Arianna Brunori

Arianna Brunori

Andrew W Mellon Fellow
«I don’t imitate nature, I work like her!». The Competition between Alchemy and Visual Arts in the Italian and French Renaissance
Arianna Brunori


Arianna Brunori is a historian of philosophy. During her PhD, studying the literature, art, and history of medieval and modern Europe at the Scuola Normale Superiore of Pisa, she spent several periods abroad (Princeton University, Universität zu Köln, Tel Aviv University). After defending her thesis (2022), she was a postdoctoral fellow at the Istituto Italiano per gli Studi Storici 2022-2023). Her publications mainly focus on Dante Alighieri’s thought, and, more generally, on the relationship between philosophy and literature between the late Middle Ages and early Modernity. It is soon to be published a book of her on the immutability of unintentional acts in the Middle Ages.

Project Summary

«I don’t imitate nature, I work like her!»: the famous quote uttered by Picasso referring to his own pictorial work can be read as the extreme recapitulation of a process started many centuries earlier. During the Renaissance, artists, challenging the traditional interpretation of the aristotelian precept «ars imitatur naturam», no longer present themselves as mere imitators of Nature, but as its refiners or, in some cases, even masters. Alchemists, accused since the Middle Ages of wanting to compete with God, have always had a similar claim. For this reason, it has been argued that alchemists and artists shared the same view of human creativity. Upon closer analysis, however, the relationship between these two professional categories, in the early modern period, appears anything but peaceful. If it is true that these figures are often found working within the same courts, united by the interest in certain technical processes, there is a real competition between them, at the center of which lies the common claim to operate in a manner identical or superior to Nature. The research presented here attempts to retrace in detail this varied debate involving alchemists and artists in Italy and France between the 15th and 16th centuries. The aim is not only to study the network of relationships in which its protagonists are inserted, but first and foremost to shed light, through a multidisciplinary approach, on the shifting distinction between natural and artificial reproduction – namely generation and imitation – during the Renaissance.