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  • Writer's pictureStefania Gioia

Venice on the Perfume Route

Updated: Dec 20, 2018

On How Venice is Rediscovering the Antique Passion for Perfume Making.

When you enter The Merchant of Venice boutique in San Fantin, your first impression is that you’ve stepped into a colorful, alchemical museum, far back in time, away from the current crowd of tourists swarming the narrow streets of Venice. As a matter of fact, in the mid-17th century, the recently restored ground floor of the building was home to an apothecary. Later, in 1846, it became a famous pharmacy, designed by the architect Giambattista Meduna (who also projected the near Fenice theatre). The four tall statues you can admire in the shop, representing Botany, Medicine, Surgery and Physics, were sculpted by Pietro Zandomeneghi.

Marco Vidal welcomes us with a vigorous handshake. He’s the Commercial Director of a family company that, since 1900, has been leading the body-care market and dedicated itself to the production and trade of soaps, spices and colonial goods imported from Asia. It’s 19:30, eventually the end of a long, busy day. Nevertheless, Vidal has found the time to see us with the shortest notice. Once again, these days spent walking and meeting people around Venice, I’m really amazed by the generous hospitality of their residents.

In his historical shop, surrounded by antique furniture and bottles of any shapes and colors, Marco explains his family’s last challenge: creating a line that, having its conceptual origins in Venice and its history, highlights the role of the city as a central force in the perfumery tradition throughout the world.

Yes, you might be surprised learning that the first perfumers in history were not French, but Italian - Venetian, to be exact! This fascinating story starts with the exclusive relationship developed in the Middle Age between the Serenissima and Constantinople. At that time, managing the maritime trade routes, Venice imported and exported goods of any kind, connecting the Mediterranean and the Asian regions.

It is proved that perfume was first brought to Venice by the Byzantine princess Theodora Anna Doukaina, wife of Domenico Selvo, Doge of Venice, from 1075 until 1083. Venice, that wasn’t directly under the Medieval church’s bigot influence, opened itself to the Asian habits and started to manufacture ointments and perfumes.

Four centuries later Caterina de’ Medici, marrying King Henry II, will be the first to export such perfumes to France. Her incomparable chemist, perfumer and alchemist Renato Bianco, known as Rene’ Le Florentin, will become in a very short time the perfumer for all of the French nobility.

The Vidal family company, Mavive, in agreement with Fondazione Musei Civici, in 2013 founded The Perfume Museum, located in Palazzo Mocenigo and unique in its kind. More than a static exhibition, the six room museum is an experience that guides visitors through multimedia didactic contents, sensory demonstrations and rare, precious objects. At the laboratory, everyone is welcome to take part of a workshop and create her/his own personal fragrance.

The whole operation is not just a matter of money, but also a smart way to invest it, create value, inform about the city’s history, highlight the prestigious artisans’ work.

Rediscovering and preserving the excellences and the artisans’ know-how might be the only way to keep alive the authentic part of the city. As with the most refined perfume, Venice must protect its fundamental essence - a secret ingredient whose absence would make superfluous any other element.

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