The Fragrant Sachets in Which Queen Isabel Packed Her Dresses

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Queen Isabel by Alonso Sanchez Coello, circa 1560’s

I discovered the historic sachet recipe in a book of period herbals very early in my aromatic career. For me, the desire was strong to simply recreate the fragrance, and in so doing, experience a sensory moment of Spanish history. But during an idle moment in a Barnes and Nobles, I happened upon a book of Tudor and Jacobean portraiture called “Dynasties” by Karen Hearn of the Tate Gallery in London. And Queen Isabel’s portrait and life story, as well as her fragrant, bejewelled dresses, quite drew me in!

Karen Hearn writes “Isabel’s relationship to Philip II of Spain is articulated primarily through the striking device of the brilliant rose-pink dress. Wearing this colour, which is very unusual in a portrait, was a recognised sign of love. Indeed, there existed a romantic attachment between Philip and Isabel and their marriage certainly inaugurated a period of social and cultural vivacity at the Spanish court. It is, however, difficult to separate personal emotions from political decorum during this period and her portrait would also have been understood in the context of the relationship between France and Spain. The peace treaty of Cateau-Cambresis, signed in April 1559, was sealed and guaranteed by the marriage between Philip and Isabel. Isabel was christened ‘Isabel de la Paz’ and taken to their hearts by the Spanish. Her portrait characterisation as young, beautiful, dressed in warm pink and laden with jewels similarly represented her as a kind of peace-trophy: the embodiment of optimism and love” (Hearn, 57).

Reflecting on the considerable personal and political pressures inherent in Isabel’s union with Philip II of Spain at 14 years of age, I re-visited her recipe with less of a sensory, and more of a historian’s, curiosity.

I soon realized that her Apothecary most certainly took these same personal and political considerations in hand. For Isabel’s recipe was much more than a casual fragrance to make her dresses smell sweet and pretty. Indeed, this recipe is closer in nature to a magical prescription, a concoction if you will, carefully and intentionally designed according to ancient folk meaning and symbolism, even invoking the influence of the stars.

Apothecaries, perfumers, chemists, and pharmacists of this time were well-versed in astrology, astronomy and the celestial correlations and assignations of planetary influences upon the human body. Likewise, many cures, medicines, and perfumes for the human body were carefully designed using plants and medicines that were deemed to be an astrologically harmonious cure for the problem/or malady at hand. Consider this quote by Paracelsus “Every physician should simultaneously be an alchemist and an astrologer” (Junius, 96). In my opinion, the carefully selected, balanced, even romantic, combination of ingredients used in Isabel’s dress powder reflect these philosophies and considerations.

Ingredients in Queen Isabel’s Sachet Powder for Scenting Her Dresses
Coriander
Gum Benzoin
Calamus
Orris
Red Rose Petals

First, I took note of one of the most commonly used aphrodisiac ingredients of this time period; Coriander. Many herbals of the time period connect Coriander with the fiery, sexual, spicy, active, procreative energies of Mars. But I discovered that Coriander has a dual association with the planet Venus. Certain plants, according to The Practical Handbook of Plant Alchemy by Manfred Junius, were affiliated with more than one planetary body. So – the Renaissance-era herbals regard Coriander to contain the masculine, procreative energy of Mars as well as the feminine, alchemical planet Venus within the very seed itself! “As Ishtar or Ashtaroth, Venus was the goddess of sexual love in Babylon, as Aphrodite in Greece… she ruled over love between man and woman” (Junius, 110) Venus, planet and goddess, also ruled over alchemy. Consider the ‘Sacred Marriage’ between Philip and Isabel as well as between France and Spain as Junius continues “This planet rules the arts, harmony, proportion, affection, and the ability to integrate separate things into a whole and to mediate between opposites”.

Next, take note of the Calamus root or Sweet Flag, an herb of the Sun. This herb was believed to lend its solar aspects of the masculine, the golden, consciousness, clarity and its life-giving properties to the user. Quite a powerful combination with the soft, sweet, violet-scented powder of Orris, root of the Florentine Iris, a lunar herb and common fixative in natural perfumery since antiquity. The Moon and its influence were believed to lend Orris the lunar qualities of fertility, conception, a capacity for feelings, motherliness, family and heritage to the user (Junius, 101-105). I don’t believe that this Apothecary’s archetypal marry-ing of Orris and Sweet Flag, the Masculine sun and the Feminine moon, can be overlooked. Like Isabel’s rose-pink dress, this powder was carefully designed and prepared with a specific symbolism in mind.

Finally, in closing, we have the most dominant ingredient in Isabel’s dress powder, the Red Rose of Venus, who speaks for herself! Or as Marina Heilmeyer of the book “Ancient Herbs” writes “All roses, according to legend, were originally white. They turned red only from the blood of Aphrodite, who was pricked by a rose thorn as she rushed to save the dying Adonis. Drops of her blood fell and dyed the rose red; the red rose thereby became the symbol of enduring love…”

Sadly, Queen Isabel died in childbirth, aged 22, in 1568. But her fragrance continues to live on…

The sachets, true to the historical recipe, are available in my Etsy shop through Valentine’s Day 2014.

https://www.etsy.com/listing/47424486/a-pair-of-sachets-of-queen-isabels?ref=shop_home_active_3

(Please note that the brocade from the listing photo is now sold out, but they are hand-stitched in two pieces of the plain raw cream silk, as pictured.)

copyright Kirsten Schilling, 2009

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The Mary Garden

Madonna in the Rose Bower, 1448, by Stephan Lochner

A lovely, lingering afternoon spent at the Musee national du Moyen Age, Cluny, in Paris, 2006, originally piqued my interest in the medieval Mary gardens. The concept of the Virgin Mary as the Hortus conclusus, or enclosed garden, originated with the beautiful Song of Solomon 4:12, in Latin:

Hortus conclusus soror mea, sponsa, hortus conclusus, fons signatus.

A garden enclosed is my sister, my spouse; a garden enclosed, a fountain sealed up.

“The flowers planted in a Mary garden all have a symbolic meaning, representing the virtues of the Blessed Virgin. The rose, the most frequently shown, symbolizes the Virgin herself, the Queen of Heaven. It should be emphasized that the favor granted the rose for its beauty is a constant factor in Western European culture and the emblematic flower of Venus passed with no apparent difficulty from pagan Antiquity to the Christian Middle Ages. The chaplets, wreaths and garlands of roses which were attributes of Venus, Bacchus, Cupid and the Graces were associated with the worship of idols rejected by Christianity. However, like many ancient religious practices which would have been difficult to eradicate, the Church preferred to maintain the outward display of such traditions while giving them new meaning.” from The Medieval Garden written and published by the Musee national du Moyen Age, Thermes hotel de Cluny, Paris, France.

Visiting the Mary Garden inspired me to design a series of candles based on medieval gardens. The Mary Garden is one of three, that can be purchased individually or as a set, along with The Love and Pleasure Garden, and The Simplers Garden.

A gently scented beeswax candle for anyone who needs mothering and nurturing, the Mary Garden is a sacred candle. Gently perfumed with precious Rose and Jasmine essential oil, it contains botanicals that would traditionally be found in a Mary Garden. Rose and violet petals, handmade flower essences and herbaceous floral waters, and a sprinkling of holy well water from pre-Christian and Christian wells of Ireland, France and England.

Light to honor the feminine, or Mother Earth, Herself.

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Elysium

Elysium, in Classical mythology, is akin to the Christian version of Paradise.

In Virgil’s Aeneid, Elysium knows only perpetual spring and shady groves, with its own sun and lit by its own stars:

solemque suum, sua sidera norunt (Aeneid, 6.641.)

Surely — this Otherworld smells of roses!

Brooklyn-based perfumer Julianne Zaleta of Herbal Alchemy and myself, Kirsten Schilling of Los Angeles-based Arabesque Aromas, have both created our own unique, Elysium-inspired, rose-drenched, natural perfumes.

Elysium by Herbal Alchemy.  Rose, Vanilla and Orange Peel scent this pathway to nirvana…

Herbal Alchemy’s “Elysium” is a maceration, meaning that the roses were picked fresh and added to alcohol with freshly grated orange peel and vanilla pods. The mixture is allowed to age for a period of time and then strained off and filtered. It is light yet rich and full bodied, delicious!

To order the perfume or a sample of Herbal Alchemy’s “Elysium,” visit Julianne Zaleta’s Etsy Shop:

http://www.etsy.com/listing/48802603/elysium-natural-perfume


Arabesque Aroma’s bespoke perfume, Elysium

Inspired by the idea of perpetual spring and shady groves, I created “Elysium,” an Eau de Parfum, as a bespoke Arabesque Aromas scent in 2010.

A sweet, light, floral fragrance made for only the serious lover of the true Rose scent, with subtle undercurrents of Neroli and Cedarwood, the perfume is available via sample or half ounce bottle:

http://www.etsy.com/listing/56623516/elysium-eau-de-parfum

And speaking of Neroli…

No discussion on Elysium would be complete without mentioning my two favorite, simple, yet utterly ambrosial, summertime recipes. Delectable treats for every God or Goddess, Greco-Roman or otherwise…

Orange Flower Water & Honey Greek Frozen Yogurt

32 oz Greek yogurt
1/2 c. Honey
2 tbsp’s of Orange Flower water, or to taste

Mix ingredients well and pour into the chilled bowl of your ice cream maker.

Churn on the low setting for 30+ minutes and serve immediately.

Suitably Divine organic Orange Flower Water can be purchased from the Herbal Alchemy Etsy Shop:

http://www.etsy.com/listing/49334500/orange-blossom-hydrosol

Store in the refrigerator.

Bellinis

Bellinis were created in Italy in the late 1930’s, and though now champagne is more commonly used to make Bellinis, they were initially made with Prosecco, which is how I prefer them.

The ratio is 2 parts Prosecco to 1 part fresh pureed peaches.

(This time of year, Bellini’s are particularly amazing with white peach puree!)

Add the peach puree to the glass, or a pitcher, first, and then pour the Prosecco (or Champagne, if you wish… ) onto the puree.

Julianne Zaleta’s Own Cocktail Recipe “The Summer Crush”

1.5 oz. lemon verbena infused vodka
1.5 oz. passion fruit nectar
one drop petitgrain essential oil, 10% dilution

Just give the combined ingredients a good shake and strain into a chilled martini glass.

Julianne provides further instruction for making the Lemon Verbena infused vodka on

her wonderful blog:

alchemologie.blogspot.com/2010/09/cocktails-ive-developed-real-passion.html

Petitgrain Cocktail Essence

The essential oil of Petitgrain, the unripe green fruit, stems and twigs of the bitter orange, adds a unique flavor to the libation. This small bottle of essence, also made by Herbal Alchemy, is diluted so that only one drop is necessary per cocktail (an undiluted drop at full strength would overwhelm) and contains 90 drops.

It can be found here:

http://www.etsy.com/listing/56361847/petitgrain-cocktail-essence-10-percent

So sing. Dance. Drink your ambrosial libations. Tend to your golden chariots and otherwise, be merry. And until my next blog entry, I will leave you in the excellent good company of the lovely and talented musician, Sasha Soukup, and the German poet, Friedrich von Schiller…

Elysium

Past the despairing wail–
And the bright banquets of the Elysian vale
Melt every care away!
Delight, that breathes and moves forever,
Glides through sweet fields like some sweet river!
Elysian life survey!
There, fresh with youth, o’er jocund meads,
His merry west-winds blithely leads
The ever-blooming May!
Through gold-woven dreams goes the dance of the hours,
In space without bounds swell the soul and its powers,
And truth, with no veil, gives her face to the day.
And joy to-day and joy to-morrow,
But wafts the airy soul aloft;
The very name is lost to sorrow,
And pain is rapture tuned more exquisitely soft.

Here the pilgrim reposes the world-weary limb,
And forgets in the shadow, cool-breathing and dim,
The load he shall bear never more;
Here the mower, his sickle at rest, by the streams,
Lulled with harp-strings, reviews, in the calm of his dreams,
The fields, when the harvest is o’er.
Here, he, whose ears drank in the battle roar,
Whose banners streamed upon the startled wind
A thunder-storm,–before whose thunder tread
The mountains trembled,–in soft sleep reclined,
By the sweet brook that o’er its pebbly bed
In silver plays, and murmurs to the shore,
Hears the stern clangor of wild spears no more!
Here the true spouse the lost-beloved regains,
And on the enamelled couch of summer-plains
Mingles sweet kisses with the zephyr’s breath.
Here, crowned at last, love never knows decay,
Living through ages its one bridal day,
Safe from the stroke of death!

– Friedrich von Schiller

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