.
An “alchemical” MS by Neri is mentioned by G. F. Rodwell in “On the Theory of Phlogiston,” in Philosophical Magazine35 (1868), 10, without any indication of its location.
II. Secondary Literature. The lack of information about Neri has resulted in his omission from most works of reference, but he is mentioned in J. Ferguson, Bibliotheca chemica, II (Glasgow, 1906), 135. Luigi Zecchin, in “Letterc a pretc Neri,” in Vetro e silicotic 8 (1964), 17–20, discovered the record of Neri’s baptism in Florence and 28 letters from Ximenes to Neri, most of them dated between 1601 and 1603. The Neri-Merrett text is discussed by W. E. S. Turner, “A Notable British Seventeenth-Century Contribution to the Literature of Glassmaking,” in Glass Technology, 3 (1962), 201-213.
W. V. Farrar