How the Medici family influenced Peter Carl Fabergé: Our exquisitely entwined exhibits

If you’re a Fabergé enthusiast, then you’ll know that seeing Gems of the Medici before it closes Sunday at the Houston Museum of Natural Science is a MUST! For those of you who have a passing knowledge of Fabergé, let me give you the scoop:

When Peter Carl Fabergé was born, it was already known, by his father, that he would become a jewelry maker. August Fabergé had started a relatively small jewelry enterprise that he hoped his sons would take over.

As Carl grew into a young man, he was sent across Europe to learn the art of goldsmithing. While this was very interesting to Carl, he found one of his real passions in the art of hardstone carving. While visiting Florence, Italy, Carl stopped at several workshops that specialized in hardstone carvings — workshops originally founded by the Medici patriarchs.

Peter Carl Faberge, via Wikimedia Commons

The Medici were insistent that Florence become the Mecca of the art world, which included stone and precious gem work. They became patrons of artisans and began workshops for others to practice their craft and learn the essentials of artistry. The Medici went as far as providing their own collection of cameos and hardstone carvings for young artists to study and replicate.

Two centuries later, these workshops were still functioning as they had been originally intended. Carl Fabergé was just one of many who took advantage of what was offered and learned techniques that would eventually be seen in his jewelry. Carl used what he learned at the Medici-founded workshops to turn simple jewelry and hardstones into works of art that were not only functional, in some cases, but admired and desired.

Visit Gems of the Medici at the Houston Museum of Natural Science before it closes this Sunday, March 31 and see the works of art that inspired Fabergé: A Brilliant Vision!

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.

What’s ancient, allegedly apocalyptic and opening Friday? The Maya 2012 exhibit, that’s what!

Maya 2012Forget about the world ending and all those rumors about Dec. 21, 2012. The question of the moment is: What will happen on Oct. 26, 2012?

If you guessed that our Maya 2012: Prophecy Becomes History exhibit opens, you’d be correct. See for yourself why the Maya civilization was successful for over three millennia … and find out when (and whether) the world’s actually going to end on that infamous day in December.

Tickets to Maya 2012 also include admission to another new exhibit opening this Friday, Gems of the Medici. So now that we’ve made you a deal you can’t refuse, don’t. Buy your tickets and find out whether we’ll all make it to 2013.

Get snap happy: Bring your camera — any camera! — to our Pixel Party photo event

Remember those Flickr meetups we used to have, back in the days of yore? Where photographers could set up shop in some of our newest exhibits and get a crowd-free glimpse of the goods?

Well that was then, and this is now. And we want to invite you to bring your camera — any camera — for a new-and-improved snap happy, party after-hours.

Enter the Pixel Party: the next generation of photography soirees from HMNS.

Doing our thing...Doing our thing, by Pixeltopia

The Pixel Party won’t be all that different from what you’ve come to know as the HMNS Flickr Group Meetups — bring your camera, see some new exhibits, and post your masterpieces online. Except this time, any kind of camera — including the kind housed in your smart phone — is welcome.

Our first Pixel Party is scheduled for Sunday, October 28 from 6 to 8 p.m. in the new Gems of the Medici exhibit. Yup, you get to see it right after it opens — no crowds, no lines, no fees. And, as a bonus (since it’s been so long and we’re cool like that), we’re keeping our new Morian Hall of Paleontology open for you, too.

You must have one of the following to participate:

(1) An active Flickr or Instagram account
(2) A dedicated Facebook Fan Page for your photography
(3) An active photography portfolio online

During the Pixel Party, registered photographers will have access to photograph the exhibits. Which means you must register to par-tay.

To register, please send an email with your name and a link to one of the following:

(1) Your Flickr or Instagram account
(2) A link to your Facebook Fan Page
(3) A link to your online portfolio where photos will be displayed

We won’t be taking registrations any other way, so follow the rules, why dontcha? You’ll receive an email confirmation of your registration when we get your info.

If you have any questions, please feel free to send an email or post a comment here. Registration must be received by 5 p.m. on Friday, Oct. 26.

No matter whether you’re a Nikon nerd or an iPhoneographer (or anywhere in between) we want to see you at this shindig. Tripods are welcome, but remember: we’re all here for the photography, so plan to play nice!

We hope to see you on Oct. 28! Don’t forget: Email us to register at