Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Cyprian powder

Lady at Toilette, Utrecht school, 17th century
Click on the link for a fun article on 17th century beauty.
Today I have a 17th century perfume recipe for you, taken from Polygraphice by William Salmon, published in 1685.

The recipe
To make Cyprian Powder.
Gather Musk moss of the Oak in December, January or Februarys wash it very clean in Rose-water, then dry it, steep it in Rose-water for two days, then dry it again, which do oftentimes: then bring it into fine Powder and fierce it: of which take one pound, Musk one ounce, Ambergrise half an ounce, Civet two drachms, yellow Sanders in powder two ounces, mix all well together in a marble mortar.

Another way to make the same.
Take of the aforesaid powder of Oak-moss one pound, Benjamin, Storax of each two ounces in fine Powder: Musk .Ambergrise and Civet of each three drachms, mix them well in a mortar.

 Breaking down the recipe
Oak moss Despite the name, this is really a lichen, Evernia prunastri, and has been used in perfumes since the Middle ages. The scent has been described as dry, woody, and smoky with a hint of tar. Used as fixatives in modern perfumes, or rather, a synthetic is, real oak moss is now forbidden, and is often used in men’s perfumes and in the perfume family that is called chypre.

Musk A common base notes in perfumery derived from glands from various animals. Today synthetic musk is almost exclusively used. Musk in large doses smells rather pungent, but diluted it is a warm, sweet and woody scent.

Ambergris A base notes in perfumery with a sweet, vanilla-ish scent with aquatic undertones. It comes from the intestines of sperm whales that habitually vomit out lumps of ambergris, which then age into scent maturity by the sea water. Though it is perfectly, even preferable, possible with ethically gathered ambergris, it is also very expensive and synthetics are almost always used today.

Civet Another animalistic base note, derived from the civet. It is similar to musk, but even more pungent concentrated and more sweet, smoky and sharp when diluted. Nowadays usually a synthetic.

Yellow sanders Wood from a tree, Zanthoxylum flavum. The scented and durable tree is on the brink of being endangered, unfortunately.

Other ingredients can be found at the ingredient list at the top of the page

My thoughts
I bought some oak moss last year and have wanted to try my hands at a Cyprian, or Cyprus powder for some time. It was a popular perfume in the 17th and 18th century as well as the 19th. In the 18th century it was popular to mix it into hair powder to scent it, but it can also be sewn into small sachets to be worn inside clothes or pockets. There are several recipes around and they are all rather alike. Unlike modern perfumes that consist of base, middle and top notes, this perfume is all base notes. Such notes are long-lasting and often quite heavy.  I’m going to make this recipe, as I have vegetal musk, civet and ambergris substitute that I want to try. It is a very easy recipe. Wash, dry, steep dry and pound. I have actually done the first steps. The oak moss is currently steeping and smells quite lovely of roses and rain wet forests.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Queen's Royal, a cosmetic mystery

Theophila Palmer Reading Clarissa by Joshua Reynolds, 1771
I have encountered a little mystery. At the very last page of Charles Lillie’s The British perfumer we find the following recipe, which completely stumps me. I have absolutely no idea what it is supposed to be used for. Lillie wrote his manuscript in the 1740’s though it wasn’t published until 1822. The publisher has kindly provided notes of enlightenment on several recipes, but not on this one.

The recipe
Take one ounce of brown ochre,
One ounce of vermillion,
One ounce of rose-pink,
One ounce of ivory-black,
Three ounces of essence of bergamot,
One and a half ounce of essence of lemon,
Half an ounce of oil of lavender.
Half an ounce of oil of carraways, A quarter of an ounce of oil of ambergris,
Half an ounce of oil of cloves,
A quarter of an ounce of oil of rosemary,
and Half an ounce of oil of cinnamon.
These are to be well mixed together; but care must previously be taken to reduce the first-mentioned ingredients into very fine powder.

My thoughts
The recipe is in two parts. In the first several, finely milled, pigments are mixed in brown, red, pink and black. The first three would make a reddish brown; the addition of black will make the colour darker and duller. Pigments were expensive so there must be a reason for them to be in there. They must be meant to give something colour.

The second part is purely scent. Bergamot and lemon essence with oils of lavender, caraway, ambergris, clove, rosemary and cinnamon. That’s a lot of scent and several of the oil is very strongly scented like cinnamon and clove. So this is clearly meant to smell. Mixing pigments and scent together would either give a scented pigment or a paste. It is a bit hard to say until you have tried as it depends on the ratio between powder and liquid. I lean on a paste, but I’m not sure. And what was it used for? I have a few ideas, but they are just theories.

A scented powder to make into sachets? I don’t think so. Too much valuable pigment to hide away. Had it was meant for that purpose, the scent would have been mixed with starch.

A rouge? I don’t think so either. With ¼ black pigment the shade would most likely to be too dark and unbecoming. Also, cinnamon and clove oils can sting and redden skin upon application and would be uncomfortable to have on your face.

Can in be a tinted perfume meant for hair powder? Might be, but in that case it needs to be mixed with hair powder. Now I know that 18th century recipes aren’t always constant, but the other scented powders in this book are placed together and they also have clear instruction of the ratio between scented powder and hair powder.

For tinting eyebrows? That doesn’t seem too unlikely, but why not say so? The colour could work for hair and to scent your eyebrows aren’t that far-flung, actually- I have encountered that notion elsewhere, though never in an 18th century context.

Then I got a suggestion from a friend, and, well, it doesn’t seem too unlikely. That would explain why it is tucked away at the last page and that it lacks any kind of direction. Could this be meant to rub into the hair of your nether region? It would tint it and scent it, and might that be something that would be considered attractive? I balked at the thought of cinnamon oil on those parts but I have been informed that today you can buy oils, often containing just cinnamon that are actually meant to be used down there for added stimulation. So can this be a more risqué cosmetics for ladies (and gentlemen) who dared? What do you think? Or perhaps you have an excellent idea of what this was really used for that I haven’t thought about. I would love to hear what you think!

Monday, April 22, 2013

Bathing beauties, 18th century style

There is a widespread view that people in the 18th century didn’t bathe and that is, perhaps, not completely untrue. There was a widespread belief that it was dangerous to the health to immerse the body in warm water. A warm bath was also a matter of economics, clean water was a luxury in most large cities and to that the added cost of getting, heating and disposing it. But during the century, bathing for health became more and more popular, preferable cooler bath and getting clean wasn’t the big issue, more a bi-effect. Not bathing, however, isn’t the same thing as not trying to be clean. Though the standard for cleanliness was certainly laxer than today, people did wash themselves. A small amount of warm water and a piece of cloth work quite well. There was also a reason for washing that we modern people perhaps don’t think about- vermin. There are a number of recipes, often water based tinctures with various herbs, that body and hair should be washed in regularly to keep lice and other creepy crawlies at bay.

Bathing and washing were quite a popular theme in art, often disguised as an ancient goddess, but here are a few pieces of artwork that seems to be a bit more anchored in reality. Please obeserve that nudity is afoot.
This robust beauty climbing out of her bath, could in all probability be a realistic depiction of a wealthy lady bathing. Her maids are ready with towels, one is getting something from the vanity and the bed is prepared for its mistress so she can rest after her ordeal. There is even a girl keeping watch so no one can peek at the naked lady.
Bather by Jean-Baptiste Pater, circa 1730
Bathing in the open did occur in the late 17th century, Louis XIV, for example, was a keen swimmer and both ladies and gentlemen of his court swam as well. And though I have yet to find anything about this habit occuring in the 18th century, it is plausible. And these ladies, bathing in their shifts do seem more grounded in reality than all the supposed godesses of the 18th century that usually bathe in the buff.

Summer by Nicholas Lancret

The Bathers by Jean-Baptiste Pater, first half of the 18th century

A little porcelaine lady preparing to wash from a basin.

Bathing nude by Hoechst
Perhaps the aim is clean feet, like Boucher's beauty below. This painting had a pendant, now lost. I wonder what it depicted.
A Young Woman Taking A Footbath by François Boucher, 1766
The bidet was very popular with aristocrats in France and Marie Antoinette is supposed to have owned several.

La Toilette intime ou la Rose effeuillee by Louis-Léopold Boilly

 An 18th century bathing shift in blue and white linen, owned by Martha Washington.

Click here for more information.
Mud baths were defintly taken for health reasons.

Late 18th century engraving
The most famous bather of the 18th century is probably Jean-Paul Marat who was famously killed by Charlotte Corday in his bathtub in 1793. He suffered from a skin disease and spent much of his time in a medicinal bath.

Death of Marat by Jacques-Louis David, 1793