31 gennaio 2013

Italian Perfumery (1/4)

A few days ago I was preparing the lesson on "Italian Brands and Fragrances". I was studying with special care because I liked the idea of highlighting the history of our perfumery, so I sinked into a three-day- full-immersion in Italian brands history which I really loved. First of all I liked to emphasize to my students a basic idea: perfumery was born in Italy, in the convents of friars and nuns scattered over a territory that, from Middle Ages throughout all Renaissance was subdivided into dozens of small kingdoms, independent towns, Republics which spent most of their resources at sea or fiercely fighting one another. The only thing characterizing the whole territory was the presence of hundreds of abbeys and monasteries with their "giardini dei semplici/orchards and botanical gardens" in which monks and nuns used to grew plants to be introduced in herbal decoctions, ointments, tablets, syrups, etc., that were used to treat the most common ailments.
But Convents also concocted -not for the poor, of course- also remedies to maintain youthfulness, complexion-whitening creams, scented potpourri and perfumed waters to scent the person and their underwear ... In some cases, the technical know how of some laboratories has been handed down to us: Officina di Santa Maria Novella was founded in 1221 by Dominican friars, while Farmacia SS Annunziata was founded in 1556 by monks living in the convent attached to the church. Both of them still craft perfumed goods made from old recipes, reminding us of how the perfumery technique was already very advanced in medieval times. During the Renaissance, Florence, Rome, Venice and Mantua were the focus of any refinement and culture, and the brilliant, highly cultured Italian ladies from d'Este, Gonzaga, Sforza, de Medici families dictated the rules of taste and sophistication in the whole of Europe. When Caterina de Medici, in 1533, married the future king of France, Paris was fascinated by this refined Roman/Florentine noblewoman with a terrific taste for clothes and accessories. Living in her new country, Caterina introduced some comforts she was used to (eg, the use of... panties, she used when riding horses). Caterina was to change also the eating habits of the Court: she called some Italian cooks who revisited Italian dishes with local ingredients, thus creating the fundamentals of the French cuisine we know today. In addition, Caterina was used to wearing fine scents made by her personal perfumer Renato Bianco (renamed Rene le Florentin); the Court fell in love with this fragrant habit, giving impulse to the birth of a French perfumery. The French never loved Caterina, who went down in history as a blood-loving woman, fond of power and intrigues. Today's historians are finally returning a more truthful portrait of her, and it's clear that her presence on the throne allowed France to acquire a more sophisticated and modern touch. The French were then able to treasure it, and soon full developed ideas and customs that became a sort of heritage, recognized throughout the world as the quintessence of French (showing, in this, a far superior talent to that of Italians, who, not being able to "team" couldn't but stay behind). Follows

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