Tuesday , May 17 2022

The Art of Smelliness

Given all the chatter about art and museums, it is only fitting that we turn our noses in the direction of the Perfume Museum of Barcelona. In the words of founder Ramon Planas Buera:

    The Perfume Museum of Barcelona, installed in the Paseo de Gracia 39, it was inaugurated in the middle of the year 1,961 in order to show the perfume vessels and containers evolution through history and geography to the public.

    The showcases expose from Egyptian, Greek, Etruscan, Roman, Arab containers, and from other old cultures, passing for the essence jars, perfumers and perfume vessels of all the times, to the most modern creations of the perfumers of today. The museum collection is constituted for five thousand pieces between old and modern perfume vessels, apart from miniatures, catalogues, labels and old advertising material.

    The perfume, it has been and it is in all the times, an appreciated and valuable product, for this reason the vessels and other containers that have kept them they have outstanding always, for being original in its forms, or valuable in the used materials, or both things simultaneously. The old bottles are a faithful reflection of the art and the culture of each one of the towns that have used them and at the modern time you can follow through their forms and designs all the artistic movements that have arisen in a determined while from history.

    The purpose of this Museum is, therefore, the one to show to the neophytes’ eyes or to the initiated into the perfume history, and, in general to the art lovers, an anthological and selective collection of representative pieces of this history, of its infinite variety, as well as of the waste of fantasy that the man has lavished, to display their aromatic creations. As if the eyesight sense wanted to pay tribute to the smell sense.

    The Museum is divided in two well defined parts. A first part shows glasses, perfume vessels, unguent vases, essence jars and other containers from the old cultures until the modern time and one second part where the flasks of industrialized perfumery are exposed, that is from second half of century XVIII to today. The first part is exposed following a chronological order, whereas in the second one, the bottles are reunited for trade names, without considering the year of its appearance in the market. The visit to the Perfume Museum constitutes a history of art lesson and an eyesight pleasure.

Buera has written an interesting history of perfume, from prehistory to today:

    It has been repeated often that the history of perfumery is as old as the history of the humanity. We find literary or archaeological witnesses in the oldest civilizations, in the most remote cultures, that they tell to us about the aromas, the ointments and the perfumes. From the Mesopotamian cultures to nowadays, the men and in particular the women have had an inclination or weakness, not to say a necessity, to perfume themselves and to embellish themselves. But the first question is when and how was the first perfume born? When and where had the custom to perfume begun?

    The scents, like the colours or the noises, already they existed in the nature at the moment at which the man appears on the Earth. The brackish scent of the sea or the one of the Earth wet after raining and so many others. But there is a little while in which the man discovers a new aroma, different from all those to which was customary and he could dominate, because the power to obtain it and to originate it was in his hands. When was this moment? And which was this perfume?

    I like to think that everything was originated back in prehistory, a day in which one of those primitive men, who got dressed in animal skins, hunted with axes or stone arrows and they almost spoke and they understood with monosyllables, they ignited a bonfire to warm up themselves or to move away the fierce animals that could watch to them and they ignited, by pure chance, branches or resins of a tree that gave off a pleasant scent, an unpublished scent, that never before they had felt.

    They, being surprised and disturbed, would run to call to the other components of the group or of the tribe so they could smell the smoke of that bonfire that gave off a so fragrant and scent aroma. Perhaps that the fact to find it so pleasant and that the smoke rose directly towards the sky, it made think to them about using it like offering to the divinities or to the supernatural forces that inhabited it and that from above they governed their fragile Earth destinies there.

    The certain thing is that all the old civilizations used the perfume obtained by means of the smoke of the incense, myrrh, or of other resins and woods to offer it to their Gods and that, nowadays, still are many, the Eastern and western religions that in their liturgy use the penetrating scent of the incense or the small sticks of sandal and other aromatic woods.

His English is not so happy, but it’s better than my Spanish (or Catalan, as the case may be).

The essence of perfume history is that until very recently most people didn’t bathe much and were therefore very stinky. This truth was driven home for me by the novel Perfume: The Story of a Murderer, by Patrick Suskind. One of the more disturbing character studies I have read, the amoral protagonist is born in 18th century France with the gift of absolute smell, and the story is ultimately about the madness of genius, as the character’s maniacal pursuit of olfactory perfection alienates him from his fellow man and leads to murder. Very creepy.

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About Eric Olsen

Career media professional and serial entrepreneur Eric Olsen flung himself into the paranormal world in 2012, creating the America's Most Haunted brand and co-authoring the award-winning America's Most Haunted book, published by Berkley/Penguin in Sept, 2014. Olsen is co-host of the nationally syndicated broadcast and Internet radio talk show After Hours AM; his entertaining and informative America's Most Haunted website and social media outlets are must-reads: [email protected], Facebook.com/amhaunted, Pinterest America's Most Haunted. Olsen is also guitarist/singer for popular and wildly eclectic Cleveland cover band The Props.

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