New smells from new worlds

Pietro Castelli and Emanuel Alphio (illustrated by)

Hyaena odorifera

Messina: widow of J.F. Bianco, 1638

As European trade expanded in the seventeenth century, merchants imported more aromatic ingredients. Civet, a substance secreted from the perineal glands of the civet cat, came from Africa, India and the East Indies. The cats could also be bred in Europe, which offered an affordable and ready supply of their musk.

The ingredient’s exotic allure and strong odour imbued it with many healing qualities, most notably, to remedy the womb through fumigation. This illustration is an example of the civet cat dissected by the Italian physician Pietro Castelli (1574–1662) in Messina. The dissection was cut short due to, paradoxically, the stench of the cat’s viscera.

N*.9.28(D) (p. 20)