Activities - past and present

Available talks

I  offer free talks dedicated to various aspects of historical  perfumery and beauty care.  

Talks are presented on the Zoom platform for the non-profit organizations.  Presentations and displays in-person are possible if the requestor is willing to cover all expenses (transportation, accommodation, meals).

Currently, there are  seventeen topics to choose from, and more are coming  in late 2022.

The  topics:

This is the short introduction to the perfumery of the western world (3 parts)

Part 1 of course dedicated to the earliest perfumery history in the western world. I will cover both written sources and archaeological discoveries.

Part 2 of the course dedicated to the historical perfumery in the western world. We will discuss the fragrant world of the Eastern Empire (Byzantium). By the way, Empress Zoe was known for her young looks and passion for creating her own perfumes. And driving mad her courtiers and eunuchs who spent a lot of time grinding and mixing her concoctions…

Part 3 of the course dedicated to the history of the perfumery in the western world. We will discuss late medieval and Renaissance recipes which survived both in materia medica and book of secrets texts. Be prepared for plenty of musk and other animalistic odors.

Al-Zahrawi (or Albucasis) is mostly known as author of major medical texts, but he was also renowned for his work on perfumery and beauty care. This class will discuss the basics of the early Arabic perfumery that shaped Albucasis’ approach to aromatherapy and fragrances. We will also cover major aromatics used in 10th century, technology of production of incense, fragrant oils/waters and the many varieties of fragrances used by elites of Al-Andalus.

The art of perfumery in early Muslim states influenced the use of fragrances from Byzantium to Song Dynasty China. I will cover the aromatics used in perfumery (including carryovers from antiquity and new imports), the methods of fragrance preparation, sources for recipes, and the view of contemporary authors on fragrance use in daily life. As a bonus, I will discuss the preparation of a few basic fragrances like sukk (a compound ingredients used in many recipes), bukhur (compound incense) and duhn of ben (a scented oil preparation). The modern substitute for major aromatics will be also included.

We know a lot about Roman cosmetics from literary works and figurative art. But the neglected part are the extant samples of cosmetics found within the Roman territories. I will discuss the archaeological discoveries and methods which can be used for recreation. Warning: some cosmetics are toxic and can be only used as part of display.

A survey of makeup products used by the wealthy women and by the not so affluent. I will also discuss tools and methods used for making the cosmetics and applying the makeup.

The shades of red, pink and purple were always considered attractive to the human eye and pigments like red earth (iron oxide) were among first used for purpose of face adornment. I will present a survey of historical cosmetics in shades of red, purple and pink, from Bronze Age to 16th century. We will visit ancient Sumer, Egypt, Rome and its territories, China, and we will end up our journey in Renaissance Europe.

This class will cover an introduction to perfumery in Renaissance Europe and best ways to start own journey into the art of compounding historical fragrances. I will discuss reputable sources of aromatics, cheapest way to start your own still room and safety precautions.

Fragrant jewelry made of aromatics appeared quite early though it is hard to find extant artefacts because of their fragility. We will visit ancient Rome, early Islamic caliphates, medieval China, and Renaissance Italy to have a look at recreated fragrant beads and pomanders.

There is much more to binders than just honey or plum pulp. Several plant-based ingredients were used as binders which is a unique tradition of Chinese fragrance technology. Each binder will be discussed in a context of a specific fragrance recipe. This class requires some familiarity with methods used in making traditional incense blends in the Far East Asia.

Tea throughout Chinese history was used as medicine (directly or indirectly to prepare other ingredients), or as beverage. It was served in multitude of styles – as a thick beverage with milk and meat during the early period, as sweetened pills to quench thirst, to the exquisite flavored teas during Song Dynasty period (960 – 1279) though it was not our Earl Grey. I will discuss the various uses of tea and the proper way to prepare the flavored tea.

This class is dedicated to the perfumery in ancient Rome. We will discuss the aromatics used and their sources, methods used for preparation and contemporary views on perfuming. I will cover both written sources and archaeological discoveries.

This series of talks is a survey of perfumery traditions in pre-imperial and imperial China, and will cover the period from Warring States period to early 17th century (3 parts)

This talk covers the earliest olfactory traditions and the progress as new ideas and ingredients started to arrive in China with the opening of Han Dynasty China to foreign influences. It is a fascinating journey from simple bitter herbs use to complex blends, heavily influenced by Indian, and eventually Arabic perfumery.

The art of incense compounding reached its height during Song Dynasty. The influences of Indian states and Muslim caliphates’ perfumery traditions were blended with Chinese aesthetics to create the most unique scents in Chinese history. No wonder that at least two emperors of Song were accused of spending more time on compounding new incense blends than on governing. It was also a period when incense compounding split into the art pursued by aristocracy and ‘democratic’ cheap blends accessible for the less affluent populace. We will discuss ingredients and their origins, the extant recipe sources and dissect a few recipes, showing the variety of fragrances available during this period.

During the period of division and unrest (conquest dynasties of Liao-Jin-Western Xia-Yuan), the Chinese olfactory traditions were spread to the northern tribes as the books, physicians, and aromatics traveled to the newly established states. Many aromatics were exported at massive scale from China to the western world, especially during the Yuan rule. With the reestablishment of Han ruling family (Ming Dynasty), the olfactory traditions were consolidated and the division into the ‘high’ art of incense blending and ‘low’ type production of cheap incense for the masses was finalized. Some of the major written works on fragrances and materia medica were completed during this period, and we are lucky to have them still available.

I will present a short introduction to the history of fragrance use for health, beauty, and pleasure in early Japan.  We will also take a closer look at some recipes, including the kneaded incense (takimono), and pills to perfume the body.

Experimental archaeology activities

1800 years of Chinese olfactory traditions through 25  fragrances

From Han to Ming Dynasty

We had  a shaded wooden pavilion available in the tiny Japanese-inspired garden