800 Years of History
The Officina Profumo-Farmaceutica di Santa Maria Novella can trace its roots back to the Florence of 1221. In that year, Dominican friars founded the convent of Santa Maria Novella, and began to cultivate - among other things - a garden. From that same garden, many centuries of experience in pharmacopoeia and natural preparations began to develop. And in later years that experience would expand to include the worlds of cosmetics, fragrances and wellness products.
The Chapel of San Niccolò
The Great Sales Hall
During a delicate period of Italian history, Damiano Beni initiated the restoration of the former chapel of San Niccolò, transforming it into the current Great Sales Hall. The extensive renewal project conceived by Friar Tommaso Valori was only completed during the Italian Risorgimento by one of his successors, Damiano Beni. He started work in 1847, transforming the Chapel of San Niccolò into the current Great Sales Hall. The Gothic vault was decorated with frescoes by Paolino Sarti depicting the four continents. The wooden furnishings were in fourteenth-century style, such as the long counter on which were positioned two bronze lamp holders depicting female figures. Two wooden statues, also still present today, alluded to healthy living, with direct reference to the effectiveness of the Officina's products.
The Room of Waters
The Sacristy of the Chapel of San Niccolò was converted into a storeroom as early as 1612, the year in which the Officina took its current name and became Foundry of His Royal Highness. In it were kept the aqueous products from the distillation of herbs and roses, called "waters". Hence the name by which it was called: "The Room of Waters". These distillates were stored in glass vials or copper containers, ready to be quickly sold to customers equipped with "pitchers" for decanting, a custom that remained in use until the end of the 19th century. For a longer shelf life, glass flasks covered with straw were used to protect them from impacts.
In 2014 the Officina inaugurated its garden. There was a time when the friars carefully safeguarded their crops within the high walls of the convent, cultivating them with passion in order to obtain excellent natural products. This method was called Hortus Conclusus. Each element of the garden had its own meaning, such as the fountain to symbolise the "source of life", and each component was there to stimulate the five senses. The Officina still cultivates its own garden near the Villa Petraia in Florence.
The Scented Waters
The first evidence of the production of scented waters dates back to 1381. The decades of the Black Death were particularly hard for the afflicted populations: that is why the Dominican friars distilled Acqua di Rose (rose water). At the time, this was used both to sanitise rooms and for personal care, taken with wine or in pills.
Caterina de' Medici
When, in 1533, a very young Catherine de Medici left Florence to marry the future king of France, among the pages, guards and ladies of her entourage, she also asked for a perfumer. His name was Renato Bianco, and in Paris he became René le Florentin: and so from the ancient wisdom of the essence-makers of Florence, the noble art of perfume spread throughout the world.
Acqua di Santa Maria Novella, or Acqua della Regina (the "Queen's Water"), the oldest fragrance of the Officina Profumo-Farmaceutica di Santa Maria Novella it's an homage to the gift of love that Caterina brought to France.
Acqua della Regina
On the 800th anniversary of its birth, the Officina Profumo-Farmaceutica di Santa Maria Novella has created the Firenze 1221 Edition. A celebratory tribute to an unparalleled history, closely tied to the city in which it was founded. A royal tale, a homage to the gift that Caterina de' Medici brought to Henry II of Valois, the future King of France, in 1533. Acqua della Regina, or Acqua di S.M. Novella, is the oldest fragrance of the Officina Profumo-Farmaceutica di Santa Maria Novella. It has a fresh and citrusy bouquet.
The convent pharmacy
The first secular management of the convent pharmacy of Santa Maria Novella dates back to this year. The pharmacy's accounts became independent from those of the convent, and the doors of the pharmacy "officially" opened to the public.
The start of the activity
1612 is the date conventionally given for the start of the activity of the Officina Profumo-Farmaceutica, open to the public and relatively independent from the convent. For another two and a half centuries, however, the directors would continue to be Dominican friars. These were notable figures such as Fraiar Angiolo Marchissi, one of the great scholars of medical and alchemical science of the seventeenth century, who was close to the Medici prince and Emperor Rudolph II of Hapsburg.
A new life
Friar Cosimo Bucelli, an "aromatician" and ointment-maker from 1743, was an experimenter who loved to combine medicinal properties with pleasant scents. Author of the collection of cosmetic and pharmaceutical recipes entitled Secrets of the Foundry of His Royal Highness, Bucelli also renovated the rooms of the Antica Spezieria and brought the products of the Officina to the attention of the world.