Medical Alchemy in Renaissance Florence

Medical Alchemy in Renaissance Florence

Transforming Materials
at Palazzo Vecchio and
the Casino di San Marco

Georgiana Hedesan

13 April 2022 – 3 PM (CET)

This lecture will revolve around a painting of an alchemical laboratory created by Johannes Stradanus (1523-1605), a Flemish-born artist settled in Florence.

In 1570, Stradanus, who was at the time part of the workshop of Giorgio Vasari, was commissioned for two paintings meant to adorn the Studiolo of Francesco I de’ Medici (1541-1587). The best one is known as The Alchemist’s Laboratory, and was a depiction of the distillation works in Palazzo Vecchio.

I will be discussing what this image and connected information might tell us about the Palazzo Vecchio laboratory and princely alchemy at the Medici court. The laboratory was set up by Cosimo I (1519-1574), the first Grand Duke of Tuscany; he was known to dabble into alchemy himself. His son Francesco was even more enthusiastic: Stradanus’s painting portrays the prince working on the premises amongst other artisans.
It seems that the primary purpose of the laboratory was focussed toward making practical medicines. Yet the laboratory was relatively short lived. Just as Stradanus was painting The Alchemist’s Laboratory, Francesco was commissioning a new palace in the Giardino di San Marco. Once the Casino di San Marco was finished in 1575, Francesco relocated the majority of the alchemical works there, hence creating one of the first purpose-built scientific institutions in the world.
A large number of documents from this laboratory survive, and my talk will end with a later depiction of it, which provides an interesting counterpoint to the Stradanus piece.

About the Speaker ...

Georgiana Hedesan is a Departmental Lecturer in History of Science in the History Faculty at the University of Oxford.

Prior to this she has been the recipient of a Wellcome Trust Research Postdoctoral Fellowship in Medical History and Humanities at the University of Oxford (2013-2017). Her first book, An Alchemical Quest for Universal Knowledge: The ‘Christian Philosophy’ of Jan Baptist Van Helmont (1579-1644) was published in 2016 by Routledge. A co-edited book (with Tim Rudbøg, University of Copenhagen), Innovation in Esotericism from the Renaissance to the Present, was published in 2021 by Palgrave Macmillan. |Her research covers history of science and medicine, intellectual history and history of esotericism, with a concentration on early modern Europe with an emphasis  on the history of alchemy and alchemical medicine. She is particularly interested in uncovering the importance of alchemical thought and practice to the pre-modern period.

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