Italian Glassmaker and Alchemist
Antonio Neri was a glassmaker who had an interest in chemical technology and alchemy. Best known for his book, L'arte Vetraria (The Art of Glass), written in 1612, Neri revealed many of the secrets of glassmaking. The book, colorful and detailed, has served as a basic reference for other essays on the subject ever since.
Antonio Neri was born in Florence, Italy, on February 29, 1576. The name of his father is not known, but it is certain that he was a physician. Little else is known about Neri's family background. Studying glassmaking and other chemical arts throughout his life, Antonio Neri did not attend university. Some suggest he learned glass-making at Murano, a famous and influential force in glassworks, but this fact has been disputed. It is not really known how Neri supported himself, but he did become an ordained priest before 1601. It is thought that Antonio Neri traveled in Italy and Holland, at one point working in Florence and Pisa where he experimented with glass. From 1604-1611 he stayed in Antwerp with Emanuel Ziminer, a Portuguese noble who was keenly interested in Neri and his studies in alchemy, for which he was well known during the seventeenth century.
Throughout his life Antonio Neri was active in chemical technology, alchemy, and iatrochemistry, considering himself a practicer of the spagyrical art. Difficult to define, alchemy is a many-faceted art, subject to broad interpretations and applications. Some explored the mystical aspects of the practice, while others conducted chemical experiments in hope of providing medical and spiritual benefits. Alchemy centered on the search for the philosopher's stone, which alchemists believed held the key to their art; in particular, they believed it would have the ability to change lead, or other mundane substances, into gold. Those who were interested in applying alchemy and medicine through chemistry were called iatrochemists. Using the principles of alchemy, spagyrists tried to use chemical processes to break down and purify substances and then reunite them with the intention of providing spiritual benefits. Neri was fascinated with alchemy and spent some time working with Don Antonio Medici, a fellow alchemist.
The Art of Glass was a notable work, revealing many secrets of the glassmaking world. It was rich and detailed and a major influence on other books on the subject. Neri's book contained descriptions on the coloring and making of glass, as well as information on how to imitate precious stones. Cranberry glass, a beautiful, red-colored glass, has been attributed to Neri. He added gold during the melting process, which produced a ruby-colored glass. Cranberry glass became highly collectible in nineteenth-century England and is still a prized collectible today. Neri may have studied in Murano, where glassmaking dates back to the first millennium. The glass coming out of Murano set the standard for fine glass, making Murano the glassmaking capital of the world. Many of the techniques and tools described in Neri's book remain in use.
Neri's book was first published in 1612, and later in 1661 and 1817. Dr. Merret translated it into Latin in 1662; it has subsequently been translated into many languages, including French and German. Much of what is known today about glassmaking comes from Neri's book, and it remains an important work. Although Neri is not considered a major figure in the history of alchemy, he did promote its cause. Sometimes considered to be a product of medieval superstitions, alchemy did contribute to the development of sciences like medicine and chemistry. The scientific methods developed by alchemists served as the basis for modern scientific experimentation. Neri spent the last years of his life in northern Italy and died in 1614.