Giovanni Maria Butteri, The glass foundry at Casino of San Marco, Palazzo Vecchio, Florence.

Project (2011-2015)

Art, Natural Science, Local History and the New World in Counter–Reformation Antwerp: The Collection of the Portuguese Merchant-Banker Emmanuel Ximenez

This project investigated one of the most splendid collections in early seventeenth-century Antwerp, that of the Portuguese merchant-banker Emmanuel Ximenez, a neighbor and contemporary of Peter Paul Rubens. In this period, many foreign merchants flocked to Antwerp to profit from Portugal’s lucrative trade in spices, which transformed the city into an urban center where new goods, new merchandise, and new information were circulated and exchanged. Thanks to the Portuguese, Antwerp was the most important trading center north of the Alps and renowned as a center for the manufacture of and trade with luxury goods. This project used the inventory of Ximenez’ possessions to study how a new type of space where artisanal and scholarly cultures were brought together emerged in the early modern city of Antwerp. Contemporaries praised Ximenez for his “universal knowledge of the sciences” and the possessions he gathered in his house at the Meir, Antwerp’s most luxurious street, linked the spheres of art, alchemy, medicine, commerce, and religion.

Ximenez’ house was home to a remarkable number of the newest mathematical and optical instruments, many of them produced by the Antwerp mathematician Michiel Coignet, for example: a Distilleer-en Alchimiecamer (an "alchemy and distillation-chamber) and a library holding over one thousand volumes. Ximenez’s alchemical interests, cultivated both by reading and by experimenting, relate to the manufacture of and trade with one specific decorative art object (glass) and to the Florentine court culture of Paracelsian alchemy centered on the Casino San Marco. There, Antonio Neri worked under the patronage of Antonio de’Medici before he moved to Antwerp. This culture fostered chemical manufacture (such as the production of porcelain) and the use of chemistry in medicine. Neri’s vitreous pursuits were material and epistemic. They produced both chalcedony glasses and a natural philosophy of vitrification deeply embedded in a particular paracelsian chymistry, itself strongly associated with the Netherlands. Global trade and domestic production; the emergence of a culture of collecting and consumption of art and luxury goods, in which objects were valued for the skill and knowledge invested in their production instead of the cost of the raw materials; and the definition of nature and art as products of both reading and experience, all came together in Neri’s vitreous pursuits.
Close study of the inventory, the letters sent between Ximenes and Neri, the Apparato (the book of secrets containing recipes for coloring glass among entries on medicinal purges and the philosopher’s stone produced in the Casino) illuminated how the urban culture of Antwerp fostered the emergence of spaces where artisanal and scholarly cultures merged to produce Neri’s L’arte vetraria.