Man-Made: Counterfeiting Nature in Early Modern Europe

Marlise Rijks, Leiden University

Monday, April 17, 2017 - 12:00pm

Chemical Heritage Foundation (Philadelphia, PA)

315 Chestnut Street
Philadelphia, PA 19106
“And take a large clean mussel shell, heat it and put in wine vinegar, afterwards take the shell and make it into a powder and take crystal glass, also powdered.” These instructions come from a recipe on how to “counterfeit pearls” in a 16th-century manuscript from Antwerp. This manuscript lists an array of recipes, including two that describe how to counterfeit pearls but also how to make or improve upon pigments, and instructions on how to discern fake from real stones. Why were people interested in counterfeited pearls and other sorts of imitation materials?
This lecture discusses counterfeiting nature in early modern Europe. In the early modern period the understanding of the material world increasingly took place via the human manipulation of material. Artisanal processes that tried to imitate natural processes as well as counterfeited natural materials were highly valued. Knowledgeable collectors (and sometimes the artisans themselves) appreciated this type of object because they were fascinated by artisanal-chemical processes. For similar reasons there was a market for recipe books among the learned, as well as a market for paintings and engravings depicting artisanal processes. The new concept of “process appreciation” is used to explain how artistic and artisanal processes, that is, man-made, were appreciated and conceived in early modern Europe.