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Alchemy and the arts - I Mai Visti

The Foundry of the Uffizi: from laboratory to wunderkammer

Uffizi Gallery , Sala delle Reali Poste

12-16-2012 | 02-03-2013

Through sixty works (paintings, sculptures, engravings, manuscript codices, ancient pharmaceutical remedies and illustrated printed texts) the exhibition examines aspects of the passion for alchemy displayed by several of the Medici sovereigns between the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.
The exhibition has been conceived by the Uffizi Gallery under the Patronage of the President of the Republic, organised by the Associazione Amici degli Uffizi and curated by Valentina Conticelli, with the contribution of the Ente Cassa di Risparmio di Firenze. It is part of the NEVER SEEN BEFORE series which, every year, presents elements from the collection of the Florentine museum that are little known to the greater public.
It was Cosimo I who set up the first ‘foundry’ in Palazzo Vecchio, and lively evidence of his interests in alchemy can be found in certain manuscripts penned by eminent figures at his court. Under his son Francesco I, the laboratory was transferred to the Casino di San Marco, where artists, craftsmen, distillers and alchemists were able to experiment not only pharmaceutical techniques, but also the procedures for making porcelain, for casting rock crystal and for the working of glass, majolica and porphyry.
Afterwards, from 1586 and for almost two hundred years, the laboratory for the distillation of the medicinal products was located in the Uffizi, close to the room where the Doni Tondi was displayed for decades.
The foundry was moved here by Francesco I, whose driving passion for alchemy is confirmed by the stunned accounts of illustrious visitors, as well as being reflected in certain paintings in his famous Studiolo in Palazzo Vecchio. On display are alchemy manuscripts connected with Cosimo and Francesco I, a portrait of the latter made in porcelain – according to the method devised in his own foundry – and among others, a printed text by the doctor Leonhard Thurneysser with beautiful watercoloured engravings. Thurneysser was a magician, astrologer and quack doctor, and conducted for cardinal Ferdinando a famous experiment in transforming a horseshoe nail into gold, which was mentioned by all the foreign visitors to the Gallery in the following centuries.
We even find traces of these interests in the grotesque decoration in the East Corridor of the Gallery of the Uffizi, executed by Antonio Tempesta and Alessandro Allori and his workshop in 1581. Ceiling number 13 is in fact entirely devoted to illustrating the processes of distillation, anticipating by a few years the opening of the “new foundry” of the Uffizi which took place in 1586.
In the seventeenth century the Uffizi laboratory was celebrated for its pharmaceutical production which continued well beyond the middle of the 18th century: the Grand Duke would offer the remedies produced there as gifts, presenting them in precious ebony caskets to nobles and sovereigns all over Europe, the Middle East and even in the Americas. At that time, in addition to the large distilling equipment, the numerous medicinal remedies and innumerable vials, the foundry also contained a fine collection of natural rarities of animal and vegetable origin displayed in an area designed like an authentic wunderkammer. Another area was specially set aside for fish and the “petrified things” (fossils and shells), where there were even several Egyptian mummies – also used in the preparation of the medicinal products – which were donated to the Grand Duke in 1643.
On display in the exhibition is a rare casket containing medicinal substances from the Foundry of the Uffizi, conserved in the Museo dell’Accademia di storia dell’arte sanitaria in Rome, a singular lead codex on alchemy from the Florence State Archives, several stuffed animals from the Museum of Natural History of the University of Florence and the sarcophagus of one of the mummies from the Foundry of the Uffizi that was rediscovered in the repositories of the Archaeological Museum of Florence.


Sotto l’Alto Patronato del Presidente della Repubblica

Soprintendenza Speciale per il Patrimonio Storico,
Artistico ed Etnoantropologico
e per il Polo Museale della città di Firenze
Galleria degli Uffizi
Associazione Amici degli Uffizi

Exhibition Management

Antonio Natali

Ticket prices

Free admission


h. 10.00-17.00
Closed Monday, Christmas Day.
Special Opening:
Monday December 24, h. 10.00-17.00                                    
Monday December 31, h. 10.00-17.00
Tuesday 2013 January 1, h. 13.30-19.30 


Visits offered by professional guides from the “Mercurio” Association to raise funds for restoration
28, 29, 30 December 2012, 4, 5, 6 January 2013, from 14.30
Booking: tel. 055.218413
Free guided tours by the security staff of the Uffizi Gallery
from 11 January 2013
Friday at 10.00, 12.00, 14.15 and 15.30
Saturday at 12.00, 14.15, 15.30
Free educational workshops in the Reali Poste
“The magic key of the foundry”
22, 29 December 2012; 12, 19, 26 January; 2 February 2013
From 10.00 to 12.00
Age: 6 and over
Booking required: