HMNS Lecture Series: Marvels, Oddities and Natural Science in the Medici Court

On Nov. 7, Alessio Assonitis, Ph.D., and Sheila Barker, Ph.D., will present a fascinating presentation on the natural sciences at the Court of the Medici Grand Dukes. The lecture, “The Medici Court: Marvels, Oddities and Natural Science,” will take place at HMNS at 6:30 p.m. and is sponsored by the Medici Archive Project, Florence, and Arader Galleries, New York and Houston.

More than the arts, it was the sciences that flourished under the protection of the Medici grand dukes. After all, long before the Uffizi was used to display the Medici art collection, it was used to house a collection of natural wonders, a pharmaceutical laboratory, and a rooftop botanical garden. Vesalius, Galileo, Evangelista Torricelli and Niels Stensen are among the many scientists who found a thriving scientific community in Tuscany’s universities, botanical gardens, chemistry laboratories, and at its physics institute, known as the Accademia del Cimento (Academy of the Experiment).

Jan van der Straet's 1570  "The Alchimist's Laboratory," painted for the Studiolo of Francesco de' MediciJan van der Straet’s 1570  “The Alchimist’s Laboratory,” painted for the Studiolo of Francesco de’ Medici

The Medici grand dukes and grand duchesses were not just passive bystanders in their patronage of the sciences. They took part in scientific activity, whether developing new medicines, carrying out chemical experiments, planning mining operations, or introducing exotic plant species to Tuscany. The repercussions of all this scientific ferment can be found in court entertainments, the arts, military technology, industry, cuisine, espionage, and assassination techniques of the 200-hundred-year dynasty.

Dr. Alessio Assonitis will examine some of the more fantastic chronicles from the Medici archive — including meteorological and astronomical anomalies; archaeological discoveries, technological contraptions and medical absurdities; eccentric individuals, bizarre objects and supernatural events.

Dr. Sheila Barker will discuss the activities pursued personally by the Medici grand dukes and grand duchesses and how these scientific endeavors influenced the arts and many other areas of life during the Renaissance.

Alessio AssonitisAlessio Assonitis, director of the Medici Archive Project, was born in Rome and received his doctoral degree in Renaissance art history from Columbia University in 2003. He has taught at Columbia University, Barnard College, Herron School of Art, and the Christian Theological Seminary. He arrived at the Medici Archive Project in the fall 2004 with a National Endowment for the Humanities Fellowship. He became MAP research director in 2009 and director in 2011.

Sheila BarkerSheila Barker, Ph. D., is director of the Jane Fortune Research Program on Women Artists, which is based at the Medici Archive Project in Florence, Italy. Her work on the Medici grand duchesses focused specifically on their contributions to medicine, both as patrons and as amateur practitioners, and was just one aspect of her larger research project on the history of medicine, botany, and pharmacology at the Medici Court — a project which has led to publications on poisons in early modern Italy; on anti-malarial medicine at the Medici Court; and on the establishment of a Florentine pharmacy in 17th-century Tripoli.

To learn more about how the Medici dynasty’s patronage steered the course of art history and scientific progress, visit HMNS’ world-premiere exhibition, Gems of the Medici. For tickets to “The Medici Court: Marvels, Oddities and Natural Science,” click here.

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