Brown Bag Lecture: Man-Made: Counterfeiting Nature in Early Modern Europe

Lunchtime Lectures
Monday, April 17, 2017
12:00 p.m.–1:00 p.m.
Chemical Heritage Foundation
315 Chestnut Street
Philadelphia, PA 19106
United States

Join us for a Brown Bag Lecture with Marlise Rijks, one of our 2016–2017 short-term fellows. 

“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.

About the Speaker

Marlise Rijks holds a postdoc position at Leiden University, working at the NWO project New History of Fishes. She studied history at Utrecht University and received her PhD in art history from Ghent University. Her research focuses on early modern art and knowledge, in particular in the Low Countries.

About the Series

Brown Bag Lectures (BBLs) are a series of (mostly) weekly, informal talks on the history of chemistry or related subjects, including the history and social studies of science, technology, and medicine. Based on original research (sometimes still in progress), these talks are given by local scholars for an audience of the Institute staff and fellows and interested members of the public.