Project (2013-2014)

The Laboratories of Art and Alchemy at the Uffizi Gallery in Renaissance Florence: Some Material Aspects

The Uffizi, the emblematic monument of the Florentine Renaissance, are still, in spite of their fame, oddly unknown. Considered as the ancestor of the European museums, they were built by Giorgio Vasari to cater for Cosimo I’s public offices, and then were partly transformed into a gallery by Francesco I. The presence of workshops inside the building, located, depending on their discipline, in separate districts, is attested ever since 1586. Indeed, laboratories of art and alchemy were gathered together by the grand-dukes Francesco I de' Medici (1574–87) and Ferdinando I de' Medici (1587–1609), in order to set up a rich collaboration between artists and scientists. This collaboration was intended at several levels: goldsmiths, jewellers, cabinetmakers, sculptors, painters, semi-precious stones cutters exchanged not only equipment, but also theoretical and technical knowledge with the alchemists who worked in the Uffizi. Thanks to the combined study of archival documents and unpublished maps, not only the location of the artists’ workshops and of the alchemists’ “Fonderia” inside the building can be explained, but also their working conditions. For example, thanks to an unpublished inventory, we can easily visualize the organization of the Fonderia laboratories, their furniture and the tools that were used. Moreover, as we can see in the remaining pieces, the style of the objects created inside the Uffizi is the direct result of this collaboration: according to the natural philosophy theories, the art—and the collections—in the Uffizi Gallery was a combination of natural material, artistic know-how, and scientific discoveries.

After a short historical introduction, this paper focused on the material aspects of this collaboration—that's to say the working processes, the exchange of instruments between the laboratories, their localization in the building, and the consequences for the art objects. Fanny Kieffer also attempted to provide definitions for the different terminologies attributed to those people who worked in these kinds of laboratories.