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The Last Medici Princess

Many of you have mentioned that you would like to know more about my dissertation research. While I can't share too much (everything is still a work in progress), I thought it would be fun to introduce you to the woman who is at the center of my work.

Portrait of Anna Maria Luisa de' Medici by Jan Frans van Douven (Wikimedia Commons)

Two summers ago in the state archive of Florence I stumbled upon a collection of over 200 recipes, which belonged to the last Medici Princess, Anna Maria Luisa de’ Medici. Born in 1667 in Florence, Anna Maria Luisa was the only daughter and second child of Cosimo III de Medici, Grand Duke of Tuscany, and Marguerite Louise d'Orléans (granddaughter of the French King).

In 1691, she was married to Johann Wilhelm II von der Pfalz, Elector Palatine. After her marriage (by proxy) she moved to Düsseldorf, her husband’s capital, where she lived until his death in 1716. After her husband's death, Anna Maria Luisa returned to her native Florence. During her twenty-six year absence neither of her brothers, Ferdinando or Gian Gastone, produced a Medici heir. With the death of her father and both of her brothers, Anna Maria Luisa became the last Medici.

Anna Maria Luisa’s collection of recipes covered topics as diverse as rare paint colors, desserts, fever waters, concoctions to control epilepsy and lung inflammation, and even forms of lapidary medicine (lapidary = stones). One rather strange recipe to control infant convulsions detailed how to make a powder from the precipitation of a pulverized skull of a man who died violently but was never buried, oriental pearls, red and white coral, yellow amber, and peony roots and seeds. Another simply prescribed female rhino blood for strokes and general blood flow, and yet another recipe recommended the vaginal insertion of St. Ignatius beans to “lower the monster of women.” Turns out those beans are poisonous!

In addition to recipes for fever water, perfumes, and ointments, directions for applying balsams, and therapeutics for pleurisy (lung pain or inflammation), Anna Maria Luisa’s collection also included a lengthy and detailed Portuguese inventory of raw medicinal materials. This inventory not only listed materia medica, like roots and seeds from the Kingdom of Manica, beans from Manila, and bark from Timor, it also detailed the uses and virtues of each. Two pages, one written in Portuguese the other in Italian, were dedicated to the uses and virtues of Pietre Cordiali, or Goa Stones. The unknown author of the inventory explained that these stones, created by the lay Jesuit Gaspar Antonio, were the best heart medicines he had ever found, but could also be used to combat fevers, animal venom, poisons, and even kidney stones.

Rare boxed set of remedies from the Uffizi fonderia, preserved in the Museo Storico Nazionale
dell'Arte Sanitaria (Rome), and shown at the Uffizi exhibit: L’alchimia e le arti. La Fonderia degli
Uffizi: da laboratorio a stanza delle meraviglie (December 12, 2012 – February 3, 2013)

I am interested in these recipes because I want to know why she collected them, what she did with them, and how they might reflect women's role (or anyone outside of university/institutional medicine, like the court's role) in the development of early modern science and medicine. Anna Maria Luisa’s recipes attest to the avid pursuit of alchemical and technical “secrets” at the Medici court. The patronage of science and medicine not only highlighted the Medici’s splendor and command of nature, it also produced tangible products, like fever waters. As a member of the Medici family, Anna Maria Luisa had access to these recipes to add to her own collection, to gift for diplomatic relationships, or to exchange for other recipes.

Hope you enjoyed this brief introduction to the woman I spend a lot of time with in the archives and I promise to share more as my research develops!

Ashley B
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  1. Your history posts are always so interesting! I can't believe some of these recipes!

    Prep on a Budget

  2. Ahh, this was so great to read first thing on a Monday - something interesting to wake my brain up :)
    I have read about the Medici family being great patrons of the arts but never delved beyond that (other than general political comings and goings learned as part of European Early Modern History, which are of course important but far less interesting than the human side of things, to me). When your dissertation is complete and you can be public with it, I'd love to read it!
    I wonder if those poisonous beans "lowered the monster of a woman" because they altered her state/made her drowsy from the poison.

  3. What a great source and topic! Do you think another question we can ask of the recipes is how did women work within the dynastic structure (which was almost always made up of arranged marriages for financial or status purposes) to gain their own voice? I'm looking at women as commissioners and patrons of art (in England) and I'm finding that culture or individual pursuits like this were ways for women to assert some authority in a powerless situation.

  4. This was really interesting to read! I have only recently become interested in history as a pleasurable pursuit (so many bad high school history class memories!), so I really appreciate your writing style.

    Sweet Spontaneity

  5. Wow, the early stages of girl power, Anna Maria was ahead of her time.

  6. Wow! What a topic. I can see why you find her and her "recipes" so interesting. She seems like she was "lost" in history, but she definitely deserves a second look.

  7. Such an interesting dissertation topic! I can't wait to read more about what you discover. Ana Maria seems like an amazing lady. I love your history post and I wish you the best with your research!

  8. This is utterly fascinating. I love reading about the Medici family -- both biographical and historical fiction. I am really intrigued about lowering the "monster" of women with poisonous beans but perhaps mores about the pulverized skull of a man who died violently. I feel like I need to read more...
    xx Abby a geek tragedy

  9. I just saw this post and I remember our earlier brief IG exchange on Londa Schiebinger's work (I have The Mind Has No Sex? sitting on my desk right now). Such interesting work! I don't think I ever mentioned that my doctorate is in Science and Technology Studies and I work mainly on the construction and development of scientific knowledge, so this is way up my alley - have you ever thought about presenting at the STS annual conference (4S)? Your work would be very well received! I think I'll be attending my first SHOT conference this year, have you ever attended? Keep kicking academic ass :)

    jess | Bows & Bouquets

  10. What?! I just stumbled upon you, and am so addicted! My undergrad degree is in history, and I taught HS history for seven years before going back to school to become a nurse! Your research is so intriguing on so many levels of my life. I look forward to following you!

  11. WOW this sounds amazing...

    I was told about your blog by my mum (who is obsessed with bloglovin') I love history, travel and fashion so I can tell your blog is going to my new favourite.

    I hope once you have finished your PhD that you might be able to share you research or even sell your dissertation as a book. I personally would love to read it!

    Sophie :) x


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