Tag Archives: Practical Renaissance

September Strategies

I had high hopes for this particular September, one of the very few Septembers that I didn’t have to go back to school as a student or teacher in my entire life as I am on sabbatical. I’ve always thought that September was one of the most beautiful months of the year, and looked forward to long golden walks after I put in several hours of reading and writing. We’re halfway through the month, and so far it hasn’t turned out that way: the weather was unbearably muggy and hot in the first week of September, and last week I had pneumonia! But I’m on the mend now, so those walks will happen, and in the meantime I have been extraordinarily productive, so I have adopted a pre-modern mentality and come to the conclusion that it was God’s will that I stay inside and write. With both my lungs and the weather clearing up, however, I’m planning on a more (physically) active second half of the month.

I’m working with early modern prescriptive literature: texts on how to better “order” your health and household and garden, and feeling deficient in my own “government” of all of the above. September was a busy month for my seventeenth-century authors, who prescribe many activities for their readers: harvesting, preserving, cleaning, potting-up, sowing and sewing, among other monthly tasks. In his Kalendarium Hortense, which was published in fourteen editions from 1664, the famous diarist John Evelyn is a taskmaster for two gardens, or really three: the orchard (he was a big forestry proponent, for both timber and fruit), the “olitory garden” (a word he apparently made up) which produced plants for culinary and medicinal uses, and the “parterre” or flower garden. As you can read below, much is in prime during September so there is much to do in all three gardens.

September Evelyn Cover

September Evelyn

September Evelyn 2

September Evelyn 3

September Evelyn 4

September Evelyn 5

I’m reading these texts for specific information about life and learning in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries but it occurred to me that gardening and husbandry texts, in particular, are great sources for understanding climate change as the authors take careful note of the existing weather conditions. September was as much a transitional month for them as it is for us. Michaelmas is really the turning point: before that it can be either hot or cold. After our very humid early September, I was kind of relieved to read the observations of Thomas Tryon, a wealthy merchant, popular author, and energetic advocate of vegetarianism who seemed to exist on nothing but gruel in the month of September as the Air (which is the Life of the Spirit in all Cities and great Towns) is thick and sulpherous , full of gross Humidity (YES!) which has its source from many uncleanesses…..I guess they had to suffer through humidity as well, even in the midst of the “Little Ice Age”.

Tryon collage

The more elaborate horticultural texts are sources for garden design, machinery, experimental crops–even adjoining houses. One of my favorites is John Worlidge’s Systema Agriculturae, the Mystery of Husbandry Discovered (1669) , which also included a “Kalendarium Rusticum” of monthly tasks for the larger estate as well as other reference materials. This is a pretty substantive text describing the workings of a pretty substantive estate: thank goodness there is an epitome! For the steward of such an estate, as opposed to the mere gardener or farmer, September is all about getting ready for the plough, mending your fences, making cider (which Worlidge calls the “wine” of Britain) and perry, drying your hops, sowing a host of vegetables and planting your bulbs, gathering your saffron, “retiring” your tender plants into the conservatory, and tending to your bees. In these early days of an emerging agricultural revolution, it’s good to see some machines to help with all of this work: Worlidge’s work–and his calendar–are aimed at more of a collective or national audience than that of the individual householder as his reference to a “System” implies.

September Worlidge 1691

September WOrlidge title 1681

September Worlidge 1681 verse

September collage

September Worlidge BIG

September walter_d_ae_garten_idstein_fruehling_florilegium_nassau_idstein_1663 The 1681 edition of Worlidge’s Systema Agriculturae; a more ornamental continental garden from the Nassau-Idstein Florilegium by Johann Walter the Elder, Bibliothèque Nationale, Paris.


Hang the King and Queen in the Dining Room

Back to the seventeenth century, where I am working my way through a series of instructional books produced to meet the apparent and universal demand for better health, more wealth, and an enhanced quality of life. For most of yesterday I was in the company of William Salmon, Doctor of Physick, who wrote an comprehensive and detailed compendium titled Polygraphice: or The Arts of Drawing, Engraving, Etching, Limning, Painting, Washing, Varnishing, Gilding, Colouring, Dyeing, Beautifying and Perfuming, which was published in eight expanding editions from 1671 to 1701. Here we have the third edition, from the University of Heidelberg, which includes an additional “Discourse on Perspective and Chiromancy”. In some ways, this is your typical early modern mishmash of arts, “sciences”, and a bit of magic, but in other ways it is very precise and technical, the instructions for perspective and shading particularly so. Salmon is always referred to as an “empiric” in terms of his medical practice, but his publications are so diverse one assumes they are primarily derivative—yet there seems to be some strong opinions among the instructions.

Salmon Pyro

salmon1675_0068

salmon1675_0036

salmon1675_0079

And the long seventeenth-century title does not mislead us: Salmon offers up instructions on all aspects of drawing, engraving, and etching, he tells us how to mix up paint colours, of both water and oil, and how to gild, varnish and dye, and then he makes the remarkable transition from painting canvases to rooms to faces! This is the rationalization: some may wonder that we should meddle with such a subject as this, in this place, but let such know; the Painting of a deformed Face, and the licking over of old, withered, wrinkled, and weather-beaten skin are as proper appendices to a painter, as the rectification of his Errors in a piece of Canvas. Well. Since he’s in the realm of cosmetics, he tells us how to make a variety of waters, and touches on alchemy for a bit—more in forthcoming editions. I was delighted to see a very early reference to “Popinjay Green”, which I think must be my favorite color (no–apparently not that early a reference: the Oxford English Dictionary tells me that the word first appeared in English in 1322, and the reference to the color began appearing in the sixteenth century).

Popinjay Green Collage

Popinjay Susan Sandford

Adding an anachronistic image here: this “Popinjay” collage of a turn-of-the-century dandy by artist Susan Sanford just seemed to fit in this post + I like it.

There is very little creativity in this text about art, but the time, place, author, and genre dictate didacticism. Salmon instructs us not only how to make paints, but also which colors to apply to which subjects, whether it’s the sky or the clouds or the grass in a “landskip” or the skin of the subject of a portrait. Once the paintings are complete, he tells his readers where they should be “disposed of” (hung) in their houses: royalty in the dining room, forbear all “obscene pictures” in the banqueting rooms, and family pictures in the bedchamber. Art is essentially skilled imitation of nature, in an ideal sense: the work of the Painter is to express the exact imitation of natural things; wherein you are to observe the excellencies and beauties of the piece, but to refuse its vices.

Salmon CollageThe dining room at the royal palace of Holyroodhouse in Edinburgh, over which King George IV reigns.


“The Beautifying Part of Physic”

I’m diving deep into early modern recipes this month, and as the term recipe was not reserved for the culinary realm during this time that means instructions for all sorts of things: health, hygiene, magic, preservation, and cosmetics, or the “beautifying part of physic” according to one of the first books devoted exclusively to made beauty: Johan Wecker’s Cosmeticks (1660). Wecker’s categorization of cosmetics was in alignment with the contemporary understanding of the body and its operation, best expressed by Francis Bacon in his Advancement of Learning earlier in the seventeenth century:  the knowledge that concerneth man’s body is divided as the good of man’s body is divided, unto which it referreth. The good of man’s body is of four kinds, Health, Beauty, Strength and Pleasure: so the knowledges are Medicine, or the art of Cure; art of Decoration, which is called Cosmetic; art of Activity, which is called Athletic; and art Voluptuary, which Tacitus truly calleth eruditus luxus [refined luxury?]. This subject of man’s body is of all other things in nature most susceptible of remedy; but then that remedy is most susceptible of error. What cosmetic remedies does Wecker offer? Here’s the title page and his own summary of its contents:

Cosmeticks

Cosmetics Contents

As you can read, this book offers a lot: all deformities of Nature corrected, age renewed, youth prolonged, the least impediment amended. I am wondering if it was “promised to the world” by the prominent physician Nicholas Culpepper; I assume that’s just an advertising ploy. The egalitarian pitch (every one may be his own apothecary) is contradicted by many of the valuable ingredients of the recipes within, but there are also some very simple recipes with basic ingredients—essentially there are hierarchies of recipes for the same goal: whiter skin, smoother skin, spot-free skin, fairer hair, more hair in some places, less in others, a sweeter-smelling body. Women should have rose-water on hand at all times, and lots of lemons, the occasional pineapple, and be prepared to devote many eggs to their beauty regimens.

Cosmetics collage

A few skin-whitening recipes are above, with reference in one to the legendary ceruse, the white-lead concoction which all of my students think Queen Elizabeth I slathered on her face every single day to hide her smallpox scars and project majesty and Virgin Mary-ness, thanks to Shekhar Kapur’s Elizabeth (1998). We don’t have a lot of evidence for this cosmetic fable (see here), and I can’t find recipes for ceruse in any of the likely seventeenth-century texts, perhaps because it was purchased as a ready-made commodity (especially the preferred Venetian variety), or it was too much of a target for the anti-paint Puritans. I did find a Royal Society recipe of sorts (more like an industrial process) in a charming twentieth-century book about the history of cosmetics, Neville Williams’ Powder and Paint. A History of the Englishwoman’s Toilet, Elizabeth I—Elizabeth II (1957), but most of the cosmetic creams referenced in seventeenth-century recipe books featured the less-dangerous and -expensive “bear’s grease”(or that of any animal, but usually pigs) rather than ceruse. The marvellous Hannah Woolley’s skin waters, ointments and creams echo those of Wecker: even though some of her recipes are equally elaborate, it seems that “beautifying” is more about pampering (and removing) than paint (and adorning). Don’t get me started on patches–they are a whole other story.

Cosmetics Williams

Woolley 1685.jpgBeinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Yale University

A recipe for an excellent “Pomatum”, to clear the Skin, from Hannah Woolley’s The accomplish’d ladies delight in preserving, physick, beautifying, and cookery : containing I, The art of preserving and candying … II, The physical cabinet, or, Excellent receipts in physick and chirurgery, together with some rare beautifying waters … and also … The art of angling. III, The compleat cooks guide ((1685).

Wash Barrows-grease, or [pig] Lard often-times in May-dew that hath been Clarified in the Sun, till it be exceeding white, then take Marsh-mallow-Roots, scraping off the out-sides, make thin slices of them, set them to macerate in a Balneo, and scum it well till it be Clarified, and will come to rope, then strain it, and put now and then a spoonfull of May-dew therein, beating it till it be through cold in often change of May-dew; then throw away that Dew, and put in a Glass, covering it with May-dew, and so keep it for your Use.


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