Venetian Perfumery – Past and Present

Venetian Perfumery – Past and Present. In the 15th century, Venice became the centre of the European perfumery industry.

Thanks to its role as a major trading centre for precious spices, fragrant oils and resins from the Middle and Far East; the city was one of the first to discover and enjoy the pleasure of perfume and soap.

This post, covers the history of perfumes in Venice, information about perfume houses still active in Venice and the Palazzo Mocenigo, housing the Venetian perfumery museum.

 


Venetian perfume at the All’Ercole D’Doro, Old Pharmacy


 

Venetian Perfumery – Past

Venice, in the late Middle Ages, was at the centre of a flourishing and prosperous trade and commerce between East and West. Merchants brought back precious spices, fragrant oils and resins; from their trips to the Middle and Far East, Asia and North Africa.

After Marco Polo’s first trip to China in 1271, he introduced many cultural aspects of China; including body care to the Venetians. “Il Milione”, his book, drawn from his travels and experiences; introduced new fragrant substances, plants and animals to the city.

Due to the availability of these fine raw materials, Venice became a natural location for the early creation of perfumes. The master craftsmen such as the “muschieri” (perfumers), “venditori de polvere di Cipro” (Cyprus powder haberdashers) and the “saoneri” (soap makers); developed improved production techniques, to blend these delicate fragrances, into very desirable products.

Early perfumes were generally made in paste form, using oils, fats and resins. The first modern (liquid) perfume, made of scented oils blended in an alcohol solution, was actually made in 1370; at the command of Queen Elizabeth of Hungary and was known throughout Europe as “Hungary Water”.

The Italian perfumer Giampaolo Feminis, created “Aqua Admirabilis” during a stay in Cologne. His fragrance contained important Italian essential oils, such as bergamot, lavender, lemon, orange, neroli and rosemary. Later, his nephew took over his business and changed the name of the fragrance to Jean-Marie Farinà’s “Eau de Cologne”; giving it a French twist. The term “Eau de Cologne” had links to Venice, for apparently; the surname Farina, could be traced to the Veneto region; where he spent his youth.

A major impetus to development and distribution, was the collaboration with the Murano glass industry. The artisans of Murano designed beautiful glass containers and phials to preserve and distribute these fragrances. As a result, the Venetian perfumes and cosmetics became highly sought-after products, in all the royal courts of Europe. The Venetian soap makers and perfumers were even invited to the European courts, particularly in France, to practice their art.

In Venice, the first perfumer’s boutiques (“boteghe”) run by the muschieri, displayed a wide variety of perfumed waters and pastes; to satisfy the most demanding request.

The Italian Renaissance was then given further impetus, by one of the most important applications of technology to the perfumery sector: the invention of printing and publishing.

By the beginning of the 17th century, the number of hairdressers and barbers had increased to around 400. Body care became more and more important for the Venetian community.

Books on Formulation.The composition of perfumes and cosmetics, is also documented in numerous publications printed in Venice in the 16th century. The recipes reveal the secrets of their manufacture, which promised both beauty and health effects.

  • In 1551, Eustachio Celebrino, published one of the very first formulary of fragrance: “Opera Nova Piacevole Laquale insegna di far varie compositioni odorifere per far bella ciaschuna Donna”. It teaches how to make fragrant compositions, to make each woman beautiful; published in Venice by Agustino Bindoni MDLI.
  • Another is the “Secreti Nobilissimi dell’Arte profumatoria” (The noble secrets of the Art of Perfumery). by Giovanventura Rosetti, published in Venice in 1555.
  • A recent publication “The history of perfume in Venice” (2017), written by the Venetian historian and archivist Anna Messinis; is available today.

 

 Decline of the Venetian Industry. In the 16th century, Italian refinements were taken to France, by Catherine de’ Medici’s personal perfumer, Rene le Florentin. His laboratory was connected with her apartments by a secret passageway; so that no formulas could be stolen en-route.

France quickly became the European centre of perfume and cosmetic manufacture. Cultivation of flowers for their perfume essence, which had begun in the 14th century, grew into a major industry in the south of France mainly in Grasse; now considered the world capital of perfume.

Today, Paris, New York and Geneva, are also centres of the current perfumery industry.

 

Venetian Perfumery – Palazzo Mocenigo

This palace features in my introduction to and list of 25 recommended Venice museums, linked below; giving all the information you need to know, to maximise the enjoyment of your visit.

The Museo Palazzo Mocenigo, once home to the important and powerful Mocenigo family; now houses the Museum of Textiles and Costumes. It displays different aspects of the life and activities of Venetian nobility; between the 17th and 18th centuries.

Originally of gothic style, it was heavily modified in the 17th century and was home to one of the most influential families in Venice; seven members of which became Doges, between 1414 and 1778.

 

Perfume laboratory at the Museum Palazzo Mocenigo, Venice

 

Lord Byron, the famous English poet, lived in the Palazzo Mocenigo between 1818-1819. He wrote part of his master piece Don Juan here. See my post “Byron in Venice” link below.

Since 2013, on the ground floor of the palazzo, is a well-equipped Perfume Laboratory and on the piano nobile (first floor); there are six rooms dedicated to perfume, perfectly integrated into the displays of the rest of the museum. The key focus is on sustainability of the raw ingredients and how they are transformed and combined; giving life to these fragrances.

You will also find original equipment, historical items, texts and highly valuable documentation; such as the first recipe book of cosmetics, “Secreti Nobilissimi dell’Arte Profumatoria”. One room resembles the laboratory of a perfumer of the 16th century. Raw materials and processes are displayed and illustrated, while an olfactory map describes the “Streets of Spices” in Venice.

The most valuable part of the collection, includes a selection of beautiful bottles and containers for perfume, from the extraordinary Storp collection. It is one of the most important and rare collections in the world. It includes over 2500 objects, some of them dated as far back as 2000 BC. These jewels of ancient craftsmanship are timeless designs.

One great experience is to discover the different fragrance families. The 6 fragrance families, are a classification of perfumes on the basis of the elements they are made up: citrus, floral, oriental, fougère, woody and chypre. Smelling all the essences is a fascinating experience. If you like this experience, you can also book a perfume workshop to learn more on the composition of fragrances and the production process of perfume.

 

Venetian Perfumery Houses – Today

Venetian Perfumery – Past and Present. The Vidal family is today the most prominent Venetian perfumery family. In 1900, Angelo Vidal established “Vidal Profumi”, a company dedicated to the production and trade of soaps, spices and colonial goods imported from Asia.

In 2013, he supported the launch of the perfume section of the Palazzo Mocenigo.  The company has been sold to Henkel, but Massimo Vidal, grandson of Angelo Vidal, established Mavive Parfums Venezia in 1986. It is currently under the stewardship of the third and fourth generation of the Vidal family.

In 2013, they created the in-house brand “The Merchant of Venice”. The flagship store of the brand opened inside an ancient pharmacy (circa 1600) on Campo San Fantin.

Flagship Store San Fantin (Ancient pharmacy) – Campo San Fantin, San Marco 1895, 30124 Venezia, IT  0039 041 2960559

Perfume Shop at the Museum Palazzo Mocenigo – Santa Croce, 1992, Venice

Spezieria All’Ercole D’Doro  (Ancient pharmacy) – Strada Nova, Santa Fosca, Cannaregio 2233
30121 Venezia, VE

Bottega Cini – Dorsoduro 733, 30123 Venezia, IT

Libreria  Studium – S. Marco, 337, 30124 Venezia, IT  0039 041 522 2382

 

Venetian Perfumery – Past and Present.  Lorenzo Dante Ferro, is a master perfumer with Venetian roots, even though his history doesn’t go back to a family heritage. He is an independent creator and producer of fine fragrances for limited and exclusive distribution. In 1982, he founded his small artisan company, with a creative perfume studio and production laboratories in the countryside of Friuli-Venezia. The perfumes can be bought online. You can even order your own exclusive signature fragrance.

 


 

Venetian Perfumery – Past and Present –  Please see my links below:

17 – Museo Palazzo Mocenigo 

Mavive Parfums Venezia

The Merchant of Venice 

 


 

 

 

 

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