Sunday, January 15, 2017

Plant Story -- the Mysterious Marquis Frangipani

The Marquis Frangipani eludes me.


Frangipani, Plumeria, (link: previous post) is one of the plants where the common name is no easier than the scientific name: both are multi-syllable words unfamiliar to most people. The scientific name is Plumeria. That name was chosen by Linneaus in the middle 1700s in honor of the Franciscan monk and French botanist Charles Plumier (1646-1704, biography), who collected and described many plants in the Caribbean in the late 1600s, one of which was plumeria. The plant was of course well-known to native Americans across the Caribbean and central America. The Badianus Manuscript, 1552, describes it and its use by the Aztecs, but The Badianus Manuscript was not widely known or available for many years after it was written (link).

Scientists and people in Hawaii make a common name out of the scientific name, saying plumeria.

The Frangipani Story: 

In many other English-speaking places, the common name for Plumeria is frangipani. According to the Oxford English Dictionary, frangipani refers to a late 17th century nobleman. The story is that   Marquis Muzio Frangipani, a Marshal of France, invented an almond-scented glove perfume that that became the rage. Leather gloves frequently stank, so the nobles perfumed them. Marquis Frangipani not only chose a scent for his gloves that became very popular, indeed, worn by King Charles IX (1550-1574) of France, he developed a better method for perfuming gloves.

The food with a similar name, frangipane, almond-flavored paste, was reportedly developed about the same time by innovative French pastry chefs cashing in on the fad.

The plant Plumeria is called frangipani either because the glove perfume was made with frangipani flowers or alternately, the fragrance of the flowers reminded people of the glove perfume, although the perfume was made with other things.

Depending on whether you are speaking Italian, French or English, frangipani can be spelled frangipan and frangipane. In English today, frangipane refers to almond-flavored foods and frangipani is the common name of the plant.

Lots of books and websites tell you the story above, of Marquis Muzio Frangipani and the perfumed gloves.

The Problem: 

For this blog, I wanted to provide dates for his life and a link to a biography, as I did for Plumier
--but I can't find any such details.

Searching For Marquis Frangipani:

I could find Frangipani as an old Italian name. In the 11th to 13th centuries, Frangipanis were important in papal politics.
frangipani flowers

There's a story from the late 1800s, not appearing much on current websites, of the discovery of Plumeria by Mercurio Frangipani. In this story, Mercurio sailed with Columbus and before America was sighted, smelled a wonderful fragrance and told Columbus that land was near. The next day they sailed into Antigua and learned the scent was from plumeria flowers, which were consequently named for Mercurio Frangipani.

Kettler (link) showed in 2015 that the Mercurio Frangipani story is fiction. No Mercurio Frangipani is known on any of Columbus' voyages (Columbus crew), and the various versions of the story give different details of discovery (Columbus landed on Antigua on the second not first voyage for example). Furthermore, there is good documentation of Plumier finding plumeria and making the first report of it to European science in the late 1600s. Apparently the Mercurio Frangipani story was written in the late 1800s--it appears in The Art of Perfumery by G.W. Septimus Piesse link--to help sell perfume to the English middle class.

Ok, but the Marquis of the gloves was "late 17th century," not 1492. To report the story of Marquis Muzio Frangipani creating the scent with his name, I googled him, in order to put dates by his name, as I did with Plumier. And drew a blank.

So I searched for famous Frangipanis and found the 11th to 13th century ones. The New Catholic Dictionary says a Mutio Frangipani led the papal auxiliaries to France in 1569. I found Mutio Frangipani named in other historical works about Italy, for example he married Gulia Strozzi in 1562, and bought an Italian property in 1572. He is too early to be the late 17th century perfume-inventor, has a different first name, and nobody wrote anything about him perfuming gloves. Looking in biographic encyclopedias, 16th and 17th century Frangipanis I can document were Dominican friars, Italian lawyers, poets and painters, the last of which died in 1630. There is no Muzio, and none was  given credit for perfumery.

We have wonderful online resources today. I found a Spanish work from 1753,  El Gran Diccionario  which gives a two-sentence biography of Mutio Frangipani, spelling his first name Mucio. It further says a bit about one of his sons and then that Mucio's nephew invented the glove perfume that has retained the Frangipani name. It doesn't name his nephew. This might be the the missing piece of information! But it lacked details and was written at least 100 years after Marquis Frangipani lived. It is possible but unlikely that the nephew of a man who married in 1562 would be described as "late 17th century".

In the 1800s Dan Hanbury in Notes and Queries, (Dec. 25, 1859 edition) quoted Gilles Ménage in Origini della Lingua Italiana, Geneva 1685 for the Marquis Frangipani story. Both Hanbury and Piesse in the Art of Perfumery which gives the Frangipani story about the same time, comment that Ménage was a contemporary of Marquis Frangipani. Since both quote Ménage directly and identically--the story is that old (1685). Which doesn't make it accurate.

Ménage (1613-1692 biography), in both Origini della Lingua Italiana (link) and its French equivalent, Dictionaire etymologique, ov Originese de la langue francoise... (link) said that the Marquis of Frangipani, a Roman squire, invented the perfume as described in the letter of M. de Balzac and quotes the letter. Balzac's letters are on-line in rather rough translation. Jean-Louis Guez, Seigneur de Balzac (1595-1654, biography) wrote that he was sending perfumed gloves to his friend Madam Desloges (1585-1641 biography) and recommended that she promote them to help his friend the perfumer, writing:

"they will grow into more request than the Gloves of the Frangapani: but because your people of Lymou∣sin may take occasion to Equivocate here: I entreat you to adver∣tize them, that this Perfumer hath three thousand pound rent a yeare; and holds the supremest dignitie of our Province, and that this Glover is a Romane Lord, Marshall of the Campe of the Kings Armies, cousin [but: the original says parent] to Sr. Gregory the Great, and that which I value more than all this, one of the honestest men that lives..." link (italicized names in the online original). The letter is from 1634.

Note that this does not say Frangipani made the perfume, only that a very honest perfumer will benefit if the gloves sell well. Ménage, writing about 50 years later, seems to have been the first to say Frangipani made the perfume and was a Marquis.

Marquis Frangipani should be a famous man. A marquis is a very high-ranking nobleman. I have looked for him. I checked the lists of families with the rank of Marquis in France and Italy. No Frangipanis there or in the listed lesser nobility.

I searched the lists of the Marshals of France and maréchal général des camps et armées du roi which is the same rank. This was a rare, high honor and its recipients are clearly listed online (for example: link). No Frangipani.

At least 3 popes in the 1500s called themselves Gregory, Gregory XIII, XIV and XV. It is not easy to find their family trees, but none has a mother named Frangipani or any Frangipanis described in their official biographies.

So was there a late 17th century nobleman named Frangipani who invented a glove perfume?

I can't prove he didn't exist but he eludes me as the other characters in this story do not.

Marquis Muzio Frangipani was 1) certainly not a Marshal of France and 2) not a Marquis in Italy or France. He could have been a minor nobleman affecting the title Marquis, but I can find no independent confirmation of his actual existence. Some of his story is almost certainly confused with Mutio Frangipani. But note that the name Muzio is not elsewhere reported, the "late 17th century" must be wrong since Balzac had the perfume in 1643 and his rank and honors don't check out.

frangipani flowers

Approaching the problem by looking at glove-making history, Catherine de Medici (1519-1589), Queen of France, popularized gloves. Glove histories report the glove makers of France and Italy provided her with a wide array of scents for gloves. Redwood's book puts the Frangipani scent there in the reign of Louis XIII (1610-1643).

Why plumeria is called frangipani-

My original interest in this mystery was to document the flower name. Frangipani is the name on a plant from the Americas that Plumier discovered. How did the Frangipani name get to the plant? While some modern writers write that plumeria flowers were put into the perfume, that seems unlikely. First, plumeria is too frost-sensitive to grow in most of France and Italy. It is currently an important flower in Sicily, which the mildest climate of Italy, but was brought there in the 1800s.
More important, historians don't have the complete formula for the historic Frangipani perfume, but it was reported to have been made either from bitter almonds or from musk, ambergris and civet, in neither case with plumeria flowers.

It is logical that the frangipani glove perfume was a scent familiar to Europeans who encountered plumeria in the tropics, thought the plant smelled similar and referred to it by the perfume's name.

That seems a reasonable explanation for why plumeria is called frangipani.

But I cannot locate Muzio Frangipani

Nevertheless, after a great deal of work, I have to report that I cannot find Marquis Muzio Frangipani, 17th century nobleman. To reinterate, Ménage and later sources say an unnamed nephew of Mutio Frangipani invented the perfume, but I can find no information on him. He certainly was neither a marquis nor a Marshal of France and if he invented the perfume, not in the late 17th century. It is quite peculiar. However, noting that Earl Grey had nothing to do with Earl Grey tea (link see next-to-last paragraph and links) my suspicion is that a glover/perfumer (it was the same guild at the time) invented the perfume and gave it a distinguished and memorable name, about which a better and better story gradually evolved.

Comments and corrections and, especially, more information on Marquis Frangipani, welcomed.

My thanks for help from A. Kettler, E. Conroy, A. Wigtil and K. Johnson.

Emmart, E. W. 1940. The Badianus manuscript. (Code Barberinia, Latin 241) Vatican Library. An Aztec Herbal of 1552. Johns Hopkins University Press, Baltimore, Maryland.
"Frangipani" New Catholic Encyclopedia. 
"Frangipani" Oxford Dictionaries Online link
Hanbury, D. 1859. Frangipani. Notes and Queries c 1 ser 2 v 8 :509-510. link
Kettler, A. 2015. Making the synthetic epic. Taylor & Francis online. link
Piesse, G.W. 1868 The art of perfumery. Lindsay & Blakison, Philadelphia. link  (2nd American edition, from 3rd British edition)
Redwood, M. 2016.  Gloves and Glove-Making. Shire Books, London.

Kathy Keeler, A Wandering Botanist

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