A visit to the home of perfume

A visit to the home of perfume

Words Mark Hooper

Photographs Marie Valognes

Housed within the magnificent Mocenigo Palace, a true realm of the senses is brought to life in association with The Merchant of Venice…

Famously nicknamed La Serenissima (literally ‘the most serene’), it was perhaps inevitable that Venice, a city devoted to the senses, should become Europe’s ‘capital of perfume’. Thanks to its role as a key maritime trade route, linking Europe with Asia and Africa, many of the key raw materials – spices, incenses and rare plants, including civet, storax and benzolino – vital for the development of perfumery passed through Venice. Renowned for its master perfumers (muschieri) – and with the knowledge of many other master craftsmen centred around the Republic (not least the world famous glassmakers of Murano), all the elements were in place. Add to that a steady stream of exotic visitors, from nobility to the emerging merchant classes, and one can see how the influence of La Serenissima spread across the courts of Europe in the Middle Ages.

Indeed, such was the reputation that Venice had established in the role of perfume making that a treaty was printed there in 1555 on the preparation of ‘perfume mixtures’, detailing more than 300 perfume recipes. Some of these were for wearable fragrances, whilst others were for providing scents for various rooms at different times of day. Some even extend into what today would be part of the wider beauty and cosmetics industry, with formulae for everything from skin and teeth whitening to hair dye.

Venice’s role in the development of perfumery lives on in with The Merchant of Venice – and the inspiring history of ancient perfumes can still be witnessed today at the Mocenigo Palace, a unique museum devoted to Venetian life. Here, the magical world of ancient essences, reinvented by new professionals, can still be experienced by modern-day visitors, thanks to a multi-sensory approach, a study centre offering courses on the composition of fragrances and rare displays of original instruments, rare texts (including Secreti Nobilissimi dell’Arte Profumatoria by Giovanventura Rosetti – considered the first recipe book for cosmetics, dating from 1672) and perfume phials and bottles – including several from the incredible Storp collection, which amounts to over 2,500 objects, some from as far back as 2,000BC. A true realm of the senses…

In recognition of this unique accumulation of knowledge and artefacts, the Merchant of Venice have produced the Museum Collection – a set of 40 monothematic Eaux de Toilette accompanied by 12 Eaux de Parfum Concentrée that cover the most popular raw materials used in perfumery throughout Europe and Asia – as well as The Perfumer Kit – a complete set of instruments and ingredients that, used in conjunction with the accompanying manual, allows users to create their own 20ml Eau de Toilette and bottle them in a special spray purse. Knowledge, history and inspiration, bottled for you by the modern masters of perfumery…

 

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