Category Archives: Politics

The Politics of Chocolate: Cosimo III’s Secret Jasmine Chocolate Recipe

By Ashley Buchanan

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Redi’s secret recipe, which has recently been recreated by a chocolatier in Sicily. Image Credit: http://www.italymagazine.com/featured-story/medicis-favourite-jasmine-chocolate-recreated-sicily

By 1708 the Medici grand ducal “spezieria, or pharmacy, had grown into a complex of eleven rooms located in the main ducal residence, the Palazzo Pitti. It included a medical laboratory for the production of alchemical medicines, a pharmacy for the production of herbals, syrups and powders, and a distillery for the production of medicinal waters, tinctures, and liquors. When foreign guests, dignitaries, and members of the court entered the spezieria they were greeted with stuffed exotic animals like armadillos and crocodiles. The first room of the spezieria was dedicated to one activity in particular – the consumption of chocolate. This wasn’t just any chocolate, however, it was a secret and highly coveted recipe for jasmine chocolate.

According to Francesco Redi (1626 – 1697), chocolate arrived in Florence in 1606 and was presented to Duke Ferdinando I by Francesco d’Antonio Carletti, who had just returned from a journey through the East Indies. This story is likely apocryphal, however, and it would take another five decades before drinking chocolate for its medicinal effects was popularized in Florence. Redi, who was a poet, head physician to the grand duke, scientist, and superintendent of the royal pharmacy, wrote that chocolate had become popular in noble houses and princely courts because it could fortify the stomach and improve overall health. He also explained that while the Spanish were the first to receive and manipulate chocolate, the court in Tuscany was the first to infuse chocolate with flavors such as fresh citron, limoncello, jasmine, cinnamon, vanilla, and amber.

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Cosimo III de’ Medici Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons

In an attempt to compete with the popularity of Spanish chocolate, Cosimo III commissioned Redi to create a proprietary chocolate recipe. Drawing on his alchemical knowledge, Redi created a complex and elaborate recipe for the grand duke. The process for creating jasmine chocolate, as it was known, took more than ten days and thousands of jasmine flowers. Not only was jasmine chocolate a testament to the duke’s wealth and the abilities of the grand ducal spezieria, it was also a symbol of Medici taste, refinement, and power. Jasmine chocolate quickly became popular at the Florentine court and a closely guarded state secret. Cosimo III forbade anyone from writing or publishing the recipe and this refined beverage could only be consumed at court or in the noblest of houses. The manipulation and production of chocolate in the grand ducal spezieria was a powerful instrument in the world of early modern statecraft. For Cosimo III chocolate was an important political statement. The acquisition of cacao from the West Indies, not New Spain, its manipulation using Medici knowledge of iatrochemistry, and ceremonial consumption at court were mechanisms of statecraft – an attempt to appear more worldly, knowledgeable, and regal than the Spanish court.

The seventeenth century was a period of intensifying centralization, rivalry, and conflict among the states of Europe. As the duke of a smaller state, Cosimo III was caught between France, England, and Spain on one side, and the Holy Roman Empire on the other. Cosimo negotiated tirelessly to appease both sides, attempting to secure important marriage alliances that would ensure the status and independence of the Grand Duchy of Tuscany. In 1689, Cosimo III was offended to learn that the Duke of Savoy had purchased the style of Royal Highness from Spain, a title Cosimo had been vying for. With the marriage of his daughter to the Elector Palatine, Cosimo was finally given royal status from the Holy Roman Emperor. Thus, from 1689 Cosimo III was recognized as His Royal Highness, The Most Serene Grand Duke of Tuscany. Cosimo III also found himself having to compete culturally and intellectually within an expanding global colonial market. Without colonies and heirs, Cosimo faced the difficult task of preserving the prestige and autonomy of Florence. In this context, the royal spezieria takes on an important significance.

Cosimo’s interest in chocolate, and pharmaceutical patronage in general, was a product of both his personal interest and political needs. At the dawn of the eighteenth century, Cosimo III still had no grandchildren. Not only did France and Spain continue to refuse to recognize Cosimo’s royal title, the new Holy Roman Emperor Joseph I also refused and attempted to extract massive feudal dues from Cosimo in 1705. Cosimo was also keenly aware that his death brought about unanswerable questions concerning Tuscan succession and independence. The grand ducal spezieria produced tangible medical therapeutics, which could prolong the health and life of the aging grand duke, so that he could protect the Medici state and manage its succession. Furthermore, therapeutics, such as secret chocolate recipes, functioned as valuable gifts that could aid in solidifying political alliances and interpersonal relationships with important elite families across Europe, relationships that could aid Cosimo as he attempted to ensure the survival of Medici prestige and autonomy of the Tuscan State.

When Physicians Give Up: Anna Maria Luisa de’ Medici’s Infant Convulsion Powder

By Ashley Buchanan

Anna Maria Luisa de' Medici
Anna Maria Luisa de’ Medici by Antonio Franchi [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
On July 19, 1736, Baroness Massimilianna Moltke wrote Anna Maria Luisa, the Electress Palatine and last Medici princess, to thank her for sending a “miraculous powder” to treat infant convulsions, or “male caduco.” In the letter sent from Vienna to Florence, the Baroness stated that the powder had had extraordinary effects on three children from the most important families of Vienna. She went on to explain that these children had been so violently taken by convulsions that the physicians had “given up on them.” Not only had the powder from “la Serenissima Elettrice” cured the children, the baroness also stated that a number of months had passed and the children remained in perfect health. The baroness concluded her letter by thanking Anna Maria Luisa and assuring the Medici princess that the three most prominent families of Vienna would be eternally grateful and would always remember “Vostra Altezza Elettorale e Serenissima” for her generous gift.

Of the over two hundred culinary, alchemical, and medicinal recipes that Anna Maria Luisa de’ Medici (1667-1743), collected during her life and which are preserved in the Archivio di Stato of Florence, this one recipe for infant convulsions stands out.[1] The recipe called for the precipitated powder of three ounces of human skull from a person who had died violently but had not been buried, two ounces of oriental pearls, and two ounces of red and white coral. These precipitated powders were then combined with one ounce of amber, one ounce of peony root, and one ounce of peony seeds. The recipe then instructed that all the ingredients be pulverized together and passed through a fine sieve.

Once the powder was prepared, the recipe then prescribed giving five grains of it to the afflicted child. Requested by elite men and women in numerous epistolary exchanges, this powder was continually lauded for its extraordinary effects in curing infants of life-threatening convulsions.

The letter of Baroness Moltke is just one of many letters concerning a medicinal remedy that the electress exchanged with Italian and European noblemen and women. Anna Maria Luisa’s recipe for infant convulsion powder and the epistolary exchange that promoted it were part of a system of courtly gift giving which supported the personal and familial strategies of the European nobility. While women could not participate directly in the new court science of experimentation, recipes represented an acceptable means to access, exchange, experiment with, and distribute medical knowledge.  As the letters exchanged between the Medici princess and European nobility show, the infant convulsion powder became a meaningful and lucrative form of social currency in court politics.

The worth of this powder lay in the nature of the victims it reputedly cured. The ability to treat and cure such an ailment that affected the children of elite families garnered great social and political capital. It is no coincidence that the three children Anna Maria Luisa “cured” in Vienna belonged to three of the most important families of that country. By 1737 Anna Maria Luisa’s social and political position was tenuous—she was the last of the Medici line. Born in 1667 in Florence, Anna Maria Luisa was the only daughter and second child of Cosimo III, Grand Duke of Tuscany.  In 1691, she was married to Johann Wilhelm II (1658-1716), Elector Palatine.  She lived in Düsseldorf, her husband’s capital, until his death in 1716. A year later Anna Maria Luisa returned to her native Florence. During Anna Maria Luisa’s twenty-six year absence neither of her brothers, Ferdinando or Gian Gastone (1671–1737), had produced a Medici heir. By 1737 the Medici state would become a Hapsburg satellite, ruled by the Lorraine dynasty.

As a widow and last member of the Medici line, Anna Maria Luisa would have played little significance in the social and political negotiations and familial dynastic strategies of early modern Europe. However, as a source of medical knowledge—via a recipe—and the keeper of a powder that was widely distributed and known to cure infant convulsions, she possessed an important commodity for elite families. Paradoxically, Anna Maria Luisa was able to do for others what she could not do for her own family line: ensure its continuation. By distributing her prized remedy, Anna Maria Luisa created political alliances and interpersonal relationships with important elite families across Europe. Relationships she could call upon as she carried out the difficult tasks of managing the difficult transfer of power to the Lorraine dynasty and ensuring her personal legacy.

 


[1] A special thanks to the Medici Archive Project whose generous Samuel Freeman Charitable Trust fellowship made this research possible.

The Politics of Food: Food in History at the Anglo-American Conference 2013

Editors’ note: This is our second conference report on the Anglo-American Conference 2013. Sally Osborn’s post considers the domestic and institutional spaces of food.

By Rachel Rich

I started working on food history in 1996. People often smirked when I mentioned it. It seemed like a little topic, something that wouldn’t help answer the big questions about human identity and experience. Yet eating is one of the few universals: thinking about how differently it has been organised across time and space provides amazing insights into class, gender and ethnic identities. With the choice of ‘Food in History’ as the theme for this year’s Anglo-American Conference, food history has finally come of age. A wide range of periods were covered, from classical antiquity to the Arab spring, and everything in between. Some people discussed a particular food, such as milk or bread. One intriguing paper (by Rebecca Ford, University of Nottingham) was even more specific, focusing on the social and cultural geography of watercress in nineteenth-century England. But ‘Food in History’ was given a wide scope, going far beyond discussions of food and recipes, in ways that showed the possibility for telling all sorts of cultural and political stories by understanding what we eat, with whom, how we shop for it, and the routes it has had to travel to reach us.

Read the rest of this post (complete with some of the Twitter discussion!) on Storify: http://storify.com/historecipes/the-politics-of-food-thinking-of-the-food-history/.