Giovanni Paolo Lomazzo, Self-Portrait as Abbot of the Val di Blenio, ca. 1568, Milan, Brera.

Project (2017)

La Falsa Alchimia de la Quale Tanta Stima già ne Feci: Lomazzo’s Thought on Alchemy

In some of the writings by the sixteenth-century painter and writer from Milan, Giovanni Paolo Lomazzo (1538–1592), we find intriguing hints to alchimia, which testify to the interest of the painter for this subject. In the art historical framework they are less studied, but nonetheless provide a considerable amount of information. In the Rime (1587) for instance we find some relevant passages in which the author explicitly criticizes alchemists, defining them as “ignorant” and “cheaters,” and that the painter himself used to ‘think highly’ of alchemy. Discussions on the usefulness—or uselessness—of alchemy were certainly circulating in the city at the time. Arguably, alchimia was one of the topics that were discussed at an amateur level by many, while few actually devoted themselves to the study and practice of it. In recent studies, alchemy has become a complex concept through which to consider various early modern practices. What I am particularly interested in is to understand how the word was used in sixteenth-century Italian art theory. Which alchimia does the artist refer to? Which types of alchemical notions does he convey, and which authors does he take information from? This project started in April 2017 while I was working as a Frances Yates Fellow at the Warburg Institute, School of Advanced Studies, University of London.