From Dificio di ricette to Bâtiment des recettes: The Afterlife of Italian Secrets in France

By Julia Martins

Title page of the 1574 edition of the Opera nuova intitolata dificio di ricett. Image from Archive.org. 

In 1525 a book called Opera nuova intitolata dificio di ricette was published in Venice. The book promised to reveal all kinds of secrets to the reader, from cosmetic to medical recipes. This anonymous Italian best seller (which we may call in English ‘Palace of Recipes’) was a collection of 187 short and straightforward recipes, most of them only 5 or 10 lines long. The printer combined utilitarian and pragmatic secrets (including treatment of everyday ailments) with playful elements. Indeed, a taste for the wonderful and a desire to entertain guests were a vital component of this book. After all, the printer included instructions to perform magic tricks such as ‘how to make a candle burn under water’. The work was a commercial success in Italy, and was reprinted 28 times in the forty years after its publication.

The Dificio di ricette also circulated across Europe in many different languages, giving it a truly Pan-European flavour. The work was translated into French in 1539 and in 1545, also translated into Dutch via the French translation. This kind of indirect translation was common in the secrets genre. As William Eamon has shown, Alessio’s Secrets were also translated in English through the French translation. It is notable that in both cases, the French translation served as a cultural and linguistic mediator and it was in France that the Palace of Recipes reigned supreme.

Title page of the Bâtiment des Recettes, printed in Paris by Jean Ruelle in 1560
Title page of the Bâtiment des Recettes, printed in Paris by Jean Ruelle in 1560

Titled the Bâtiment des recettes, the French edition of the work found even greater success than the Italian one. Between its first French publication in 1539 and the final edition in 1830, the book was published 60 times. The main reason for this enduring success is probably the fact that, in 1631, the Bâtiment des recettes was added to the series of books printed in Troyes and commonly known as the ‘Bibliothèque Bleue’, since all the editions had blue covers. This collection of cheaply printed booklets included many books of secrets, and the Bâtiment des recettes continued to be sold in France until well into the 19th century.

What makes the Bâtiment des recettes so interesting is that it is not simply a translation of the Dificio di ricette. Rather it is a collection of different texts, themselves anonymous compilations of recipes. These include a collection of 26 ‘Secrets Specially Proposed for Women’ added by the printer Jean III Du Pré in 1539 and the ‘Pleasant Garden’ (Plaisant jardin) added in 1551. A translation from Italian, the ‘Pleasant Garden’ consisted of 202 varied medical recipes ‘developed by doctors very experts in physic’. Therefore, this 1560 edition contained more than double the number of recipes in the original Italian Palace.

Of the many editions of the Dificio, the 1560 French edition proved particularly popular and was most reprinted. Recently, Geneviève Debloc published an annotated critical edition of the 1560 edition of the Bâtiment des recettes. This is a very useful tool for historians, tracing the several different additions and suppressions in the Bâtiment des recettes throughout its four centuries of history, as well as providing us with tables that offer a systematic account of the ingredients used in the recipes (see my review here).

Thanks to digitisation and new critical editions, a growing number of early modern sources are becoming more easily accessible to scholars. We can compare and contrast complex texts, as in the case of the Dificio. Through a bibliographical approach, we are given the opportunity to read an important primary source in the history of knowledge in a new way – at the crossroads of the history of the book and the history of technologies in tracing the evolution in the composition of the text (including paratextual materials and changes in vocabulary), it is possible to understand how multiple agents were involved in the production of the book, from translators to printers. The Bâtiment des recettes can therefore be understood as both process and final product of these interventions. Through its fragmentary and polymorphic constitution, this re-edited recipe book gives us compelling insight into early modern life in France and Italy and its medical practices.

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Julia Martins is a PhD student at the Warburg Institute in London. Her research focuses on recipes about female fertility in Italian books of secrets (as well as their translations) from 1555 to 1700. Her aim is to show how knowledge about “women’s secrets” circulated in early modern print, drawing a comparison between Italian and French books of secrets and English midwifery manuals.

A medicine for the Archduchess of Innsbruck

By Sietske Fransen, with Saskia Klerk.

Two months ago Saskia Klerk discussed a recipe for the breaking of a bladder stone. It seems that the author of manuscript BPL3603 included this recipe into his collection because of the wonderful curative properties it proved to possess according to the eyewitness accounts documented in the text.

On pages 117 and 118 of the same manuscript we find an ‘Excellent recipe against all ailments and diseases that have their origin in corrupt blood and bad humours’. At the top of the page we find the word ‘Helmont’ written under the heading, leading us once more to my favourite medical author. However, at the bottom of page 118 we can find an interesting note pointing not to Jan Baptista van Helmont, but rather to his son, Franciscus Mercurius (1614-1698). The note reads:

University Library Leiden, MS BPL 3606, p. 118 (selection): mentioning the oral transmission by Franciscus Mercurius van Helmont
University Library Leiden, MS BPL 3603, p. 118 (selection): mentioning the oral transmission by Franciscus Mercurius van Helmont

“Thus written after the oral teachings of Sir Helmondt, on the 22nd of September 1676.”

Franciscus Mercurius van Helmont styled himself as a ‘wandering hermit’ and travelled through Europe ever since his father’s death on the penultimate day of the year in 1644. He spent time in the Northern Netherlands and lived for many years in England as well as in Germany. He must have been a charismatic figure and most certainly a beloved guest of many European noble households. He was notorious for not writing down his own thoughts and ideas. It is therefore not surprising to find a note saying that a recipe has been transmitted by oral communication; it actually fits the picture of Franciscus Mercurius very well.

Franciscus Mercurius van Helmont, 1670-1, by Sir Peter Lely. ©Tate Photographic Rights ©Tate (2016), CC-BY-NC-ND 3.0 (Unported) http://www.tate.org.uk/art/work/N03583
Franciscus Mercurius van Helmont, 1670-1, by Sir Peter Lely. ©Tate Photographic Rights ©Tate (2016), CC-BY-NC-ND 3.0 (Unported) http://www.tate.org.uk/art/work/N03583

Although Franciscus Mercurius never went to university, he seems to have been able to sell himself as a physician. Most likely this was a result of his father’s fame. Franciscus Mercurius was for example the personal physician of Anne Conway for a decade until her death in 1679, trying (but failing) to cure her from her terrible headaches. Most of these ten years he lived as part of her household in Warwickshire. However, during the same period, he also travelled regularly to the continent, and must have been able to communicate this ‘excellent recipe’ to the Dutch context, potentially directly to the author of the manuscript. Let’s turn to the recipe to see what kind of treatments Franciscus Mercurius was sharing.

The basic ingredient for the recipe is red coral. This should be ground and dissolved in alcohol (‘sterk water’), mixed with a solution of tartar in alcohol, and subsequently slowly boiled down to dry powder. The dry powder is mixed with liquid saltpetre and dry cooked in an oven. Once the dry mixture is cooled down it needs to be stored in a humid cellar for about 5 to 6 days. After grinding the powder once more, it should be put in a glass bottle with half a pint of good brandy. The red coloured brandy should then be poured into another glass bottle’ while leaving the red powder at the bottom of the first bottle; this procedure should be repeated until the brandy does not colour red any more. A glass of beer or wine with about 50 drops of this brandy should be drunk twice a day as the first drink at the table in the afternoon and the evening.

Cabinet of Curiosities, 1690s, by Domenico Remps, Museo dell'Opificio delle Pietro Dure, Florence. Source: WikiCommons. Red coral is depicted at the top of the right door.
Cabinet of Curiosities, 1690s, by Domenico Remps, Museo dell’Opificio delle Pietro Dure, Florence. Source: WikiCommons. Red coral is depicted at the top of the right door.

The compiler of the manuscript added a note, presumably referring to Franciscus Mercurius, saying that he has helped with this recipe many old and seemingly infertile women, as well as those who had miscarried previously, to deliver healthy children. However, with which authority is Franciscus Mercurius speaking? His father mentions a medicine ‘Arcanum corallinum’, in both his Dutch and Latin medical works as a very effective drug against all sorts of fevers. However, he does not give the recipe or method of preparation. I would not be surprised if Franciscus Mercurius had become popular as a doctor by disclosing the recipes of medicines mentioned in his father’s (hugely popular) medical publications. Whether these recipes were originally his father’s is hard to prove.

Typical for both father and son Van Helmont is the inclusion of a particular case in which a recipe has been effective. In this case we find Franciscus Mercurius referring to an anecdote from 1650:

University Library Leiden, MS BPL3606, p. 118 (selection): the anecdote about the Archduchess.
University Library Leiden, MS BPL3603, p. 118 (selection): the anecdote about the Archduchess.

“The mother of the last-deceased Empress and Archduchess of Innsbruck, had me arrested in Innsbruck in the year 1650. She asked for advice to have children. I had her make and take the above-mentioned recipe herself, and afterwards she gave birth to two children. And she told me and has written me several times, that she has been lucky also with other women, who have tried the same.”

It is absolutely possible that Franciscus Mercurius was in Innsbruck in 1650; however the identity of Archduchess remains an unsolved riddle. I have my thoughts, but look forward to reading your suggestions!

Catch the Hare: Remedies for the Stone

By Saskia Klerk, with Sietske Fransen

In our previous post we have seen that the writer of BPL3603 was especially interested in Van Helmont´s Dageraed because of its recipes to which he added notes about personal experiences to prove efficacy. There I wondered if we would find the same practice in his selections from some of Van Beverwijck´s writings.  

The parts taken from Van Beverwijck can be found near the very end of the manuscript. They are not placed on their own, like the citations from Van Helmont, however. Instead, they are interspersed with copies from another source, a master Wilm Reijmers. It is the latter’s remedy for breaking the stone that appears to have renewed the writer´s interest in the subject of stone breaking remedies in general and in some of Van Beverwijck´s writings more specifically. He had already included remedies for bladder stones within the alphabetical scheme of the manuscript.

Reijmers sent his remedy in a letter to the writer of BPL3603. Reijmers declared that the remedy pulvarised the stone in the bladder of his patient and the grit was driven out through the urine. Apart from a complicated dosage and a twelve-day long treatment, the recipe also required a living hare. After a short additional passage taken from Van Beverwijck, the manuscript writer says: “I cannot resist to tell something memorable about these matters.”

Goeree was a Northeasterly island of the Province of Zeeland, shown here on a cutout from a map of the Republic of the Seven United Netherlands (1664-1665), from the 'Grooten Atlas; oft, Werelt-beschryving; in welke 't aertryck de zee en de hemel wordt vertoont en beschreven' by Joan Blaeu. Middelburg is shown in red in the bottom left corner, Rotterdam and Dordrecht in the upper right. Courtesy of the National Maritime Museum in Amsterdam.
Goeree was a southwestern island of the Province of Holland, shown here on a cutout from a map of the Republic of the Seven United Netherlands (1664-1665), from the ‘Grooten Atlas; oft, Werelt-beschryving; in welke ‘t aertryck de zee en de hemel wordt vertoont en beschreven’ by Joan Blaeu. Middelburg is shown in red in the bottom left corner, Rotterdam and Dordrecht in the upper right. Courtesy of the National Maritime Museum in Amsterdam.

What follows is an account of events as told by master Reijmers, and confirmed by a burgomaster of Goeree, a Mr. Klimmert.

Two children were suffering greatly from the stone and the local stonecutter Sasbout had been called in.[1] After visiting the children he declared both had quite a large stone in the bladder and there was nothing else to do but to remove them by cutting. One of the children came from a rich farmer’s family. He was operated for the stone and died shortly afterwards. The parents of the other child were poor, and were therefore asking to gather the money for the treatment from church gifts. The church masters, however, didn´t think it advisable to hand over the money, fearing what had happened to the other child.

At this point Reijmers got involved. He said he could easily break the stone inside the body, that is, if a living hare could be provided. It wasn’t hare season though.

Copper engraving by Marcus Gerards (1521-1590) to the fable of the hare and frogs as told by Jean de La Fontaine (1621-1695) and translated by poet and playwright Joost van den Vondel (1587-1679) in Vorstelijcke warande der dieren (Amsterdam 1617, 1730).
Copper engraving by Marcus Gerards (1521-1590) to the fable The Hares and the Frogs as told by Jean de La Fontaine (1621-1695) and translated by poet and playwright Joost van den Vondel (1587-1679) in Vorstelijcke warande der dieren (Amsterdam 1617, 1730).

The next thing we are told is that the boy himself, still greatly pained by the stone, came across a hare caught up in the bushes behind his fathers´ house. In a great struggle, that attracted the attention of neighbours and injured the child himself, the child managed to get hold of it and bring it to his parents. They told master Reijmers what happened, and he cured the child as described above. Reijmers explained that when put together, the grit from the child´s urine (which was collected in a blue cloth) would have made a stone the size of a small chicken egg. 

The author of BPL3603 went on to add that Reijmers successfully treated several others in this way afterwards, to great wonder of the operator (this most likely referred to Sasbout). It is clear that the compiler of BPL3603 shared master Reijmers´ and Sasbout´s wonder at the incident on Goeree. While Reijmers wondered at how the hare was caught, and Sasbout wondered at how Reijmers remedy was successful, the compiler ended his account by praising God. “God alone is the glory, that has giving natural things such power and the people its use,” he wrote. 

I think we can learn several things from this anecdote.

Stone found in the bladder of Thomas Adams, late 17th century. Royal Society Classified Papers, vol. 14i, document 22. Reproduced by permission.
Stone found in the bladder of Thomas Adams, late 17th century. Royal Society Classified Papers, vol. 14i, document 22. Reproduced by permission.

Firstly, on a social-historical level, we saw how poor families could make an appeal to the church for financing medical care. As lay people in medical issues, the council weighted the costs and risks of the operation, both financial and social. Secondly, undergoing an operation for the stone was expensive and something more readily undertaken by the wealthy. However, it was not safer. In this story, the poor child was better off. Finally, the main function of the anecdote was to show that the remedy was effective, similarly to the way the author used Van Helmont to prove the efficacy of remedies for the plague.

Realising this, I began to notice that the pattern in how the writer of BPL3603 processed the medical knowledge he came into contact with, repeated itself in what he selected to copy from Van Beverwijck. My next post will be dedicated to these choices, while Sietske will first investigate more recipes by Van Helmont. Is that another case in which a recipe was personally passed on to the compiler of BPL3603?

 

[1] Two famous stonecutters by the name of Sasbout were active in the area around this time and are mentioned in contemporary sources. The Jakobus Sasbout who was operator in Middelburg and Jacobus Sasbout Souburg, operator in Dordrecht, might have been the same person, especially since Souburg is a village near Middelburg. A.J. van der Aa., Biographisch woordenboek der Nederlanden (Haarlem: J.J. van Brederode, 1852-1878) part 17-1, 133.

Searching for Recipes: A Glimpse of Early Modern Upper Class Life

By Marieke Hendriksen

On this blog we tend to hear a lot about English household manuscript recipes but lively traditions existed elsewhere, as Sietske Fransen and Saskia Klerk also show in their series on a Dutch manuscript of recipesIn my own search for eighteenth-century Dutch medical and chemical recipes, I often come across manuscript recipe books that lack a detailed catalogue description, so I have to check them page-by-page to see if there is anything relevant for my current research.

Often these recipe books have little to do with medicine or chemistry, or they contain only a limited number of medical home remedies. Yet this does not make these books any less interesting to researchers. This week, when I opened a manuscript at Museum Boerhaave (inventory number BOERH a 176) which was marked in the catalogue as ‘medicine book and recipes, before 1860’, I caught a fascinating glimpse of early modern upper class life.

Kitchen interior, oil on canvas, Dutch, anonymous, second half of 17th C.
Kitchen interior, oil on canvas, Dutch, anonymous, second half of 17th C. Courtesy of RKD images.

Judging by the spelling and state of the paper, my guess is that this manuscript is quite a bit older than ‘before 1860’, it dates probably from the eighteenth or maybe even the seventeenth century. This is supported by the fact that underneath one of the recipes someone has noted in a different hand ‘1721: selfs geprobeerd’ (‘tried myself’). The cover and a number of pages are missing, but it contains a wealth of recipes for food, human and veterinary medicine, household chores, and home decorations. As many of the cookery recipes list expensive ingredients spices and lemons, and as the book also contains recipes for gilding, ink, paints, wax fruit, and a special recipe for nightingale food, it seems most likely that the recipes were collected in an upper class household, like that of an aristocratic or well-off merchant family.

Unfortunately the manuscript is anonymous, and the few names that are mentioned give little direction either. The only names mentioned are a certain mister Plaatman as the source of a recipe against kidney stones, and with a recipe for a potion, the author has noted ‘bij Susanna ghebruijckt in haer siekte’ (‘used with Susanna in her illness’). Given the distinct upper class feel of the recipes, and that fact that they are written in high Dutch in seventeenth and/or eighteenth century, the first Susanna that springs to mind is Susanna Huygens (1637-1725), daughter of Constantijn. Of course there must have been more women named Susanna, but the population of the United Provinces around 1800 was small – roughly 2 million people – and the upper class thus too, so it would be interesting to see if additional research can confirm this surmise.

Pieter Holsteyn I, Nightingale, crayon and gouache on paper, ca. 1656-1667.
Pieter Holsteyn I, Nightingale, crayon and gouache on paper, ca. 1656-1667.  Courtesy of RKD Images.

Whether this recipe book was owned by the Huygens family or another upper class Dutch family, it gives a fascinating insight in daily life. And for those of you wanting to take up a nice early modern hobby over the holidays, like keeping a nightingale as a pet, here is the recipe for nightingale’s food: ‘Mix finely cut lamb’s heart, hemp seed, parsley, rusk, egg yolk and sweet almonds. Can be fed every two hours.’