Sapone con Rosa, or Soap with Roses, circa 1555

A sneak peek at an upcoming entry in the Arts & Sciences Faire.  I am operating on the theory that my soap darkened as a result of the rose petals decaying with the soap.



Sapone con Rosa; A Scented Soap from 1555

This is a scented soap taken from Notandissimi Secreti de L’arte Profumatoria (Notable Secrets on the Art of Perfume), published in 1555 by Gioventura Rosetti. This cosmetics manual includes recipes for scented powders, hair dyes, facial cosmetics, and no less than twenty-seven recipes for scented soaps. This entry uses two recipes from this manual, one for the base soap and another for the scent.

The Base Soap


This recipe is for Sapone da Mettere ne il Bossoli, Overo in Albarelli from this manual. It is the recipe I use for my base soap because it’s a good balance of fats and relatively easy to make. The original text reads :




#95 Sapone da Mettere ne il Bossoli, Overo in Albarelli


Pigliate liscia di sapone, cioe’ de la seconda acqua, et uno secchio overo boccale de la prima canfora soldi doi, et soldi doi di storax liquido, et metteteli ne la ditta liscia; dipoi mettetilo al fuoco in uno paruolo overo in una stagnatella con una lira over due di grasso di manzo, tagliato in pezzetti minuiti, et scolatio, et poi mescolati fino che’l vi place, et se’l vi paresse troppo liquido mettetilli una scutella di sapone granato; dipoi levatilo dal fuoco sempre mescolando fino che sia rifredito; del quale potreti empire li vasi vostri overo alnarellli; o bossoli; et questo fa le carni lustre, molesine, nette, et bianche, et tanto belle quanto si puo pui dire, se con quello vi voleti lavare


This text does not seem to have an English translation. Therefore, I have had to do an amateur one, which is;


Soap to Put in an Albarelli (Medicine Jar)


To make a smooth soap, take water, one soldi worth of camphor, one soldi worth of liquid storax, and melt it on a low fire. Add two pounds of beef fat, cut in pieces, & mix up; Remove from the heat and stir until cool. Store in an alberelli. This will make the skin lustrous, soft & supple. You shall become more beautiful for words, if you wash with it daily.



The footnote for this recipe cleared up a lot of confusion. It suggests that mixing both an animal fat like beef fat, and a vegetable fat, like palm oil, will work together with the lye to create a soap which is able to lather and soften the skin. Armed with this bit of information, I used olive oil and beef fat to create my basic soap recipe. I also use a modern saponification table to come up with a safe ratio of lye. While my fats are melting in a thrift store crock pot, I prepare my lye by mixing it with water. After about a half hour, I add it to my fats and stir. The end result is a basic white soap. I generally leave it in its mold for twenty four hours before slicing it into bars. Once sliced, my bars generally need about four weeks to cure before I can begin scenting them.


Scenting the Base Soap

Using the same recipe book, I found this recipe for a rose-scented soap;




#278b Sapone con Rosa


Pigliate sapone trito, et che sia abroffato con L’acqua rosa, et che’l sia stao al sole, et purgato tanto che non senta piu da l’odore del sapone; et dapoi habbiate rose freesche, et che siano pestate bene, et mescolate insienne, et fatene, ballotte con ditto sapone, et rose, e salvatelo in un vaso di vettro, et questo e il vostro sapone rosato; et cosi potrete fare di ogn’altro odore, questa regola serve a tutti gli ingegnosi, et esperti intelletti che si voleno dilettare di quest’arte.– Notandissim Secreti De L’arte Profumatoria


In English;


#278b, Soap with Roses


Mix soap which has been cut into chunks with rosewater. Leave it in the sun until it has been purged of its foul smell. Next take fresh rose petals and grind them up fine. Add them to a glass vase with the soap. You shall then have a fine soap made with the perfumer’s art.–Notable Secrets on the Art of Perfume


I started this recipe with one pound of my base soap grated finely in an earthenware bowl. I added about 10 ounces of homemade rosewater (recipe follows). Normally, I would have made this according to the recipe, in a covered glass vase set in a sunny window, but I find this difficult to do in winter because of the shortened daylight hours. In order to simulate this solar heating process, I used an old crock pot on low heat to melt my ingredients. After about an hour, I stirred in the petals of one dozen red roses which had been finely ground in my mortar and pestle. The soap mingled for an additional hour in the crock pot and was poured into a mold to set. After about 36 hours, the mold was removed and the newly scented soap was cut into bars. Example 2 is what the soap looked like at this stage. Once cut into bars, the soap was left to cure for an additional four weeks before use. This gives the finished product time to harden and become more effective.




Rosewater Recipe


Stretch a piece of linen across a glass bowl very tightly, like a drum. Place your rose petals on it and then place another glass bowl on top. Leave this out in the sun to steep and create your rose water.–The Good Wife’s Guide, late 14th Century


This is my standard method of making rosewater because it’s pretty straightforward and very easy. You are using both the sun and pressure to to the work.

The Results


This is my first experience with this recipe, though I have made three other scented soaps from the same book. The surprise here was that you actually colored the soap. It did not turn out the color I anticipated, but the rose petals did give the soap a nice even color anyway. In my opinion, the coloring makes it easier to see the details of the mold. Although it does not specifically say so in this recipe, other recipes in this book instruct the maker to either mold the soap or roll it into small balls, so I chose a mold which featured florals as a way to make my soap more attractive.








Albarelli. Italian, sixteenth century. Cleveland Museum of Art, Cleveland Ohio.


The Good Wife’s Guide (Le Menagier de Paris). Christine M. Rose, trans. Cornell University Press; Ithaca & London.


Rosetti, Gioventura. Notandissimi de L’arte Proformatoria. Neri Pozza, editor. Venice; 1555.Image

The finished Soap, as of March 4, 2014.  I believe the darkening to be the result of the rose petals maturing.












Sweet Smelling Soap, 1555

     This recipe interested me because it seems to encourage recycling and seemed pretty easy despite the length of time it took to make.

Take one pound of white soap, the older the better.  Cut very fine, put in a basin, & splash with rosewater.  Mix & incorporate well.  Then steep in the sun with rosewater for two weeks.  Ten days will suffice in the months of July and August.  Mix and sprinkle with rosewater until the soap is thoroughly purged and loses its foul smell.  Next take 1/2 ounce of mahaleb (Prumus maheleb) and make sure that it is ground to a fine powder.  Sprinkle with rosewater in a mortar until immersed.  Add six drams of spike(nard) oil, 1/2 ounces of liquid storax, one carat of musk.  Mix and incorporate well together.   Form into little soaps with a mold or form into little balls.  Dry them in the shade, wrap them in cotton, and keep them in a little box.–Notandissimi Secreti de L’arte Performatoria, 1555.  The author of this book is Gioventura Rosetti.


I started with Castile soap for this one.  I diligently did what the recipe says, for about 12 days.  One the final day I added in the other scents plus the storax (sometimes written styrax).  This is a type of tree sap which is traditionally and modernly used as a base scent for perfumes and incense.  You can buy it in dried chunks or liquid.  I pressed my mushy soap mix into a purchased soap mold (buttercups and thistles) and let it dry–and dry and dry as it turns out.  Although it had set up in the mold within a matter of hours the soap was not firm enough to  package or handle for about three days.  The end result is pictured below.  They smell great and will be used despite their fancy appearance.  I have just completed a batch of tallow soap, which means I will be remaking this and the barber soap (see previous posts) to compare results.  I would like to use this in conjunction with my hair conditioner from Gli Ornamente Delle Donne.  Why?  I have found recipes for hair cleansers which used similar ingredients, which means that our ancestors most likely washed their hair with soap.  Modern shampoo is not a soap, it is a detergent which means it strips away things which really shouldn’t be stripped from your hair.  The trick with washing your hair with soap or even baking soda & vinegar, as I know some people do, is that they are both alkaline.  That puts your hair slightly out of balance, which is why rinsing with vinegar afterwards is recommended.  The herbs which are mentioned in the Gli Ornamente Delle Donne recipe are noted for being astringent (mildly acidic).  I think the two would work well together to keep the hair fragrant and nice looking, but would need some further real life testing to safely conclude this.