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In addition to the great tourist destinations such as Palazzo Ducale, the Basilica of San Marco and the Rialto bridge, Venice, among its ravines, has always hidden some enchanting jewels. One of these is the Perfume Museum, the first and only of its kind in Italy. It is located in the beautiful Palazzo Mocenigo, in the heart of the lagoon city and is part of the complex called “Study Center for the History of Textile, Costume and Perfume”. When you visit the museum you can observe a section with a swirl of brocades, velvets, waistcoats and mannequins richly dressed. If you happen to visit on a day when conferences and meetings on various topics are being held, you can participate in them for free, along with leading experts in these fields. They are held periodically in a room of the Center used for temporary events.
All of this came about thanks to a project in 2013 that combined the world of culture with the business world. The collaboration between the Civic Museums Foundation of Venice and the Vidal family, leader in the perfume sector, allowed the creation of five rooms within the sixteenth century palace to be dedicated to deepening the history of the union between Venice and the essences, from the High Middle Ages to the present day. The Venetian city, with its trade network with Greece, Turkey, Arabia and China, held an unparalleled position as it was the privileged point of arrival for spices and precious materials such as cinnamon, benzoin, face powder, cedar wood and sandalwood. Together with these came also the secrets on how to obtain powders and perfumed waters for people, objects or environments, which were then exported throughout Europe.
The museum recounts this story with an innovative and sensory touch. Through an interactive and multimedia path, one feels enveloped in the intersection between alchemy, science, magic, medicine, cosmetics, and aesthetics which constitute the tradition of fragrances that have been passed down to us. At the same time there is the opportunity to enter somewhere which, although now used as a museum, still preserves the furniture, paintings and decorations of a typical Venetian noble house (donated by the last descendant of the Mocenigo to the Municipality of Venice in 1945). So more specifically, what can be found?
The first room, with the aid of a video, introduces the Venetian history of perfume. The video explains the origin of Venetian wisdom in the art of perfumes traced back to the “mude”, the trade routes that led to the Byzantine Empire and North Africa, and where the precious substances with which to make the first “odoriferous waters” came from. In another room you can find the “muschieri” and “saoneri” laboratory, along with the artisans who specialise in the production of perfumes and soaps, as well as a collection of their ampoules, distillers, pipettes, herbaria, manuals, and treaties (including the Notandissimi from 1555 which contains secrets of the Fragrance Art and includes 300 recipes). Here you will also find an olfactory map detailing the various “aromatic” exchanges of Venice! In the rooms which follow, presented in containers and ampoules made from Murano glass, are the fundamental raw materials for creating some fragrances, some of which were very rare back in the day and are no longer used, for example; musk – obtained from certain animal glands, or ambergris – an intestinal secretion of the sperm whale. Moving on, you can find a very fine collection of flasks, bottles, and perfume containers made from different materials, and with various origins and backgrounds.
The final room is a beautiful and intoxicating room. This room offers a multitude of essences which contribute to the formation of six of the main olfactory families, all of which are available to smell. Information is written beside each one too, giving more detail. There is also a section dedicated to the technical production tools, and the mixing of essential oils.
If you would rather buy a product directly, the line closely connected to the museum is The Merchant of Venice, a luxury perfumery brand belonging to the Vidal family. As well as precious fragrances they offer enchanting and finely crafted bottles made from Murano glass in which to keep them. The collection includes the “Museum Collection“, which consisting of 40 single-issue essences in 50ml portable vials, the particularity of these being that they can be used either alone, or in combination with one another. Another is the “Trial Kit“, a box containing six 5ml vials with fragrances recalling the spices and substances that came across the seas from the East, in the time when Serenissima flourished. If you are looking for a longer and fuller experience in the world of perfumes, on the small island of San Clemente you can find “The Merchant of Venice Spa“, a wellness area offering massages and treatments using ancient oriental oil recipes imported by Venetian merchants over the centuries.
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Trial Kit – The Merchant of Venice
A journey to discover the precious fragrances of the Murano Collection. Six vials of exclusive Eau de Parfum, an expression of fascination and olfactory refinement that evokes the ancient trade routes between the Serenissima and the Far East. Inside it you will find: Byzantium Saffron – Mandarin Carnival – Suave Petals – Rosa Moceniga – Andalusian Soul – Mystic Incense.