Making Scents of the Past

The history of perfumes, fragrances, food, and medicines in the early modern period are closely intertwined. Early modern Europeans crafted “recipes” by experimenting with different ingredients from plants, animals, minerals, and other sources.

The DURARE research team questions: “Is it possible to reconstruct the scents of the past? Why should we try? Just as one plays music to bring historical scores to life, following historical recipes for scents connects us to the practices of the fragrance makers who left them behind. In the ArtLab of Utrecht University, we can trace a scent long dissipated while precipitating research questions for the present.”

Their new research project on Making Scents of the Past is investigating the history of early modern perfumes and fragrances by combining historical, medical, and scientific approaches. This project attempts to use sixteenth- and seventeenth-century recipes to recreate fragrances, which will be available for exhibition visitors to test. The research team focuses especially on a recipe collected by Constantijn Huygens (1596-1687), who was “a Dutch diplomat, painter, poet, scientist, composer, and father to five children, one of whom grew up to be the scientist Christiaan Huygens.”

“The DURARE team collaborated with researchers from Het Geheugen van Geur to reconstruct a historical ‘fragrant water’ from a seventeenth-century recipe. We used hands-on experimentation to release the fragrance from its text. By bringing it to our noses, we open up something ephemeral for historical study.”

The team has developed a website to present their research and to accompany the planned museum exhibition.

The Making Scents of the Past website provides additional information.

This entry was posted in Cultural History, Digital Humanities, Early Modern Europe, Early Modern World, European History, European Studies, Food and Cuisine History, History of Medicine, History of Science, Manuscript Studies, Material Culture, Renaissance Art and History. Bookmark the permalink.

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