The Pharmaca of Jozeph Coelho: A Family of Converso Apothecaries in Seventeenth-Century Coimbra

By Benjamin Breen

Credit: Biblioteca Nacional de Portugal, BNP 2259, Pharmaca de Jozeph Coelho (1668), fol. 1r.

Credit: Biblioteca Nacional de Portugal, BNP 2259, Pharmaca de Jozeph Coelho (1668), fol. 1r.

The apothecaries of early modern Portugal were tradesmen, and, although they were typically literate and well read, they left few archival records. The “Pharmaco de Jozeph Coelho,” a little-known manuscript housed in the National Library of Portugal, stands as a remarkable exception. The face that peers out at us from the title page—long-haired, surmounted by an angel, wearing a dapper black hat along with a rather quizzical expression—appears to be this manuscript’s primary author, Jozeph (or Joseph) Coelho.[1] Although Jozeph’s “Pharmaca” mainly consists of excerpts from Greco-Roman and Islamic medical authorities like Dioscorides and Yuhanna ibn Masawaih (Mesue), it also tells us a surprising amount about Jozeph and his family.

One of the first things that jumps out at anyone who consults Jozeph Coelho’s “Pharmaca” (which has recently been digitized) is the surprising number of doodles and visual puns. Coelho’s talent for drawing is evident from the very first page, which, in addition to his apparent self-portrait, features an ornate border abounding with fruits and flowers as well as some typically Baroque scrollwork. Coelho has even gone to the trouble of highlighting two plume-like vertical objects (jets of fire? feathers?) with green ink.

Credit: Biblioteca Nacional de Portugal, BNP 2259, Pharmaca de Jozeph Coelho (1668), fol. 1r.

Credit: Biblioteca Nacional de Portugal, BNP 2259, Pharmaca de Jozeph Coelho (1668), fol. 1r.

After a short dedication written in Spanish by another hand (an ode to the wisdom of Andrés Laguna, a converso physician who authored one of the most influential sixteenth century commentaries on Dioscorides), the text gets down to business, with minimal ornamentation to distract from a series of Latin and Portuguese quotations of Dioscorides’ De materia medica and Pseudo-Mesue’s Canones universalis. But when he segues into translating Pseudo-Mesue’s list of medicinal simples (De simplicibus), Coelho’s decorative inclinations seem to kick in. Many medicine names receive ornate borders, like these for Cassia fistula (the “Golden Shower tree,” native to Southeast Asia) and conserve of violets, where Coelho plays on the similarity between the Portuguese words for violet (violeta) and guitar (violão).

 

Credit: BNP 2259, Pharmaca de Jozeph Coelho, fol. 14r.

Credit: BNP 2259, Pharmaca de Jozeph Coelho, fol. 14r.

 

Credit: BNP 2259, Pharmaca de Jozeph Coelho, fol. 15r.

Credit: BNP 2259, Pharmaca de Jozeph Coelho, fol. 15r.

 

By page thirty, Coelho’s doodling has ramped up even further. On fol. 33v, a list of pills described by Mesue and the Byzantine physician Nicolaus Myrepsus, there are no less than seven decorated initials, including two personified moons, two men holding arrows, and a man wearing a headdress (a motif that reocurrs throughout the text and might reflect Coelho’s idea of an indigenous Brazilian).

 

Credit: BNP 2259, Pharmaca de Jozeph Coelho, fol. 33v.

Credit: BNP 2259, Pharmaca de Jozeph Coelho, fol. 33v.

 

Coelho’s “Pharmaca” may have been a didactic work designed to instruct journeyman apothecaries, so this visual ornamentation might amount to something more than mere doodling. Perhaps we can liken Coelho’s drawings to the early modern equivalent of New Yorker cartoons: visual jokes that allow the reader to pause and catch their breath before diving into another complex block of text.

 

Not only does the manuscript abound with unusual drawings, it also offers some useful clues about the Coelho family’s practice. One place to start is the title page itself, which identifies itself as a product of the botica (apothecary shop) of Rua Larga (Broad Street) in the Portuguese town of Coimbra. From this we can surmise that the botica supplied the physicians of the University of Coimbra, because that university’s school of medicine was located on the same short street. Indeed, although the shop of the Coelhos has long since been replaced by boxy buildings of gray concrete and student parking, the Rua Larga is still the home of the University of Coimbra’s School of Medicine today.

 

Credit: Georg Braun, Civitates Orbis Terrarum, (Cologne, 1598), “Illustris Civitati Conimbriae In Lusitania.”

Credit: Georg Braun, Civitates Orbis Terrarum, (Cologne, 1598), “Illustris Civitati Conimbriae In Lusitania.”

A 1598 bird’s eye view map of Coimbra gives a sense of the town as the Coelhos would have known it. It was already an ancient settlement by this time, having been founded by the Romans as a frontier outpost in the first century CE and successively controlled by a series of Visigothic kings, the Islamic caliphs of Al-Andalus, and finally the Portuguese crown. The map testifies to this complex history, depicting both Roman ruins (the three columns to the left of the Rua Larga) and a gate to “Almedina” (the medina quarter of the old Moorish city). Following the forced conversion or expulsion of Portuguese Jews in 1496, the University of Coimbra became a haven for the converso, or “New Christian,” descendants of Sephardic Jews who chose to remain in Iberia.

 

The Coelhos numbered among this New Christian community. We know this not only because Coelho has historically been a Sephardic name in Portugal, but because a member of their family, Maria Coelho, was arrested by the Inquisition of Coimbra on charges of judaísmo (retaining Jewish customs) in August of 1666. The “Processo” relating to her case records her father as the apothecary Filipe Coelho, and describes Maria as an unmarried, thirty-year-old “boticaria” (female apothecary). Working from the assumption that there was unlikely to have been two different apothecary families named Coelho working in Coimbra at the same time, my conjecture is that Jozeph Coelho was Maria’s brother.

 

After being interrogated and jailed for three years, Maria was in 1669 transported to Brazil as a degredado (deported criminal), where her fate is unknown. Although Maria likely spent the end of this period in Lisbon, from whence degredados were usually shipped, she would have initially been jailed in the Inquisition prison of Coimbra. As the 1598 map reveals, this was just a few minute’s walk from Maria’s family shop on the Rua Larga. The anguish that Maria and her family would have felt about this drawn-out imprisonment is hard to detect in the surviving sources, but painfully easy to imagine.

 

I suspect that the the “Pharmaca” actually contains a portrait of Maria. The manuscript’s title page announces that it was written in 1668, and Maria would therefore have been absent from her family for one to years by this time. Given this context, I interpret the drawing of a “Boticario” and “Botica[ria]” (male and female apothecaries) on fol. 76r of the “Pharmaca” as a tribute to Maria’s memory, created by a brother who would never see her again.

Credit: BNP 2259, Pharmaca de Jozeph Coelho, fol. 76r.

Credit: BNP 2259, Pharmaca de Jozeph Coelho, fol. 76r.

*************

Benjamin Breen, a Ph.D. candidate in history at the University of Texas at Austin, is finishing a dissertation on the early modern drug trade. His articles have appeared in The Journal of Early Modern History, The Journal of Early American History, and History Compass. He is the editor-in-chief of The Appendix, a journal of narrative and experimental history.


[1] The manuscript actually contains at least four different hands, but I am making the assumption that the hand that appears in the first half of the text along with the title page is Jozeph Coelho. I suspect that hands in the second half of the text are additions by either Coelho’s family members or perhaps (if my surmise that this was a didactic text is true) by journeyman apothecaries adding further notes and commentaries.

A November Feast in Medieval Europe

By Sarah Peters Kernan

November was a bountiful month for food in medieval Europe. The harvest was completed, wine and cider were quietly fermenting, and animals were nearing slaughter. The fattening of pigs is the most consistent of images in medieval illuminated Books of Hours for the monthly labor of November.

Queen Mary Psalter (England, c. 1310–1320): London, British Library, Royal 2 B VII, f. 81v. Source: British Library.

Queen Mary Psalter (England, c. 1310–1320): London, British Library, Royal 2 B VII, f. 81v. Source: British Library.

November was liturgically balanced between a long stretch of Ordinary Time and Advent’s four weeks of fasting. The month was dotted with holy days and feast days, including All Saints Day, All Souls Day, and the Feast of Saint Andrew. Le Ménagier de Paris, a guide, written in the 1390s, for the young wife of a bourgeois household, contains numerous references to these November holy days. (For more on the Ménagier, see Tovah Bender’s post about using this text as a teaching tool.) In the Ménagier, seasonality is marked by feasts: on Saint Andrew’s Day, people were instructed to preserve parsley and fennel root, sheep quarters were salted in Béziers, and the wood pigeon season which would run until Lent commenced.[1]

Martinmas—the Feast of Saint Martin of Tours—on November 11, was the official seasonal turning point. Martinmas was a continent-wide day of celebration and feasting. Like the modern American Thanksgiving, the feast day secondarily celebrated the end of the harvest. Both feasts featured a centerpiece bird; Martinmas, as well as Saint Martin himself, was closely associated with geese rather than turkey. The saint and his feast day were linked to the feast-friendly fowl as a nod to the gaggle of geese that supposedly revealed his hiding place to the people who wanted Martin to become their bishop.

While the goose was eaten in celebration of other feasts during the year, the tie between the goose and Martinmas was especially strong. Orlando di Lasso, a sixteenth-century composer, addressed the association in his lyric:

Hear the news!

The peasant from Donkeychurch,

he has a fat goo-goo-goose,

the gyri gyri goo-goo-goose,

that has a long, fat,

thick, well-fed neck;

bring the goose here!

Have at it, my dear Hans;

pluck it, pull it, boil it, roast it,

tear it up, devour it!

 

This is St. Martin’s little bird,

we may not be his enemy;

servant Heinz, bring here a good wine,

and pour us a hearty draught,

let it go all around!

In God’s name we drink

good wine and beer

to the stuffed goose,

to the roasted goose,

to the young goose,

that it may do us no harm. [2]

 

English and French cookeries from the preceding centuries contain tens of recipes for goose preparations, exhibiting the popularity and widespread use of the bird. The famed Viandier of Taillevent (late thirteenth-century) contains only one recipe for goose, yet refers to the preparation of geese in several other recipes, indicating that the goose was a typical bird for consumption in French royal households. Only a cook with experience preparing geese would have been comfortable following directions such as “it is plucked dry like a goose” and “it is killed as a goose” in recipes for swan, peacock, and stork.[3] Le Ménagier de Paris also contains similar references to geese in other poultry recipes. The text also contains many more recipes for geese, including pottages, pasties, and hochepot. Sauces were recommended for service with roast goose, and the author even included instructions for fattening the animal.[4] English cookeries contain at least twelve different preparations over thirty times, including goose in gauncele, goose in sauce madame, and stuffed goose.

The Feast of Saint Martin was a seasonal marker for many other meats; in fact, Martinmas signaled a yearly slaughter. Meat was very plentiful and less expensive at market, while large estates and households had an annual stockpile of meat and embarked upon the huge task of preserving their supply. We also learn from Le Ménagier de Paris that the hunting period for animals such as boar extended from September to Martinmas.[5]

Those images of November’s task, the fattening of the pig, not only signaled the season’s import for food production and consumption, but reminded the medieval cook of the fruitfulness of this period situated between days of plenty and want. The liturgical calendar and seasonal availability of foodstuffs combined to make November a tasty treat.

[1] Gina L. Greco and Christine M. Rose, trans., The Good Wife’s Guide (Le Ménagier de Paris): A Medieval Household Book (Cornell University Press, 2009), 328, 274, 299.

[2] Yossi Maurey, Medieval Music, Legend, and the Cult of St Martin (Cambridge University Press, 2014), 123.

[3] Terence Scully, ed., The Viandier of Taillevent: An Edition of all Extant Manuscripts (University of Ottawa Press, 1988), 285.

[4] Greco and Rose, 283, 289, 339, 321, 298.

[5] Greco and Rose, 287.

Topazes, Emeralds, and Crystal Rubies. The Faking and Making of Precious Stones

Marjolijn Bol

Today the making and illegal selling of factitious stones has reached an unseen level of sophistication. Advanced technologies allow man to produce synthetic versions of the most precious of stones – diamonds, emeralds, sapphires and rubies (fig. 1). So convincing are these synthetic gems they can only be distinguished from natural precious stones in laboratories with advanced spectroscopic devices.

Fig. 1 Synthetic gemstones

Fig. 1 Synthetic gemstones

The making of imitations of precious stones is not just typical of our modern age. In fact it dates back to at least Egyptian times, as graves from this period show that glass was used to substitute for jewels. Seneca (AD 1 – AD 65) and Pliny the Elder (AD 23- AD 79) were the first authors to write about the practice. Whereas Seneca only mentions that ‘sometimes stones are boiled to resemble emerald (smaragdus)’, Pliny provides us with a rather lengthy account in which he explains the various ways in which gems were imitated. He mentions that glass pastes were used for the imitation of seals and that in some cases stones were cemented together to imitate sardonyx. By a third method, ‘Indian crystals’ were colored with certain dyes to make them look like more expensive minerals. These ‘gems’ were apparently so convincing that ‘(…) there is considerable difficulty in distinguishing genuine stones from false; the more so, as there has been discovered a method of transforming genuine stones of one kind into false stones of another.’ While some physical evidence still survives of the first two practices, the factitious gems made by the third manner, has barely, if at all, come down to us. The many recipes that explain how to make such imitation stones (surviving from the fourth well into the sixteenth century) nevertheless suggest that this last method must have also been practiced, and perhaps even on a large scale. I therefore hoped that a physical reconstruction of the imitation gems might give some further insight into the appearance of these imitation gems. Would it be possible, as the recipes suggest, to make a convincing imitation of a precious stone? Could such a ‘fake’ potentially fool the innocent eye into thinking it was real?

The earliest examples of recipes for imitating stones can be found in the so-called Stockholm Papyrus, a recipe collection written in Greek at about 200-300 AD. The Papyrus includes no less than 71 how-to’s for the imitation of precious stones with lesser materials, including ruby, beryl, amethyst, sunstone and emerald. In subsequent centuries, numerous other recipe books include similar instructions for making counterfeit stones. While the recipes are various, they are almost all based upon two basic operations that I have attempted to reconstruct (fig. 2).

Fig. 2 Opening up of stones

Fig. 2 The opening up of stones

First, a transparent mineral, such as rock crystal, selenite, or topaz, is roughened or ‘opened up’. Following the recipes instructions, I investigated this by cooking the minerals in potash alum (potassium aluminium sulphate) dissolved in vinegar. As soon as I removed the heat from this mixture, it rapidly crystalized into a hard crust around the stones. In accordance with the recipes I left the stones overnight.  Nevertheless, when I inspected them the next day (after having chiseled them out) I could not see any changes. Regardless of whether the stones were successfully ‘opened up’, the coloring of the minerals did produce some surprising results.

The recipes instruct that the ‘opened up’ mineral should be colored using a mixture of a colorant ground with oil or resin to make it assume the appearance of a specific gemstone. The dyes and pigments used varied according to the type of gemstone that was to be imitated. A red dye made from alkanet root (used by ancient cloth dyers) was advised for the imitation of rubies and the green copper pigment verdigris was used to transform transparent minerals into emeralds. For my first reconstructions I choose to make a ‘fake’ emerald. It was one of the precious stones imitated the most frequently and the instructions for making it remained almost the same through (post-) classical and pre-modern times (fig. 3).

Fig. 3 Coloring of stones

Fig. 3 The coloring of stones

I first ground the pigment verdigris with linseed oil and used this substance to cover the base of a rock crystal, topaz and piece of selenite. This resulted in a beautiful, translucent green stone that, due to the instability of the pigment verdigris, in time assumed the saturated forest green color of a real emerald. Whereas more reconstructions are certainly required to investigate the nature of this method of gemstone imitation, these first experiments show that, when ancient sources insist how visually convincing the imitations of precious stones could be, they are probably not exaggerating.

Fig. 4 Emerald imitation

Fig. 4 Emerald imitation

Recommended reading:

Marjolijn Bol, ‘Coloring Topazes, Crystals and Moonstones: The making and meaning of factitious gems, 300-1500’, in Marco Beretta and Maria Conforti (eds.), F for Fakes: Hoaxes, Counterfeits and Deception in Early Modern Science, 2nd Watson Seminar in the History of Material and Visual Science, Museo Galileo, Florence, June 7, 2013, Science History Publications (Brill Publishers: 2014), pp. 108-129.

Earle R. Caley, “The Stockholm Papyrus: An English Translation with Brief Notes”, Journal of Chemical Education 4 (1927), pp. 979-1002.

Pliny, The Natural History, books 33-37 (book 36 includes Pliny’s natural history of stones): http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/hopper/text?doc=Plin.+Nat.+toc

Exploring CPP 10a214: Overlapping Territories

By Rebecca Laroche with Hillary Nunn

In her most recent entry in this series, Hillary Nunn showed through genealogical and geographical research how the Downings and the Layfields had people and places in common.  This month’s entry raises a related aspect of the manuscript construction as a whole and with it the question of whether or not the two compilers knew each other.  At two places in the manuscript, the two compilers, Calybute Downing, the hand seen here,

 oyleofswallowes

and E. Layfield, hand here,

 Probatum Anne Layfield

overlap. This overlap begins on page 74, where the Layfield hand first appears in the manuscript (with pointedly a gout recipe) and which is shared with a Downing recipe for a the scurvy.  The pages then alternate between the Downing hand (pages 75 and 77) and the Layfield hand (76 and 78).  The Layfield hand then takes over what had been the Downing portion with 10 pages that include the recipes from Anne Layfield herself. Now there is a lot of room for speculation in our interpretation of this meeting of the hands in the compilation, but it does suggest that some kind of exchange occurred. 

As has been mentioned before in this series, the manuscript as a whole exists in do-si-do format, and the reversed document starting from the opposite side (pages 241 – 207) is dominated by the Layfield hand.  But the page before that section (243) holds a recipe for the ague in the Downing hand reversed from the rest of the recipes in the section. The Downing hand appears again (229–27), in the same direction with the other Layfield recipes; this mini-series includes another recipe for the scurvy.

Now whether this overlap indicates anything more than shared scribes is again difficult to determine, but another intersection, the appearance of two attributions, Master Foule and Master Danell, in both in the Downing hand  and the Layfield hand suggests that two compilers occupied the same ground, either literally or socially, at some point in the construction of the manuscript.  In fact the names of Foule and Dauell (sic) first appear in the Downing hand at 74 and 75, respectively, during the transition into the Layfield section.[1]  Foule contributes three more recipes to the Downing collection and one to the Layfield section, while Mr. Danell or Danill is given credit for several recipes between pages 213 and 208. The identities of these two gentlemen may remain another of the College of Physicians’ many mysteries, but the further we articulate the overlapping terrain between the two dominant portions of this manuscript, the more cohesive the story it tells becomes.

[1] The spelling of Danell as Dauell follows the recurrent interchange between u-s and n-s in the Downing hand.