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The ancient art of apothecaries
Exhibition at Ca’ Rezzonico museum

On the third floor of the Ca’ Rezzonico museum there is an entire pharmacy with furniture, counter and even the sign. Once it was the “Ai Do San Marchi” Pharmacy in Campo San Stin, on the corner with Calle Donà, which in 1679 belonged to “Orazio Moscatello Priore” of the “spezieri” college. In the mid-eighteenth century its owner became the apothecary Bernardo Saletti, to whom we owe the renovation of the premises and therefore the furniture installed at Ca’ Rezzonico complete with furniture, boiserie, albarelli (medicinal jars), stills, mortars, fireplace and stove.

Venetian apothecaries have been famous for many centuries. The “Capitulars” who regulated the “Medici and Apothecary Arts” are among the oldest documents in the world on the subject, issued in 1258 and in force for the entire duration of the Republic.

The apothecaries had to respect a regulation and take an oath, after some years of practice in the shop. The specialties had to be approved and therefore their prices, their composition exposed to the public and respected; expired, wrong or illegal medicines were publicly burned at Rialto. The “spezierie” (apothecaries) had to be always open and the Serenissima decided even the slightest distance between them. Each one had to have a name and a trademark, the sign had to be displayed and two of them could not exist, they had their own labels and their own headed paper.

The fame of the art of the Venetian pharmacy was vast and so was the market. In the increasingly dense regulations that developed from the 16th century onwards, there were the imposition of tariffs and other provisions of the health authorities, both for the Land and Sea States, including the introduction or prohibition of medicines.

In 1485 the magistracy of the Provveditori alla Sanità was established in Venice and in 1565 the College of Apothecaries was established, intended as pharmacists, separating itself from the other apothecaries, the grocers. In Venice, doctors and pharmacists were traditionally separated as well. The former could prepare medicines but not market them, and they enjoyed a social prestige far superior to that of the apothecaries, artisans rather than scientists, sometimes suspicious because they also handled poisons.

The apothecary-shop of Ca’ Rezzonico has three rooms: the dark briar shop with the counter, the shelves with 183 majolica jars (albarelli) decorated by the Venetian manufacture Cozzi and two large vases with the coat of arms, two lions holding the open gospel; the workshop, with fireplace and stove and the thin glass stills that coming out of the Murano furnaces; the back room, with walls covered with a painted and carved fir wood paneling and 76 seventeenth-century white majolica jars decorated in blue and 33 Murano glass jars. The “Pharmacy of Do San Marchi” was dismantled in 1909 by the widow of the last owner and purchased by an antique dealer who donated it to the Museum. It was displayed in one of the side towers of the Fondaco dei Turchi, then seat of the Correr Museum and today seat of the Giancarlo Ligabue Museum of Natural History, to be moved and rebuilt in 1936 by Nino Barbantini and Giulio Lorenzetti on the third floor of Ca’ Rezzonico palace.

In Venice there are still ancient pharmacies with original furnishings and several still bear their original names (the one of San Stin is still called Ai Due San Marchi) and it is not rare to find traces on the facades of the palaces that housed them, the most famous is the “Testa d’oro” of Rialto, of the homonymous apothecary’s shop. Some of them have become perfumeries, even if the spice makers did not deal with essences, which were the responsibility of the “muschieri”, artisans who prepared and sold perfumes and cosmetics.


Location: Ca’ Rezzonico Museum, Venice

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