The Mineralogical Record
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Michele Mercati
(1541-1593)

Michele Mercati was born to a wealthy family in San Miniato, between Pisa and Florence, Italy. His father was a prominent physician , and his grandfather was a noted humanist and philosopher who moved in the highest scholarly circles. Mercati studied first in San Miniato, then enrolled in the University of Pisa for his degree in Philosophy and Medicine. There he studied under Andrea Cesalpino (1519-1603), a celebrated physician and botanist, and later to be the author of De Metallicus ("On Minerals") (1596). The two became good friends for life. Mercati earned his degree in 1561 and opened a medical practice in Rome, where he so distinguished himself during an epidemic there that Pope Pius V called him to the Vatican and offered him the post of Prefect of the Vatican Botanical Gardens. In 1577 Mercati was officially received among the "familiars" of Pope Gregory XIII who, having learned of Mercati's passion for mineralogy, suggested that he create a natural history museum inside the Vatican, focusing on minerals. Mercati was delighted by this idea and worked for many years building the collection while serving as Chief Physician under a succession of Popes. He had 19 large, expensive, custom-made cabinets constructed to house the collection in a room in the Pio-Clementine Museum. The collection eventually ranked among the largest and best in all of Europe.

Mercati spent years writing a scholarly description of the collection in his spare time, and having 127 high-quality copper-plate engravings of specimens prepared, but by the time of his death he had managed to cover only the first nine cabinets containing the non-metallic minerals. His manuscript and engravings were claimed by his relatives and placed in storage, and his magnificent collection eventually was reduced to nothing by pilferage. The manuscript and its illustrations were rediscovered and published as Metallotheca Vaticana in 1717, but by that time the science of mineralogy had passed him by and his pioneering work from the 16th century, which would have been so significant in its time, was generally ignored. The illustrations shown here are from a copy in the Mineralogical Record Library.

W.E.W.

Reference:
Wilson, W. E. (1994) The history of mineral collecting, 1530-1799. Mineralogical Record, 25,32-34.

Click on thumbnail picture to see larger image.
Number of artworks found: 8 | Artworks being viewed: 1 to 8

The Mineralogical Record: Michele Mercati - Andalusite (Chiastolite) Andalusite (Chiastolite)
Copper-plate engraving (ca. 1590), artist unknown, depicting specimens in the Vatican collection assembled by Michele Mercati; published in Metallotheca Vaticana (1717).
The Mineralogical Record: Michele Mercati - Iron Pyrites Iron Pyrites
Copper-plate engraving (ca. 1590), artist unknown, depicting specimens in the Vatican collection assembled by Michele Mercati; published in Metallotheca Vaticana (1717).
The Mineralogical Record: Michele Mercati - Botryoidal Pyrites Botryoidal Pyrites
Copper-plate engraving (ca. 1590), artist unknown, depicting specimens in the Vatican collection assembled by Michele Mercati; published in Metallotheca Vaticana (1717).
The Mineralogical Record: Michele Mercati - Garnet Crystals Garnet Crystals
Copper-plate engraving (ca. 1590), artist unknown, depicting specimens in the Vatican collection assembled by Michele Mercati; published in Metallotheca Vaticana (1717).
The Mineralogical Record: Michele Mercati - Quartz Druse (possibly Amethyst) Quartz Druse (possibly Amethyst)
Copper-plate engraving (ca. 1590), artist unknown, depicting specimens in the Vatican collection assembled by Michele Mercati; published in Metallotheca Vaticana (1717).
The Mineralogical Record: Michele Mercati - Quartz Crystals Quartz Crystals
Copper-plate engraving (ca. 1590), artist unknown, depicting specimens in the Vatican collection assembled by Michele Mercati; published in Metallotheca Vaticana (1717).
The Mineralogical Record: Michele Mercati - Naturally Formed Gem Crystals Naturally Formed Gem Crystals
Copper-plate engraving (ca. 1590), artist unknown, depicting specimens in the Vatican collection assembled by Michele Mercati; published in Metallotheca Vaticana (1717).
The Mineralogical Record: Michele Mercati - Asbestos Asbestos
Copper-plate engraving (ca. 1590), artist unknown, depicting specimens in the Vatican collection assembled by Michele Mercati; published in Metallotheca Vaticana (1717).
The Mineralogical Record Museum of Art is is supported entirely by donations from
Kathryn and Bryan Lees, Rob Lavinsky, Wendell Wilson and Susan Robinson.

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