A new section dedicated to fragrances enriches the exhibition on the first floor of the Museum of Palazzo Mocenigo at San Stae. Strongly supported by Mavive SpA, a Venetian company of Vidal’s family – main partner of a real act of patronage designed to reaffirm the deep bond with the city of Venice – the new section dedicated to fragrances enrich the exhibition on the first floor of the Museum of Palazzo Mocenigo at San Stae.
In the five rooms that are dedicated to perfume and are perfectly integrated with the attraction of the displays throughout the museum, multi-media instruments and experiences using the senses alternate along an itinerary of information, emotion and closer study. A video illustrates the role of Venice in the history of perfume, a room evokes the lab of a perfumer of the 16th century (muschiere). Raw materials and processes are displayed and illustrated, while an olfactory map describes the “Streets of Spices” crossed by the ancient Venetians. Is then presented an extraordinary collection of perfume bottles of the Monica Magnani Collection, covering a number of pieces from different periods, materials, origins and types. Finally, the tour ends with the opportunity to experience, through some olfactory stations the “fragrance families” from which come all the fragrances.
Decorated with paintings from the Correr Museum and Ca’ Rezzonico collections, this room is the beginning of the museum section that is devoted to a particular aspect of the history of Venetian costumes, that of perfume, not yet studied in depth until now, and highlighting the fundamental role the city played in the origins of this aesthetical, cosmetic and commercial tradition. Here a video – in three different languages one after the other – offers a light introduction to the Venetian history of perfume up to the Middle Ages, the secrets of ancient production, the whims of the wealthy clients, the trend changes over the centuries.
Although not a perfect reconstruction, this room evokes what was an almost alchemical laboratory of the perfume maker or muschiere, who, from the sixteenth century on in Venice was the keeper of the techniques and recipes to make soap, oils, pastes, powders and liquids to perfume things, people, clothes, gloves and rooms. Expensive and much sought-after, perfume required raw materials that were often very rare and exotic, coming either from the plant kingdom, such as the benjamin tree, cinnamon, or from the animal kingdom, such as the zibet and grey amber.
This room has an interactive wall panel with a scented map that demonstrates the fascinating, impenetrable routes that Venetians had to cover to obtain these raw materials. Original nineteenth-/twentieth century instruments or reconstructions – such as the loom to extract essential oils from flowers (enfleurage) or the chest full of white cold paste Venetian soap, filtered using an ancient process – give the visitor a glimpse of the partially magical and partially industrial atmosphere of this great tradition. Of particular note is Pietro Andrea Mattioli’s sixteenth-century herbarium that illustrates, amongst other things, the technique of distillation.
This room is also dedicated to raw materials and production techniques. The books on display – one of which can be used virtually in the interactive totem next to the bookcase – were printed for the first time in Venice in the middle of the sixteenth century, revealing the “secrets” of an art of perfume – that also comprises cosmetics, medicine, science and magic. Some of the ‘real’ raw materials are on display here, such as musk from animal glands or valuable grey amber – the intestinal secretion of the sperm whale – and, on the table, many of those mentioned in the ancient recipes exhibited here.
The bottles on display belong to the Monica Magnani Collection, which is made up of perfume containers from different periods. Of different origins, they are made of diverse materials and are all small in size. Although niche objects of a minor decorative art, their stylistic characteristics and language are those of the historical period of their production.
The ‘Fragrance families’ are a sort of classification of perfumes on the basis of the elements they are made up of. On the large table there are 24 containers with the same number of essences, forming six of the main families, all of which have fascinating names: citrus, floral, oriental … Visitors may experiment with the fragrances or study this intoxicating but rigorously scientific world in more depth, using the iPad on the table.
Rooms 18 and 19
The paintings in room 18 are both intimate and private; of particular note is the rare Perfume Maker’s Organ, an extraordinary instrument used to invent perfumes using the more than two hundred essential oils in the phials arranged in the shape of an amphitheatre. In the small room 19 we can see two paintings with religious motifs that belong to the palazzo, as to the eighteenth-century furnishings, while the female portrait comes from the Correr Museum collections.
The Museo di Palazzo Mocenigo is a palazzo near the Church of San Stae, south of the Grand Canal in the sestiere of Santa Croce in Venice, Italy. It is now a museum of fabrics and costumes, run by the Fondazione Musei Civici di Venezia.
The family’s last descendent, in 1945 Alvise Nicolò bequeathed the palazzo to the city on the condition it became an “Art Gallery to complete the Correr Museum“; thirty years later, following his wife’s death, it was then left to the city. Opened to the public in 1985, it became the seat of the Study Centre of the History of Textiles, Costumes and Perfume, housing the vast collections of ancient fabrics and clothes belonging to the Venice Civic Museums – most of which came from the Correr, Guggenheim, Cini and Grassi collections. Palazzo Mocenigo also contains a well-stocked library specialising in the history of fabrics, costumes, and fashion. The library is situated in the rooms on the first-floor piano nobile that have not conserved their original furnishings; the stocks of fabrics and costumes are situated on the first mezzanine and on the top-floor.
Completely renewed and expanded at the end of 2013, the itinerary winds its way through twenty rooms on the first piano nobile, therefore doubling theamount of exhibition area compared to when it opened in 1985. As a whole, the rooms skilfully evoke the different aspects of the life and activities of a Venetian nobleman between the 17th and 18th century, and on display are mannequins wearing valuable ancient garments and accessories that belong to the Study Centre connected to the Museum.
Paying particular attention to the history of the city, fashion and costumes have therefore always played a key role in the studies and exhibitions of the museums in the aristocratic setting of the Palazzo Mocenigo.