Category Archives: Ashley Buchanan

Dyeing to Be Cured

By Ashley Buchanan

Slipped within Anna Maria Luisa’s recipe collection is a small bound pamphlet that instructs the user how to tint or dye white marble various colors. In just sixteen pages, the unknown author details the ingredients, processes, and necessary apparatuses needed to create three different reds, two blues, three yellows, three greens, and even fake the signature black or grey veining of “pavonazzo” marble. While the secret to tinting natural looking marble was certainly valuable artisanal knowledge, it is the last three pages of the booklet that are particularly interesting. Without explanation, the pamphlet suddenly shifts topics and details “a particular secret for a styptic water that quickly stops bleeding wounds and torn guts.” The descriptive title continues by suggesting that you can “try it on a rooster by piercing its head with a sharp needle, and the rooster will heal in fifteen minutes.”

Title page of the pamphlet

The first step of the recipe instructs to dissolve a quarter of an ounce of rock alum in one ounce of “acqua rosa” (rose water), which was then added to a quart of “allume bruciato,” or calcined aluminum sulfate. This mixture was then placed in a “digestione,” which was an alchemical apparatus for distillation that dissolved a body in water or alcohol over mild heat. The recipe calls for the mixture to be heated for an hour and until clear. The second step in the recipe is to dissolve a quarter of an ounce of lead acetate in an ounce of distilled vinegar with one forth of pulverized candied sugar. For the third step, a fourth of pulverized copper sulfate from Cyprus is added to an ounce of “acqua di piantagine.” The fourth step calls for calcined red, or Roman vitriol (sulphuric acid) to be boiled with two ounces of urine from a healthy creature. The fifth and final step is to combine an ounce of strong lime into an eight of sublimated and pulverized mercury, which is “digested” to a clear heat for an hour. Once these five steps are completed, everything is to be mixed together in a flask for sublimation and to “digest” for twelve hours.

When I first came across this recipe I was unsure what to make of it, and its inclusion in a pamphlet dedicated to the act of tinting marble perplexed me. But as it turned out, this funny little pamphlet held the key to better understanding Anna Maria Luisa’s recipe collection as a whole. Recipes collected by women are traditionally viewed as domestic manuals used to safeguard the health of the home and treat commonplace illnesses. In general, and as previously discussed here on the Recipes Project, recipes were “repositories for useful knowledge” and share a desired goal to unlock nature’s secrets.[1] In the case of Anna Maria Luisa, however, useful knowledge extended beyond the preparation of simples and household medicines. Her recipe collection reveals an interest in collecting and amassing experiential alchemical knowledge. The creation of styptic water used the same ingredients, apparatuses, and alchemical processes detailed and drawn in the recipes for marble dyes that preceded it.

Detailed illustration showing how to set up the necessary alchemical apparatuses to create the marble dyes and styptic water.

In addition to highlighting one Princess’s interest in alchemy, this pamphlet also speaks to two important issues when studying early modern recipes from a modern perspective. First, science, medicine, and technology at the late Medici court existed in a world in which our modern categories of knowledge simply did not apply. In eighteenth century Florence, artisanal practices, science (or natural history), and medicine were closely connected thanks to alchemy. For the late Medici court, alchemy was not associated with the mysterious or the occult. Alchemy was an applied science that used experimental activities to investigate and transform nature. These practices produced experimental activities in metallurgy, refining salts, producing dyes and pigments, the manufacturing of man-made gemstones and stones, glass and ceramics, and the creation of chemical medicines. Each of these seemingly disparate pursuits were united by process rather than the specific product produced.

tThis early modern emphasis on process over product brings me to the second issue concerning the studying early modern recipes. While recipes are certainly important historical objects, they are often closely associated with or celebrated for the product they produce. This emphasis on product over process, however, can belie the true value of many recipes. As is in the case of the styptic water. Was Anna Maria Luisa interested in tinting marble or was she interested in better understanding complex alchemical processes that could transform nature and the human body? Thanks to this pamphlet, I now argue the latter.

 

[1] I am borrowing a working definition of early modern recipes from the Recipes Project post, “What is a Recipe?”

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.

Testing Drugs and Trying Cures Workshop Summary

By Ashley Buchanan and Tillman Taape

What did it mean to test a drug or try a cure in the early modern world? This was the central question for a group of scholars who gathered for a workshop at Max Planck Institute for the History of Science in Berlin, Germany.  Since recipes emerged as one of the key themes throughout the workshop, and because the conference’s location in Berlin made it difficult for scholars outside of Europe to attend, we thought we might share a brief summary of the “Testing Drugs and Trying Cures” papers, in the hopes that we could bring the workshop’s key ideas and discussions to a larger audience.  What emerged from an exhilarating two days of discussion and debate was the conclusion that historians of science and medicine should not privilege experiment and experimentation as fixed categories, but should understand the multiple ways in which physicians, apothecaries, artisans, institutions, and individuals in the early modern world tested, tried, investigated, experienced, modified, observed, and measured medicinal remedies and materiae medicae.

As written forms of medical and pharmaceutical knowledge and practice, recipes played an important part in the testing of drugs and cures, and our discussion raised larger questions surrounding the nature and purpose of an early modern recipe.

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A miniature depicting the Schola Medica Salernitana from a copy of Avicenna’s Canons.  From Wikimedia Commons.

Michael McVaugh’s paper opened the discussion by exploring how medieval physicians went about testing drugs. Learned doctors in the Middle Ages might appear helplessly hidebound, and inclined to follow ancient authorities over experimentation. In contrast, McVaugh showed how a group of Montpellier physicians in the fourteenth century established something of an experimental program. Medieval physicians, however, were not testing to find a cure, but to determine the quality, strength, and effectiveness of a drug as it pertained to a particular person’s complexion. McVaugh underscored an important difference in the purpose of medieval drug testing. Physicians tested not for universal effectiveness, but to determine the quality of a drug – was it hot, cold, moist, or dry.

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Title page of the Academy’s Observations sur les eaux minérales (1675). From http://cures.hypotheses.org/the-workshop/programme-2/bycroft-michael

Although it became clear in our roundtable discussion that we should be wary of labeling such practices as obvious precursors to the experimental philosophies of the Scientific Revolution, many of the papers showed that the importance of specific tests resonated throughout the early modern period. Evan Ragland’s paper, for example, traced the use of the phrase periculum facere (‘to make a trial’) in physicians’ writings on medicine, anatomy and chemistry. Similarly, Michael Bycroft showed that French physicians and chemical experts of the Académie des Sciences became increasingly interested in the exact composition of mineral waters. Contrived tests such as color indicators or the analysis of residues after evaporation increasingly became the touchstone of proper inquiry.

McVaugh, Ragland, and Bycroft’s papers all underscored the need to understand the specific nature and purpose of testing in each historical context. Continuing to emphasize the importance of historical context, Francesco Paulo de Ceglia’s paper showed just how different the purpose of testing could be in the context of seventeenth century blood miracles in the Kingdom of Naples. Catholics tested the liquefaction of the blood of their patron saint to explore the limits of nature. By discovering nature’s limits, you could then determine what was truly miraculous. Protestants, on the other hand, tested various materials and recipes to recreate the liquefaction of blood to cast doubt on the alleged miracle.

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Reliquary containing a glass ampoule of San Gennaro’s blood. From La Repubblica.

In the context of testing, drugs and cures are often under scrutiny in the form of recipes detailing their production and administration. While recipes emerged from many of the papers as very important forms of knowledge, it proved virtually impossible to define exactly what a recipe was. Recipes can be very short or very detailed, ranging from a mere list of ingredients to careful step-by-step instructions. If there is one thing recipes have in common, it is the need for testing, trying, modifying and adapting to different conditions. While constructing an all-encompassing definition of a recipe proved futile, all agreed that it was fruitful to understand recipes as an important genre in early modern science and medicine.

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From http://www.gn.geschichte.uni-muenchen.de/aktuelles/archiv_2011/archiv_2013/science_and_medicine/index.html

For her investigation on the testing practices of Venetian apothecaries, Valentina Pugliano emphasized the difference between experiment and experience. Venetian apothecaries were less concerned with testing drugs (in a traditional sense) than they were with the experience or truthfulness of their ingredients. Testing by inspection, smell and taste was also important in this pharmaceutical context, to ensure that the ingredients were what the merchant had promised them to be, and not a cheap substitute with inferior properties. For Pugliano’s apothecaries, the important issue that required testing was the authenticity of the ingredients rather than the efficacy of the finished product; after all, most preparations had proved their worth since antiquity. Like McVaugh, Pugliano questioned traditional “Baconian” understandings of what it meant to experiment and test and argued for more nuanced notions of testing and trying, which included observing, measuring, evaluating, and experiencing.

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Title page of Johannes Christophorus Homann’s Dissertatio inauguralis medica de medicinae cum geosophia nexu quam auspice deo prpitio (Hala Madgeburica, Hendelius, 1725). From http://cures.hypotheses.org/the-workshop/programme-2/boumediene-samir

With early modern Europeans’ increasing forays into the New World, however, more and more materiae medicae were found which were absent from ancient medical writings. Pliny and Dioscorides were silent on such substances as guaiacum wood, Peruvian bark or New World balsam, so their medicinal properties had to be newly investigated. Antonio Barrera-Osorio and Samir Boumediene’s papers added America, or the New World, into the discussion. Both emphasized the role of new drugs and materia medica in the rise of European experimental practices. New drugs and new medicinal recipes required new ways of testing.

Antonio Barrera-Osorio’s paper argued for an empirical culture in the Spanish empire, which was well suited to respond to these challenges. He showed how his protagonists gathered information about New World remedies from natives or travellers and experimented with ways of preparing them. Some of these drugs and recipes were deemed so important for the economy and health of the empire that the Spanish crown ordered tests in hospitals all over Castile. Samir Boumediene’s paper elaborated on the issue of making workable recipes for newly discovered drugs. Once more, taste and smell were important assays, but drugs such as guaiacum and Peruvian bark were also tested on a larger scale. Dispensing them to the poor inmates of charitable hospitals (as happened in France and Germany) helped to determine their effect, and to establish recipes, which indicated how to adjust the treatment in individual cases.

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Andreas Cleyer, Specimen Medicinae Sinicae (Frankfurt, 1682). From http://cures.hypotheses.org/the-workshop/programme-2/hanson-marta-and-pomata-gianna

Gianna Pomata and Marta Hanson’s paper showed how recipes also functioned as vehicles of knowledge between different cultures. Recipes, as either formula or prescription, were both found in European and Chinese medical cultures. According to Pomata and Hanson, it was the familiar genre of the recipe that facilitated the transmission of Chinese pharmacology to Europe in the second half of the seventeenth century. Similarly, Carla Nappi argued that the Manchu medicinal recipes of the Qing court were spaces of encounter and medical translation in the early modern world. Pomata, Hanson, and Nappi demonstrated how the recipe served as the common ground between European and Chinese medicine and made the translation of Chinese pulse medicine and the transmission of Chinese materia medica possible in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries.

Although recipes are difficult to characterize as a genre, it is clear that they are fascinating objects of historical study. More often than not, they are fluid rather than fixed forms of knowledge, requiring adaptation at every turn. They bring together ingredients, practices and often practitioners from all over the world, and themselves have a tendency to aggregate into larger collections. As written manifestations of gestures and processes, they play an important part in testing, assessing and modifying drugs and cures.

An early summer round-up…

By Elaine Leong

Walking down the streets of Berlin, the signs of early summer are everywhere. The flower stalls are selling five different kinds of peonies, the asparagus season is beginning to wane and, my most favourite of all, little strawberry-shaped kiosks have popped up all over the city offering delicious, juicy fruits which have never seen the inside of a refrigerator. For those of us in academia, early summer means more than just the long-awaited strawberry season: the end of the academic year and a summer away from the bricks and mortar of our institutions in a far away archive. Long sunny days filled with reading and more reading… Before we all scatter for the summer, I wanted to write a post to celebrate and highlight the work of some of our contributors.  For the past two years, a wonderful group of graduate students have been sharing their ideas with us on the blog bringing us cutting-edge research and fresh ideas. Just in case you missed their posts, this is a handy round-up!

Katherine Allen (Oxford, History of Medicine), has been telling us about a diverse range of topics over the past two years from tobacco smoke enemas to how eighteenth-century English men and women fought off coughs and colds to distillation and alchemy. When not blogging, she is completing her thesis titled ‘Recipe Books and the Exchange of Medical Knowledge in Eighteenth-Century English Households’ (projected submission date: summer 2015). Her work deals with the material and social history of manuscript collections of medical recipes in eighteenth-century England, and their role in domestic medicine.

Colleen E. Kennedy (Ohio State University, English Literature) has enticed us with her posts about sweet (and not so sweet) smells, perfumes and poetry.  Her dissertation ‘Comparisons Are Odorous: The Early Modern English Olfactory and Literary Imagination’ enhances the vibrant critical conversation about early modern embodiment, affect theory, and sensory history by following different whiffs of the highly subjective past. By exploring the complexities of aromatic discourse in early modern literature, she recovers a lexicon of olfactory imagery and stereotypes, challenge modern assumptions about early modern stench and hygienic practices, and suggest new ways of gaining access to the early modern cultural imagination. You can also follow Colleen’s work at: http://colleenekennedy.wordpress.com/.

Tillmann Taape (Cambridge, HPS and MPIWG, History of Science) is a first-year PhD student writing a thesis titled ‘Hieronymus Brunschwig and the making of vernacular medicine in early modern Europe’.  His research investigates the intersection of learned and artisanal knowledge in Brunschwig’s writings on surgery and distillation.  In the last year, Tillmann has told us stories about an alchemical disaster (complete with an exploding still and knocked-out practitioner), ‘coded’ plague remedies and ‘distilling the essence of heaven’.

Ashley Buchanan (University of South Florida, History) has introduced us to the world of the last Medici Princess, Anna Maria Luisa de’ Medici (1667-1743). Her posts on Anna Maria Luisa’s recipe collection has transported us to back to eighteenth-century Florence with virtual tours around the Medici Granducal Fonderia and an introduction to a miraculous powder purported to treat infant convulsions.  In the next couple of years, Ashley will spend much of her time in the Archivio di Stato in Florence.  Her dissertation aims to explore Anna Maria Luisa’s role in the in the collection and production of early eighteenth-century medicinal therapeutics and alchemical knowledge. In particular, Ashley is interested in tracing the networks through which Anna Maria Luisa procured and disseminated her exotic raw materials and “secret” remedies, as well as, to understand the desire for elite women to participate in such activities and the social capital they created for themselves in the process.

Rachel Snell’s (University of Maine, History) dissertation is provisionally titled: ‘“Mistress, Mother, Nurse and Maid”: Domesticity and Women’s Work in the Anglo-American World, 1828-1876’ (project completion date 2015/16). Her project is driven by the question – how did the ideaology of domesticity function in ordinary women’s lives? It focuses on printed and manuscript cookbooks through a comparative Atlantic history perspective on the cultural construction and the lived experience of domesticity in Great Britain, the United States, and Canada. Over the last few months, Rachel has shared her experiences working with historical GIS and in her quantitative analysis of annotations in Maria Rundell’s A New System of Domestic Cookery.

With the working title ‘Food Fit for a King? Dining Culture at the Rising Court of Brandenburg-Prussia under the ‘Great Elector’ Friedrich Wilhelm: 1640-1688’, Molly Taylor-Poleskey’s (Stanford, History) dissertation (planned completion date summer 2015) follows the rise of the House of Brandenburg-Prussia during the reign of Elector Friedrich Wilhelm through the cultural lens of food and dining at court. This angle allows her to zoom in to the minute rituals of everyday dining at court (which reified the court’s internal social structure) and also to look at matters of import on the wider European political stage (such as the acquisition of resources from territorial gains). The topic of food offers her the opportunity to connect political cultural history with medical, environmental and commercial history to understand the motivations of the people involved in the court’s rise. Since joining the project, Molly has shared with us the fascinating histories of our favourite Christmas treat the lebkuchen and the best (?) breakfast in the world – beer soup.

Sally Osborn (University of Roehampton, History) is currently in the final stages of completing her thesis ‘The role of domestic knowledge in an era of professionalisation: Eighteenth-century manuscript medical recipe collections’ (planned completion date 2015). Her project concentrates on exploring medical recipe books as a form of domestic record-keeping. In the last two years, Sally has regularly shared her ideas with readers on The Recipes Project including posts prompting us to ponder on ‘what is a recipe?’, 18th century DIY and ingredient substitution. Sally blogs at http://18thcenturyrecipes.wordpress.com and can frequently be found on Twitter, @sallyosborn.