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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!