|Woman with a Mirror by Peter Paul Rubens (1577-1640), c. 1640|
This article was originally published at Your Wardrobe Unlock'd. The first part cover the history of makeup, the second my interpretation of makeup using period recipes.
After making the mid-17th century wig I started to think about what kind of makeup that would be suitable for the 1650’s. Period makeup is probably the most overlooked part in a re-enactors outfit, especially as not wearing any makeup at all is almost always a proper choice. Makeup was usually reserved for the upper classes, but not all ladies who had the means used cosmetics. Personally, I find the history of cosmetics fascinating and for the past two years I have made several makeup products after old recipes, which I feel gives new layers and a deeper understanding of what people found attractive two or three hundred years ago. In this article I will give an overview over the mid-17th century fashion of makeup, followed by two makeup looks made with cosmetics based on period recipes as well as suggestions of makeup choices for creating a suitable 17th century look.
Cosmetics in the 17th century
Makeup fashion were rather static in the 17th century, but in both the first and lasts decades of the century makeup were generally applied more heavily than the mid-decades. Fashions doesn’t appear in a vacuum and the rather heavy-handed use of makeup that was popular in the early 17th century didn’t really fit with the more informal styles in clothes and hair that became popular in the late 1620’s. It is also very likely that the religious wars that affected many European countries during this period influenced how people used, or not used, makeup. The Puritans in England definitely did, and though they did not completely abhorred expressions of vanity for women, like jewelry and well-dressed hair, they were very much against the use of makeup.
|Lady in black by Bartholomeus van der Helst (1613-1670), c. 1640|
The use of makeup was heavily criticized in various pamphlets, and not all critics took a religious stance. Many voices expressed the opinion that a woman who used makeup were a deceiver and a cheat and if she was able to cheat with her looks, she would also be capable to cheat on her husband. John Bulwer’s Anthropometamorphosis, first published in 1650, describes all kinds of makeup and body modification that the contemporary Englishmen and women could indulge it and condemned it, basically because they were, in Bulwer’s eyes, borrowed from non-European, and therefore inferior, cultures. There was, however, also people who defended the use of cosmetics, seeing nothing wrong with wanting to look as beautiful as possible. And makeup was, of course, still used, regardless of what the critics said.
Detail from Woman in a mask
by Wenceslaus Hollar (1617-1677),
To be considered truly a beautiful woman in the 1600’s must possess a white skin. To achieve that she stayed away from the sun as much as possible and it was very common to wear masks when venturing outside to protect the skin. There were also a quite a range of cosmetic products aimed to keep the skin fair and remove pimples and spots. Skin care could range from the extremely dangerous, to practices that could be used today, depending on what the cosmetics contained. The lady who used vitriol oil or Mercury water to exfoliate the skin, followed with a toner made with lead and using makeup with lead and mercury would have destroyed her looks quite quickly, not to mention endangered her general health. On the other hand, the women who followed the more sound advice of washing their faces with wash balls morning and evening, following up with a with a toner of Bran water and using almond oil or pomatum morning and night, could certainly keep her skin in good condition. Washballs were made of shredded soap, mixed with herbs and spices, which made the soap last longer, added scent and also gave a mild exfoliating effect. Pomatums were a cream, which generally contained fat, bees wax and spermaceti, the grandparent of modern Cold cream. Other popular ingredients in skin whitening waters were lemon juice, alum, egg white and borax, or, a bit more exotic or just plain gross, snails. Teeth could be cleaned with powders containing, for example cream of tartar, myrrh or cinnamon.
|Girl at a mirror by Paulus Moreelse (1571-1638), 1632|
To the general beauty regime, a well to do woman could then apply makeup. Compared to modern standards, this was quite primitive and consisted mainly of white and red paint. There were, however, more than one option and though some pigments used were very toxic, others were not and can be found in beauty products today.
Lead white or Ceruse, a white pigment that has been used in makeup for thousands of years. It is very toxic, but both cover and adhere to skin well, which is probably why it was the most popular white pigment in makeup until the 19th century when Titanium dioxide came into production. Titanium dioxide is used in cosmetics today is usually used as a lead white substitute, but it is 50% more opaque than lead white, so it should be mixed with an equal amount of rice powder.
Mercury sublimate, a white pigment with a slight sheen, it also has a whitening effect of the skin. As it is derived from Mercury it is extremely toxic, though countries with less discerning cosmetic laws still sell whitening skin products that contains it. If you find it, don’t use it! It’s difficult to say with what to substitute Mercury sublimate with, but one could probably get something similar if one mixed some Bismuth with Lead white substitute.
|Detail from Catherine Dormer, daughter of Montagu Bertie, 2nd Earl of Lindsey|
by John Michael Wright (1617-1694), 1659
Bismuth oxychloride, a white pigment with a very metallic shine. It is used in modern cosmetics, especially mineral makeup, but many people are sensitive to it. Titanium dioxide with mica looks quite similar and can be used instead. In 17th century texts Bismuth is often called Tin glass.
Talc, very fine white pigment without much coverage. As it is so fine one should take some care not to inhale it.
Pearl powder, real pearls that in the 17th century were dissolved in lemon juice or vinegar and dried into a white powder. Today it is made from very finely milled pearl, but the finished powder looks and behaves the same way as the powder made from dissolved pearls. The whitening effect is slight, but due to the nacre it is light-reflecting and evens out the skin tone. This was a very exclusive and expensive pigment in the 17th century and was often substituted with Bismuth. It is used in cosmetic products today.
|Detail from Anne Sophia, Countess of Carnarvon by Anthony van Dyck (1599-1641)|
|Katherine, Countess of Chesterfield, and Lucy, Countess of Huntingdon by Anthony van Dyck (1599-1641), 1636-1640|
Other white pigments used were calcined (burnt) bones, rice powder and ground alabaster. White paint could be made of just one kind of pigment, or a mix of different ones. One recipe, for example, uses Ceruse and Mercury sublimate, mixed with rosewater and lemon juice. The white pigment could, at times, be mixed with a little red to make pink or flesh-coloured makeup. There was also a distinction between women who wore heavy white makeup and those who used less, enameled versus powdered ladies. Enameled ladies mixed the white pigments with liquid or pomatum to create a foundation that covered the skin well. Powdered ladies did just that, they powdered their faces and regardless of choice of pigment, the result would be softer and more natural. To make the powder adhere to the skin, it was moisturized with an oil or pomatum beforehand. One recipe recommends white poppy seed oil before powdering the face with calcined bone.
|Detail from Anna Margareta von Haugwitz by Matthaeus Merian the Younger (1621-1687), 1648 or 1651|
Just using white paint and no other kind of makeup was perfectly normal and many portraits show women who are extremely pale, but on the whole, red paint was added to complete the makeup.
Vermillion, or Cinnabar, a orange red pigment made from Mercury. As with Mercury sublimate, vermillion is very toxic, but somewhat confusingly, vermillion was also used for Dragon’s blood, a bright red resin that is quite safe to use. Vermillion can also be substituted with red Iron oxide.
|Detail from Dorothy, Lady Dacre by Sir Anthony Van Dyck (1599-1641), 1633|
Cochineal or carmine, a crimson pigment derived from a small scale insect. It is still used in makeup today.
Red sanders and brazilwood are shredded timber from two different kinds of trees, both unfortunately considered endangered species. When soaked in alcohol they colour the liquid a brownish red.
|Portrait of Anna di Cosimo de' Medici by Justus Sustermans (1597-1681), 1652-1653|
Alkanet, a dark, cool toned red vegetable pigment. The pigment works best it in rouge that is fat-based. Safe to use.
Red ochre was used as a cheap rouge for lower class women in the 17th century. Rouge could also be made from the meat from the claws if river crabs, which was then dried, powdered and mixed with alcohol. Another rouge was made from mixing madder, myrrh, saffron and frankincense which was applied to the skin and left there overnight. Sally Pointer tried this recipe in Artifice of Beauty and reports that it leaves a distinct apricot stain on the skin that lasts for several days, so great care must have been made to apply it properly!
|Detail from Henrietta Boyle, Countess of Rochester by Peter Lely (1618-1680), c. 1665|
Rouge was used both on the cheeks and lips, though a kind of red makeup crayons was used where the red pigment was mixed with ground alabaster or plaster of Paris. Mouths were painted with well-defined lips in red, small mouths were considered beautiful, but there is no indication that lips were painted smaller than they actually were. Rouge were applied on the cheeks quite low, imitating the look of a natural blush. Excessive use of rouge can sometimes be seen on portraits, and most of these well-rouged ladies seem to be French.
Other kinds of makeup
Not much makeup was used apart from white and red paint, but there are recipes for black paint to colour the eyebrows. Most portraits show women with groomed, but quite natural eyebrows, though. Eyeliner and mascara were not used, even if the custom of using kohl in the Orient was known and actresses used to line their eyes with black to make their eyes more visible on the scene. Eyeshadow in brown, grey or blue seems to have been of some use, though. It was applied close to the eye and this may be what Bulwer complains about when he abhors the horrible practice of painting circles around the eyes. Some portraits from the period do seem to show eyes that are delicately shaded, like some, but not all, of the court women Sir Peter Lely painted. There are also a few mentions of women painting blue veins on their foreheads to indicate a delicate and translucent skin.
|Detail from Portrait of Oopjen Coppit by Rembrandt van Rijn (1606-1669), 1634|
The mouche or the black patch was a very popular beauty device in the 17th century and it reached it’s absolute height in popularity toward mid-century. It was cut out in velvet, silk or paper in a variety of shapes and in the 17th century, it was considered most fashionable to apply a large number of them all over the face. It had more than one purpose; it could hide blemishes, but also just be applied to highlight the white skin or a particularly fetching feature. The fashion of patching spread quickly down the social ladder, through lower class women wore fewer patches. At the end of the 17th century, this changed and a lady of class started to wear a few well-placed patches and the use of a multitude was begun to be seen as something slatternly, indicating an immoral lifestyle, the many patches hiding the marks of venereal diseases.
|Detail from A Lady as a Shepherdess by John Greenhill, c. 1665|
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Salmon, William Polygraphice, or, The arts of drawing, engraving, etching, limning, painting, washing, varnishing, gilding, colouring, dying, beautifying, and perfuming in seven books: exemplified in the drawing of men, women, landskips, countreys and figures of various forms, the way of engraving, etching, and limning, with all their requisites and ornaments, the depicting of the most eminent pieces of antiquities, the paintings of the antients: never published till now, together with the original, advancement and perfection of the art of painting, and a discourse of perspective, chiromancy and alchymy: to which is added, I, the one hundred and twelve chymical arcanums of Petrus Johannes Faber, a most learned and eminent physician, translated out of Latin into English, II, an abstract of choice chymical preparations, fitted for vulgar use, for curing most diseases incident to humane bodies, The fifth edition, enlarged with above a thousand considerable additions, adorned with XXV. copper sculptures, the like never yet extant, London: Printed for Thomas Passinger and Thomas Sawbridge, 1685.
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