Category Archives: Germany

‘Thus it prevails against its time’: distillation and cycles of nature in early modern pharmacy

By Tillmann Taape

In past centuries, devoid of freezers and heated greenhouses, the seasons affected medicines as well as foodstuffs. In addition to pickled vegetables and stored grain, early modern people worried about their provisions of healing plants and animal substances. These, too, had their season: many herbs were considered most powerful when picked in May, and ‘May dew’ collected from fragrant meadows at this time of year was said to have many healing properties. In his Destillierbücher (distillation manuals), published in the early sixteenth century, the Strasbourg surgeon-apothecary Hieronymus Brunschwig addresses the challenges which arise in pharmacy from nature’s cyclical changes. He explains that most preparations of fresh medicinal herbs are ‘unkeepable’. For example, ‘if you pound herbs, roots or other substances and squeeze the juice from it, then it becomes unpleasant, does not last, […] and soon putrid corruption ensues’.[1] Even with dried materia medica and compound drugs, their medicinal virtues faded over time.

Brunschwig knew this all too well from personal experience. As an apothecary running his own shop near the fish market, maintaining a stock of efficacious remedies was his chief responsibility and expertise. The issue of pharmaceutical provisioning was taken very seriously by Strasbourg’s magistrates. Twice a year, they would send round a committee of medical experts to all apothecary shops, to ensure that no perished goods were stocked, and to throw away any that had gone off.

An apothecary pounding medicines. Brunschwig, Liber de arte distillandi de compositis (Strasbourg, 1512), fol. 6v. © Wellcome Library, London

Brunschwig’s understanding of the material world was shaped by his experience as a pharmacist and shopkeeper, but also by the cosmology and medical theory of his day. While the heavenly spheres were characterised by material perfection and changelessness, all matter on earth was made up of the four elements (air, water,fire, earth) and subject to their constant permutations. They were doomed to endless cycles of generation, change, and decay. Material stability was only possible where the elements were in perfect balance, ‘as you can see in May when it is neither too dry nor too humid, neither too warm nor too cold’.[2]

Brunschwig’s seasonal simile is revealing: a perfect balance of elements is just as rare and fleeting as those precious few balmy weeks in May. As well as pointing to the instability of all earthly matter, the language of seasons and their cold, hot, dry or moist qualities was associated with early modern ideas about the stages of human life. Youth, health, reproduction, decline and death were analogous with the annual cycle of flourishing and decay in nature – a relationship which is richly illustrated in a set of anonymous seventeenth-century engravings (see here for an interactive digital reproduction). The idea of changing seasons was emblematic of an early modern view of the material world which was characterised by instability. Human bodies fluctuated with the shifting balance of their humours, and the very substances which could be used to cure the resulting ailments were themselves fleeting and, in Brunschwig’s words, ‘unkeepable’.

Faced with such difficulties, Brunschwig and others turned to a branch of knowledge with a longstanding commitment to imitating and manipulating natural processes underlying the transformations of matter: alchemy. In particular, Brunschwig describes distillation as a powerful artisanal technique to ‘keep the unkeepable’.[3] Distillation was the art of separation, and in the case of medicinal simples, Brunschwig claimed, their ‘soul’ or healing virtue could be separated from their ‘body’, that is to say the material dross made up of the problematic four elements. Thus liberated, the healing ‘spirit’ of a plant in the form of a distilled water could be bottled and neatly stored on Brunschwig’s alphabetically ordered shelf, where they would keep well beyond their harvest season, for up to three years. Later Destillierbücher echo the idea that one can ‘keep these waters over the year’ as a major selling point of distilled remedies.[4]

While distillation in theory had the power to produce pure and incorruptible ‘quintessences’, this was far too laborious for everyday pharmaceutical practice. Brunschwig wrote for an audience of ‘common men’ as well as artisan colleagues, and most of the distilled remedies he discusses are much more pedestrian. They still have some of the elemental qualities of the original herb, and are ultimately perishable. Compared to ‘unkeepable’ plant juice, however, their decay is slower and more predictable. Brunschwig confidently charts the decline and change in a water’s healing powers over the years, and even gives instructions for ‘recharging’ them. A water can be saved by infusing it with fresh herbs and distilling it once more – thus, Brunschwig reassures his readers, a distilled remedy can ‘prevail against its time’ for another year.[5]

In the early modern world of matter, the seasons symbolised cycles of change and decay which spelled trouble for healers and makers of medicines. In some of the earliest vernacular works on pharmacy, Brunschwig describes distillation as a powerful tool for defying the material corruption of seasonal changes.

[1] Brunschwig, Liber de arte distillandi de simplicibus… (Strasbourg, 1500), sig. C1v.

[2] Brunschwig, Liber der arte distulandi simplicia… (Strasbourg, 1509), fol. 36v.

[3] Brunschwig, Liber de arte distillandi de simplicibus… (Strasbourg, 1500), sig. C1v.

[4] Eucharius Röslin, Kreutterbuoch von allem Erdtgewaechs… (Frankfurt, 1533), title page verso.

[5] Brunschwig, Liber der arte distulandi simplicia… (Strasbourg, 1509), fol. 18v.

 

The Fruits of Summer in the Dead of Winter

Molly Taylor-Poleskey

In the seventeenth century, life ebbed and flowed with the seasons. In my research into the court household of Berlin, I noted seasonal shifts in livery, lighting, bedtimes, and, of course, recipes. Even with these seasonal adaptations, however, early modern Europeans sought to overcome seasonal growing constraints. One occupation primarily concerned with defying the seasonality of food was that of the court confectioner. It was his (and his wife’s) job to preserve the delicate summer fruits for wealthy Europeans to enjoy even in the depths of winter.

Nicolas de Bonnefons described the rewards of this play with the seasons in his 1654 Les Delices de la campagne, which was translated into English and German and even republished by a Berlin court physician, Johann Sigismund Elsholtz. Bonnefons raptured:

There is nothing which doth more agreeably concern the senses, than in the depth of Winter to behold the fruits so fair, and so good, yea, better than when you first did gather them; and that then, when the trees seem to be dead, and have lost all their Verdure, and the rigour of the cold to have so dispoil’d your garden of all that imbellished it, that it appears rather a desart [sic] than a paradise of delicacies; then it is, I say, that you will taste your fruit with infinite more Gust and contentment, than in the summer it self, when their great abundance and variety rather cloy you than become agreeable. For this reason therefore it is, that we will essay to teach you the most expedite, and certain means how to conserve them all the winter, even so long, as till the new shall incite you to quite the old.[1]

A view into the confectioner’s kitchen in The French gardiner, 1691,

Considering Bonnefons emphatic endorsement of summer fruits in winter, it is perhaps not surprising that confectioners were highly valued in Europe. The moist and cold properties of fresh fruit generally made it a nutritional no-no, according to Galenic principles of diet. However, candied fruits were considered medicinal and the position of court confectioner often fell under the office of the apothecary, not the kitchen.[2] In the Renaissance, it was common to seal the stomach at the end of a rich meal with either fresh or preserved fruits and fruit at a meal was emblematic of the wealth and refinement of the host.[3] By the eighteenth century, the task of the confectioner to create elaborate sugar sculptures for the table was so ingrained that one encyclopedist claimed they belonged to the artist class and prospects had to apprentice themselves to a city confectioner for six years until they had mastered their art.[4] 

Georg Flegel (1566–1638), Still life with cookies and confections (including dried cherries).

The importance of the confectioner is apparent at the court at Berlin in the seventeenth century. The household archives contain a frantic exchange from 1647 between the Great Elector Friedrich Wilhelm (1620-1688) and his counselors about finding a replacement for the deceased confectioner, Johann Schenke, whose wife did not want to carry on the job. It being early summer (Jun 27), the councilors expressed the pressing need to fill the vacancy because “now is the best time for juices and other garden fruits to be preserved.”[5] Friedrich Wilhelm ordered them to install the Prussian confectioner, Johann Tiegel, in the position. He wrote that although they would eventually draw up a contract for him, Tiegel should get started immediately collecting the fruit from the gardens and bringing them to the elector’s tables with the appropriate confections.[6]

When it was finally written, the court confectioner’s employment contract specified the supplies he would receive to carry out his charge: 700 Reichsthaler (in addition to his 80 Reichstaler salary), 960 eggs, as much flour and fruit as needed (from the gardens and from in-kind taxes), 1000 citrons, 1000 bitter oranges, as well as a supply of wood, coal and candles.[7] Occasionally, the confectioner did not get the necessary supplies, which hindered his ability to preserve fruits and was costly for the court. In 1657, Friedrich Wilhelm ordered that Tiegel surely be supplied with apples, cherries, and Black Corinths (Johannisbeere in German) in order to avoid the great expense of having to buy confections from outside of the palace, which had been necessary the previous year.[8]

Cherries were the first ripe fruits of the summer. The sandy soil of Brandenburg was well-suited to growing cherries and in 1656, there were eight varieties of cherries cataloged in the palace garden of Berlin.[9] Dr. Elsholtz wrote that cherries were ripe in June and July and described their consumption: “one eats cherries either fresh or cooked into a soup, or dried, or preserved with sugar. Some make cherry water or a syrup.”[10] Here is a translation of one such cherry recipe reprinted by Elsholtz from Bonnefons:

One makes the cherry syrup from the good, ripe cherry juice, which you press through a hair or linen cloth. For every quart of this juice, add a pound of sugar, boil that to a thick syrup. To clarify this syrup, let it run through a distillation sack.”[11]

Elsholtz’s descriptions also correspond with the menus and food receipts from the Brandenburg-Prussian household archive, which frequently list the ordering or consumption of dried cherries and cherry sauce (Kirschmus), in particular.

In some popular food literature today, there’s nostalgia for a time when humans adhered more closely to the foods nature provided each season. Even prior to industrialization, however, people clearly prized the rarity of a taste of an off-season food. What the archival record reveals, though, is that early modern Europeans of all orders were still hyper aware of what foods were available when and were careful about timing the work of preservation accordingly.

[1] Nicolas de Bonnefons, John Evelyn, and John Rose, The French Gardiner (London: Printed by F.B. for B. Took, and are to be sold by J. Taylor, 1691), p. 191-2. https://hdl.handle.net/2027/uc1.31822031020266?urlappend=%3Bseq=218.

[2] This was the case in Berlin. See Peter Bahl, Der Hof des Grossen Kurfürsten: Studien zur hoheren Amtsträgerschaft Brandenburg-Preussens (Koln: Bohlau, 2001), p. 365.

[3] Ken Albala, The Banquet: Dining in the Great Courts of Late Renaissance Europe (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2007), p. 82-89.

[4] Johann Georg Krünitz, “Conditor,” Oekonomischen Encyklopädie oder allgemeines System der Staats- Stadt- Haus- und Landwirthschaft (Berlin: Pauli, 1773), http://www.kruenitz1.uni-trier.de/.

[5] Geheimes Staatsarchiv Preussischer Kulturbesitz I. Rep. 36 948, p. 57

[6] Ibid, p. 63.

[7] Ibid, p. 55. There is no mention of the quantity of sugar the confectioner would receive, but an earlier missive from the previous elector ordered the Office of the Domains (Amtskammer) to supply the confectioner with enough sugar for the dried fruits coming in as taxes-in-kind from the administrative districts (Ämter). Ibid, p. 16.

[8] Ibid. p. 73.

[9] Marina Heilmeyer, Kirschen für den König, Potsdamer pomologische Geschichten (Potsdam: Vacat, 2001), p. 10. Johann Sigismund Elsholtz’s 1656 plant catalog Horta Berolinensis can be found at the Staatsbibliothek Berlin Ms.boruss.qu. 12.

[10] Elßholtz, Vom Garten-Baw (Berlin, 1684), p. 258.  Ibid, Diaeteticon (Cölln an der Spree: Georg Schulz, 1682), p. 61.

[11] Ibid, p. 436-7. I translated Viertal as quart and “Luttersack” as distillation sack. There’s a picture of a 19th-century Luttersack here (item 30). According to Adelung, the Lutter is what came out of the first pass through the fire when making brandy (which required two firings).

An Early Modern DIY Guide to Making Paper

By Gabriella Szalay

After about half an hour of working it over everything was already so small and delicate that I could scoop, or rather make fine sheets out of it. These sheets allowed themselves to be neatly pressed on to felt, removed from the same and hung up. After they had dried, I was able to size and burnish them[1]

Penned by the Regensburg pastor and naturalist Jacob Christian Schäffer (1718-1790), these words provide a succinct description of the paper making process in the early modern period. They teach us that select raw materials were first turned into a pulp by fermenting them, and then stamping them with wooden hammers operated by a mill or beating them with the metal blades of a Hollander beater. They also tell us that this pulp was then formed into sheets using a mould. These sheets were in turn transferred onto felt blankets in order to soak up the water that helped facilitate stamping and beating. After this they were hung up to dry in a well-ventilated area. Paper intended for printing or writing was then covered with a thin layer of sizing, which typically consisted of animal glue, so that it could better retain ink. Finally, it was rubbed with a flat, hard tool until it achieved a clean finish.

Caption Sorting, Fermenting and Washing of Linen Rags, Encyclopédie ou Dictionnaire raisonné des sciences, des arts et des métiers. Image Credit: Dibner Library of the History of Science and Technology, Smithsonian Institution Libraries
Sorting, Fermenting and Washing of Linen Rags, Encyclopédie ou Dictionnaire raisonné des sciences, des arts et des métiers. Image Credit: Dibner Library of the History of Science and Technology, Smithsonian Institution Libraries

What Schäffer’s text does not tell us that the paper that concerned him was in many ways atypical. It was not made from the macerated linen (i.e. flax) or hemp rags that had served as the material of choice among European paper makers since the thirteenth century.

Caption Paper made from Wasps’ Nests, Jacob Christian Schäffer’s Versuche und Muster ohne alle Lumpen oder doch noch mit einem geringen Zusatze derselben Papier zu machen. Image Credit: Dibner Library of the History of Science and Technology, Smithsonian Institution Libraries
Caption Paper made from Wasps’ Nests, Jacob Christian Schäffer’s Versuche und Muster ohne alle Lumpen oder doch noch mit einem geringen Zusatze derselben Papier zu machen. Image Credit: Dibner Library of the History of Science and Technology, Smithsonian Institution Libraries

Rather, as he revealed in a subsequent passage, “it was for me an extremely pleasurable sight, to once again have produced such fine paper from wasps’ nests!”[2]

 

Title Page, Jacob Christian Schäffer’s Versuche und Muster ohne alle Lumpen oder doch noch mit einem geringen Zusatze derselben Papier zu machen. Image Credit: Dibner Library of the History of Science and Technology, Smithsonian Institution Libraries
Title Page, Jacob Christian Schäffer’s Versuche und Muster ohne alle Lumpen oder doch noch mit einem geringen Zusatze derselben Papier zu machen. Image Credit: Dibner Library of the History of Science and Technology, Smithsonian Institution Libraries

A complete description of Schäffer’s attempts to make paper from wasps’ nests and other ‘exotic’ materials appears in Versuche und Muster ohne alle Lumpen oder doch noch mit einem geringen Zusatze derselben Papier zu machen (1765). The first of six volumes published by Schäffer on what I call paper trials, it begins with an account of how for generations men of learning had been experimenting with material substitutes for making paper.[3] Their goal, Schäffer argued, was to put an end to the cyclical relationship between waning supplies of linen rags and waxing costs of fine, white writing paper. As an avid participant in the Republic of Letters and as an author and publisher of natural history texts it is not surprising that he was sympathetic to their concerns. Nor that his interest in paper trials was piqued by his fellow entomologist, René-Antoine Ferchault de Réaumur, (1683-1757), who following his close study of American and European paper wasps suggested that it should be possible to make paper from a wide range of botanical specimens, including trees.[4]

Szalay_Fig_4
Jacob Christian Schäffer’s Stamper. Image Credit: Museen der Stadt Regensburg, Historisches Museum. Photo: Michael Preischl

 

Schäffer’s first paper trial, conducted in 1764, examined the possibilities of making paper from the wool-like seeds of black poplar trees. He was disappointed by the initial results, noting how the corresponding sample lacked the rigidity (Steife) and density (Festigkeit) of paper made from linen rags. Nevertheless, he decided to go forward with more trials and had a miniature Stamper built to his specifications and set up in his own house so that he could supervise the paper making process directly. He also hired a couple of journeymen (Gesellen) to help him carry out the more than eighty paper trials on over fifty different kinds of materials that would occupy his attention over the next seven years.

Paper made from Pine Cones, Jacob Christian Schäffer’s Versuche und Muster ohne alle Lumpen oder doch noch mit einem geringen Zusatze derselben Papier zu machen. Image Credit: Dibner Library of the History of Science and Technology, Smithsonian Institution Libraries
Paper made from Pine Cones, Jacob Christian Schäffer’s Versuche und Muster ohne alle Lumpen oder doch noch mit einem geringen Zusatze derselben Papier zu machen. Image Credit: Dibner Library of the History of Science and Technology, Smithsonian Institution Libraries

Among the many things that make Schäffer’s paper trials worth further study are how well they are documented and how eagerly they were reproduced by other men of learning. Each volume of Schäffer’s text is filled with entries describing the physical properties and/ or origins of the material under investigation, followed by recipes for turning that material into paper. The entry dedicated to pine cones (Tannenzapfen), for example, begins by identifying them as the fruit (Frucht) or seed-cases (Saamenbehältnisse) of coniferous trees. It then notes that because of their ligneous quality they need to be soaked in water for one week before they can be turned into pulp. Schäffer even tweaked his own recipe, recalling how when the pine cones proved to still be too hard: “I placed them into a lime pit for twenty-four hours, allowed them to be stamped again, and then washed them and stamped them until they were small, delicate and rag-like.”[5]

Szalay Fig 6
Title Page, Gerhard Anton Senger’s Die älteste Urkunde der Papierfabrikation. Image Credit: Niedersächsische Staats- und Universitätsbibliothek Göttingen

The precision with which he addressed variables like time, combined with his decision to include samples from each experiment alongside the text turned Schäffer’s books into veritable “how-to-manuals.” Within a year of their publication, men of learning across Europe were installing miniature Stampers in their homes and making paper from Schäffer’s recipes with the help of artisan assistants. Some, like Gerhard Anton Senger (1754-1822), even tried to convince commercial paper mills and government bodies that they should do away with paper made from linen rags, which often had to be imported from foreign suppliers. Instead one should learn to make use of locally available resources, such as the green algae (Conferva) that filled the lakes and streams of Senger’s native Prussia and provided the topic and the material support for his Die älteste Urkunde der Papierfabrikation. Although paper made from Conferva had an unsightly greenish hue, Schäffer noted in his recipe that if left out in the sun, it would eventually assume the pristine, white color that made paper from linen rags so economically and socially desirable.

 

Gabriella Szalayis a Ph.D. Candidate in the Department of Art History and Archaeology at Columbia University in New York and in the Philosophische Fakultät at the Georg August University in Göttingen. Since the fall of 2014 she has been Research Fellow at the DFG-Funded Graduiertenkolleg “Cultures of Expertise from the 12th to the 18th Century.” She will be finishing her dissertation “Materializing the Past: The History of Art and Natural History in Germany, 1750-1800” in the spring of 2017. This fall she will be part of the Working Group Working with Paper: Gendered Practices in the History of Knowledge at the Max Planck Institute for the History of Science in Berlin.

_____________________________________________________

[1] Jacob Christian Schäffer, Versuche und Muster ohne alle Lumpen oder doch mit einem geringen Zusatze derselben Papier zu machen (Regensburg, 1765), 33.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Among the names singled out by Schäffer for their interest in finding material substitutes for paper were Albertus Seba (1665-1736), Jean-Étienne Guettard (1715-1786) and Johann Gottlieb Gleditsch (1714-1786).

[4] Réaumur first presented this idea to the Académie des sciences in Paris in 1719, more than one hundred years before paper produced from wood pulp began to be produced on a commercial scale in 1845.

[5] Jacob Christian Schäffer, Neue Versuche und Muster das Pflanzenreich zum Papiermachen und andern Sachen (Regensburg, 1767).

Once it proved effective for noble men and women

By Sietske Fransen, with Saskia Klerk

First of all, I owe you the result of a question I posted in my previous blog about the Leiden manuscript BPL3603. I wondered whether anyone could help me find the name of the Archduchess of Innsbruck who was mentioned by Franciscus Mercurius van Helmont. The world of Twitter soon came up with the answer from Maartje van de Kamp (@Lizzyin2015): it must be Anne de Medici.

Tweet with answer

Anna de Medici, by Giovanni Maria Morandi
Anna de Medici (1666), by Giovanni Maria Morandi

I cannot agree more. Anne de Medici married Ferdinand Charles the Archduke of Further Austria in 1646 and at the time she spoke to Franciscus Mercurius in 1650 she was still childless. She eventually had two surviving children: the Archduchesses Claudia Felicitas of Austria and Maria Magdalena of Austria. A third child died at birth.  Anne died in the year 1676, which would explain the reference to the ‘last-deceased empress’, as it is in 1676 that van Helmont is telling this story. Many thanks to Maartje!

I would like to continue this post discussing the impact of noble men and women in the manuscript that has been the centre of the series on Dutch Medicines. Two month ago I had the pleasure of spending two weeks at  Leiden University Library, and I had the time to re-visit BPL3603. Reading the manuscript, it struck me how often the names of famous people were used as a validation for the efficacy of certain recipes and drugs. A good example was the fertility drug mentioned above to which the Archduchess of Innsbruck lent her authority. But there are  several more.

On page 32 of the manuscript we find a recipe for a remedy to re-gain one’s eye-sight within 14 days, even if it had been lost for 7 years (Een kostelijke Medicine om het gesicht wederom te krijgen (al had men ‘t zeven jaren quit geweest) in 14 dagen tijds).

University Library Leiden, MS PBL3603, p. 32: Count Palatine Frederick approved of the recipe.
University Library Leiden, MS PBL3603, p. 32: Count Palatine Frederick approved of the recipe.

The recipe is followed by a little statement saying that Count Palatine Frederick has tried this and found it good, even on people who have been blind for seven years. Most likely this is the Winter King, or Elector Palatine Frederick V (1596-1632)  who lived in The Hague after he had to flee Bohemia in 1622 until his death. Thus, this is a combination of royal approval and local witness to the cure.

On page 34 another recipe for eye diseases was time tested by the ‘Margravine of Ansbach’. It is unclear to me who is meant here; there are again several options. The principality of Ansbach is located in Bavaria in Germany and although I have not been able to find the connection between Ansbach and the Netherlands at the time that the compiler of our manuscript was writing.

Fragment from Leiden University Library, MS BPL3603, p. 52.
Fragment from Leiden University Library, MS BPL3603, p. 52.

Many noble men and women have tried the recipe for the stone that is written on page 52. And they have found it ‘waarachtig‘, or truthful.

Detail of drinkable balsam for the Prince of Orange, Leiden University Library, MS BPL3603, p. 84.
Detail of drinkable balsam for the Prince of Orange, Leiden University Library, MS BPL3603, p. 84.

My final example describes a recipe for ‘milk, cream, or butter of sulphur’, which turns out to be a generally useful and invigorating balsam. It needs to be drunk as a mixture ‘with any liquor or water that is appropriate for the ailment’. All of this was found by the doctor of the Prince of Anhalt; bought by the Duke of Flanders for 500 crones; and then communicated to the Prince of Orange to use against the plague. Again, we find that a recipe came from Germany to the Netherlands, and its efficacy is proven by the fact that noble people used it. Subsequently, this recipe was brought to the geographical region of the compiler by the reference to the Prince of Orange. The date of the transmission of the recipe is not mentioned, which makes it hard to guess which Prince we are talking about. However, any of the Princes of Orange would have at least spent some of their time in The Hague.

All is to say that the efficacy of recipes seems measured not only by its power to cure but also by its power whom to cure. In the first instance I was surprised about the German noble men and women named in the manuscript, as it seems to contradict the manuscript’s local aspects. We have previously seen how the compiler used local Dutch sources, see for example Saskia’s blog about the hare. However, most of the people named are linked to the Low Countries and more specifically to the West of the Northern Netherlands. This might be another indication that the compiler of the manuscript was somehow linked to that part of the country himself, something that will be further explored in future blog posts.