The Pharmaceutical perfume shop of Santa Maria Novella, or Pharmacy of Santa Maria Novella, or Antica Spezieria of Santa Maria Novella, is located in via della Scala 16 in Florence, in a part of the convent complex of Santa Maria Novella. Today it is considered the oldest historical pharmacy in all of Europe, active without interruption for almost 4 centuries, as well as one of the oldest commercial establishments ever and has also been started a restoration project of some monumental environments.
Officina Profumo Farmaceutica Antica Spezieria di Santa Maria Novella History
As early as 1381, it is documented that the Dominicans of Santa Maria Novella sold rose water as a disinfectant, used above all in times of epidemics. The friars cultivated the medicinal plants (the simple ones, from which the name of the garden of the Semplici derives) in an adjoining garden, distilled herbs and flowers, prepared essences, elixirs, ointments, balsams. The simple garden mainly supplied the closest and twin Pharmacy of San Marco, also founded and managed by the Dominican friars.
The current perfumery dates back to 1612 when it was still working as a chemist. Renowned throughout Europe, it received from Grand Duke Ferdinando II de Medici the title of Foundry of His Royal Highness in 1659, during the direction of fra 'Angiolo Marchissi. In the eighteenth century its products were exported to the Indies and China.
Today it is considered one of the oldest commercial activities in all of Europe, active for four centuries. Despite the nineteenth-century suppression of the convent, it remained active thanks to Fra 'Damiano Beni and in 1866 became a municipal property and was rented by his nephew Cesare Augusto Stefani, whose heirs still manage the business.
The ancient "spezieria" today no longer pharmacy, but perfumery and herbalist is located in a real monumental environment, with decorations and antique furnishings dating back to various eras. It also preserves a valuable collection of scientific material, such as thermometers, mortars, scales, measuring cups, etc., in addition to the prized pharmacy jars from the sixth to the twentieth century.
The perfumery sales area is accessed by a fine-grained, fine-grained portal in serene stone, surmounted by a pediment in the center of which is the emblem of the Dominican friars, recognizable by the radiant sun.
The access gallery to the Sales Room is not the original entrance to the pharmacy, it was, in fact, only open at the end of the eighteenth century. The official opening of the pharmacy to the public in 1612 saw the access from the Great Cloister now owned by the Carabinieri Non-commissioned School through the shell-shaped portal designed by Matteo Nigetti. The ancient spezieria, today Erboristeria, was the place reserved for the sale and exhibition of products from 1612 to 1848.
In the classical atrium there are two exedras, each with a marble statue: Igea and Galeno, respectively the personification of the goddess of health, and the god of medicine. The small vestibule is in neo-Gothic style, with mainly blue and gold decorations, and gives access to the main sales room.
The large sales room was originally one of the chapels of the convent, dedicated to San Niccolò di Bari, patron of the rich Acciaioli family. According to tradition, the chapel was a gift of gratitude from Dardano Acciaioli to the Dominican friars. It is said that being Dardano sick and not knowing doctors diagnose, or cure his disease, to save their reputation, they ordered as a cure a particular grape called "ursina" or "lugliola" that at that time of the year was almost impossible to be found. The lack of healing would therefore have been attributed to the impossibility of finding the "medicine". The friars of Santa Maria Novella, having heard of this, gathered this grape from their garden and offered it to Dardano, who miraculously recovered. The nobleman, out of gratitude, proposed to the Dominicans to give them something that remained in perpetual memory and they asked him to contribute to the construction of a chapel "for the convenience of the sick". The chapel, built near the infirmary, so that the sick could follow the religious functions from their own bed.
In the eighteenth century the chapel underwent major transformations. The friars opened the entrance from via della Scala and used the chapel in the warehouse, this being very deteriorated. The great renovation took place in 1848, when the growing reputation of the pharmacy, required a suitable salon to accommodate customers. All the works were commissioned by Fra 'Damiano Beni, one of the most important directors of the pharmacy. The room was divided into two areas: sales room and warehouse.
The frescoes of the vault, in which the old cross vault was kept, executed by Paolino Sarti, represent the four continents to symbolize the fame of the Pharmacy and its products in the world. The furniture is made up of neo-gothic walnut wardrobes in which the workshop's products are displayed.
On the right is the so-called Green Room, facing the garden, which was built between 1335 and 1337, between the convent's infirmary and the chapel, to make it a private apartment, but it was never used for this purpose. From 1542, the year in which the commercial activity of the pharmacy began with the first book of entries and exits, this room hosted the pyramid stoves to distill, the stoves and the glasses. In the eighteenth century the Sala Verde, became a reception room for distinguished guests, who were served the specialties of the pharmacy such as Alkermes or China, but above all the chocolate, then a great fashion drink.
Today the hall is furnished with 18th-century style directorial furniture. On the right, on the wall, the effigy of the Dominican saint Pietro da Verona by Matteo Rosselli dominates. On the opposite wall is the emblem of the Dominicans of Santa Maria Novella with its rich carved and gilded frame, under which there is the marble bust of Fra 'Tommaso Valori, one of the directors. At the top are all the directors of the Officina from 1612, year of the official foundation, onwards. The Antica Spezieria, today Erboristeria, was the hall reserved for sale from 1612 to 1848 and was accessed from the Cloister Grande of Santa Maria Novella through the portal designed by Matteo Nigetti, on the sides of which there are still two memorial plaques that recall the activity Pharmaceutical of the friars, privileges granted by the Grand Duke and illustrious guests of the pharmacy.
The room is embellished by the rich stucco decoration of the vaulted ceiling of the eighteenth century, with fantastic animals, sphinxes, dragons, royal eagles masks, festoons of fruit and roses, all reasons dear to the repertoire of the time. Some elements, ribbons and festoons, return to the wood carving that surmounts the seventeenth-century wardrobes. In the closet located in the entrance wall, in the center of the carving there is a wreath of roses in gilded wood, surmounted by a crown, to the Sacristy which shows the mystical Marriage of Saint Catherine of Alexandria.
Used since the seventeenth century as an aromatics, it was the room where the distilled water was kept and for this reason called "Stanza delle acque".
The walls are completely frescoed with stories of Christ's passion by Mariotto di Nardo, between 1385 and 1405. In 2012 for the 400 years of the company all the premises of via della Scala have been restored and without doubt the sacristy of the former Chapel of San Niccolò is what has aroused greater interest also for the result obtained. In the original fresco of the 14th century, the nineteenth-century intervention was the most striking, the vault was in fact entirely repainted in that period, and on a background of a starry sky the four evangelists were represented.
With the current restoration, Daniela Dini managed to completely free the vault from nineteenth-century painting, bringing it back to the original painting by Mariotto di Nardo. The four nineteenth-century evangelists gave place to three saints and one bishop: a Franciscan (Saint Bernard of Quintavalle), a Benedictine (Saint Benedict), a Dominican (Saint Thomas) and a bishop (Saint Nicholas). "
The museum itinerary of the Santa Maria Novella Perfume-Pharmaceutical Workshop is developed in what were once the production laboratories. The museum was born in the desire to give light and life back to the machines used a time for the work, to the glass, to the ancient ceramics and to the objects of copper and bronze.
Next to the Spezieria are the large cellars where the products have been stored for centuries. From here you can also access the tisane and the old distillery; these rooms overlook the pretty herb garden, where the monks cultivated medicinal plants, near the second entrance on Piazza Santa Maria Novella (open only in special circumstances). On the hills of Castello, facing the Villa Medicea della Petraia, in via della Petraia 38 / F, there are the gates of the Garden of Santa Maria Novella, a paradise of 15,000 square meters, in the will to propose an ancient tradition inherited by the Dominican friars: the hortus conclusus, cultivated by the friars around their convent since the 13th century.
Throughout the Pharmacy are exposed various scientific instruments and containers, dating from the seventeenth to the twentieth century. The collection consists of three cores: ceramic pots for pharmacies (manufacturers of Montelupo, Richard-Ginori and Chini), pharmacy glasses (bottles, alembics and others) and real scientific instruments (thermometers, mortars, scales, measuring cups).
Old showcases and other instruments used to extract and synthesise perfumes and medicinal compounds are displayed in the windows of the Sala dello antica Spezieria. the high-grade thermometers of the Accademia del Cimento are copies: the originals are in the Museo Galileo in Florence.
In the Officina it is possible to buy ancient preparations such as: perfumes, essences and extracts, tablets, candles, liqueurs and accessories.