Who has not heard of the successful perfume Chanel No. 5 and does not recall Marilyn Monroe’s famous statement that she wore ‘five drops of Chanel No. 5’ and nothing else in bed?
Who does not recall a more recent perfume such as the oriental-spicy Opium by Yves Saint Laurent?
Have you ever thought about what essences make Chanel No. 5 so different from Opium? How does one create a perfume nowadays? And in past centuries?
Well, in Venice we can discover together a lot about perfume and its history in a 17th century palace located close to San Stae that also offers an intimate insight into an authentic aristocratic palace.
Palazzo Mocenigo was bequeathed by Alvise Nicolò Mocenigo, the last descendant of this family, shortly after WW2 to the city of Venice and after the death of his wife Costanza Faa di Bruno in the nineteen seventies also the rooms on the first floor piano nobile, so that these thus joined the rich patrimony of the Venetian museums with the intent of integrating the collections of the Correr Museum.
Palazzo Mocenigo was officially opened in 1985 and after the recent rearrangement in 2013 it houses also 5 rooms dedicated to the history of perfume, thanks to the generous patronage of the Venetian family Vidal.
Let us walk up to the first floor to the portego, the long hall that connects the two facades of the palace, the one towards the salizada and the other one towards the canal.
The coat of arms Mocenigo can be found in the ironwork above the door and in the gable, a double rose with 5 petals and 1 central button. In paintings the rose in the upper part is silver with 5 blue petals and in the lower part the rose is blue with 5 silver petals.
Under the wooden ceiling on the long frieze portraits of important Mocenigos stand out including the 7 impressive ‘Doges’ Mocenigo; only one Venetian noble family, the Contarinis, had more ‘Doges’, namely 8.
On the walls several paintings represent powerful Europeans, a King, a Pope, an Emperor at whose courts the Mocenigos worked as ambassadors.
Pietro Mocenigo was for example ambassador to London between 1668 and 1670 when Charles II of England, the Merry Monarch, ruled over the country with the title of King of England, Scotland and Ireland (from 1660 to 1685).
Pietro Mocenigo was also ambassador to Rome from 1672 to 1676, during the pontificate of Pope Clement X from 1670 to 1676.
We walk from room to room, all furnished with tables, chairs and furniture dating back to the Baroque and Rococo era, on the walls paintings of the glories of the family.
The ceilings were frescoed in the second half of the 18th century in occasion of the wedding of a Mocenigo with Laura Corner.
For example in room 2 the fresco by Giovanni Scajaro depicts Hymen, the allegorical figures of Fame and Glory. Hymen, the God of marriage ceremonies, was considered a good omen for weddings, his symbols are the bridal torch, the crown of flowers and sometimes a flute.
Hymen appears again in the frescoed ceiling of room 4 by Jacopo Guarana depicting the bridal allegory; Hymen together with the bride with a pierced heart, Love, Poetry and Fertility of Spring.
Besides the amazing décor everywhere beautiful Murano glass chandeliers, now all wired.
In room 5 a very richly carved frame strikes us. It contains the portrait of the politician Procuratore Giulio Contarini.
The Doge Alvise IV Mocenigo married Pisana Corner. A double portrait of them is displayed in the first room. The couple had 6 boys and 2 girls. His first son Alvise I married first Francesca Grimani and then Polissena Contarini da Mula. This is how the portrait of a Contarini got into the Mocenigo collection.
While walking through these rooms a different side of Venetian history also emerges: fashion and costumes in 18th century dresses, female and male dresses, displayed in especially planned mannequins (for smaller bodies and dresses).
Andrienne is the dress that best embodies the fashion of this time with its very recognizable long train that starts at the shoulders getting wider and wider.
The textiles have gentle, light colours, the patterns are small, the skirts are blown up, the sleeves resemble cornucopias pouring out lace.
Men’s fashion means silk embroidered waistcoats, under-waistcoats, trousers, cloaks and much more.
Section dedicated to perfume
We are now reaching the last room recently rearranged into the perfume section.
Room 16 is a little gem, the reconstruction of a laboratory of a perfume maker, who creates perfume compositions and rouges. In French the word le Nez, the nose, in Venetian a muscher, derives from musk, the secretion of the glandular secretions of a small animal, the musk deer.
In this distant world, it is difficult to recognize some of the objects displayed and their function, besides soaps, species, stills and mortars.
We will soon find out more…