© Photos: ROBERTO ALBORGHETTI / OFFICINA PROFUMO-FARMACEUTICA S.M.NOVELLA, FLORENCE (Italy)
Last Friday night, the 22th of May, 2015, the presentation of my new book “Quando il giorno era una freccia” (English translation: “When the Day was an Arrow”) took place in Florence in the historical rooms of the ancient “Officina Profumo-Farmaceutica of Santa Maria Novella”, via della Scala 16. Benedetta Alphandery, co-owner, kindly welcomed the guests in this very special place we admire in the very heart of the Florentine City.
The enchanting and capturing “Officina Profumo-Farmaceutica of Santa Maria Novella” is part of Florence history. During the thirteenth century, thanks to a growing economic development, Florence attracted crowds of outcasts in search of work, finding asylum in the city centre; they camped in villages where they were miserable and unhealthy.
They dedicated themselves to support their new mendicant orders. The Franciscans settled east of the city, where they settled in the area of the shops of the dyers and tanners, polluting water and air and where the church of Santa Croce was built, completed during 1800s. The Dominicans settled in the city walls to the north-west: first at the church of San Pancrazio, then in that of Santa Maria delle Vigne, which, in the middle of the fourteenth century, was rebuilt and named the Santa Maria Novella. The Carmelites settled in the south, in a booming area, where workers lived in poor carders and Battilana: Santa Maria del Carmine was consecrated in 1422.
Fra’ Angiolo Marchissi was one of Officina Profumo – Farmaceutica di Santa Maria Novella’s most eminent apothecaries and aromatologists. He managed the pharmacy for about fifty years until his death in 1659, just over 350 years ago. He was very young when he entered the convent as a lay brother. He donned the Dominican habit in 1612, the year the Officina was officially founded, and he immediately began providing the impetus behind the important period of scientific research that enhanced the fame of the pharmacy already known since its origin in 1212, when Dominican monks settled in Florence.
Not only did Angiolo Marchissi, a qualified apothecary since 1613, mix simple medications with formulas from the Ricettari Fiorentino; he is considered a valid scholar who helped establish the medical and chemical-pharmaceutical sciences in Florence. The renown of the pharmacy’s products is attributed to Fra’ Angiolo Marchissi. A 17th century guidebook on the “Jewels of Florence” states that “many cities in and beyond Italy supply themselves with these medications and precious essences”.
One of his many formulas is for Anti-hysterics Water, a medication made from essences of spices and herbs, including Costmary or balsamite (Balsamite major Desf.), cultivated in the monastery’s garden for its aromatic and medicinal properties. This same herb is still used today in the Santa Maria Novella Water and Lozenges, still made according to the centuries old recipe.
In 2012 Officina Profumo-Farmaceutica di Santa Maria Novella celebrated 400 years of uninterrupted business, in the name of tradition and innovation. Raw materials of the highest quality are still used and the apothecary fathers’ artisanal procedures are still followed, yet the company avails itself of modern technology and state of the art equipment. Benedetta and Eugenio Alphandery, general manager and co-owners of Officina comment on this: “Given our passion for both antique and modern cars, we could compare this company to a convertible from the 1930’s with hand hammered bodywork crafted by an artisan and a powerful, modern motor, perfect brakes and suspension, all exhalting the car’s beauty and the pleasure of driving it.”
For the occasion major restoration has been undertaken at the historic shop on Via della Scala to restore the ancient pharmacy to its original appearance. This restoration project represents a milestone in Officina’s long history. Production is now carried out on Liberty style premises on Via Reginaldo Giuliani, in the north of Florence about 3 km from the head office on Via della Scala. All the products are made here with equipment that has been specially designed and custom-built for each specific purpose. Each product has a peculiar story, for example the Cologne and Pot pourri, two of the company’s distinguishing products.
The Officina Profumo-Farmaceutica di Santa Maria Novella’s museum circuit is comprised of the areas which were once the cellars. The museum was established to display the machines and equipment used for production, as well as the antique ceramics, as well as glass, copper and bronze objects.