Medievalish painting from Calnic

One of my last year's paintings is inspired by the nicely preserved medieval atmosphere of the fortified Saxon church in Calnic (Alba County, Transylvania). 
It depicts the curtain wall and the medieval keep in the background and a holy scene in the foreground: the Virgin and St. Catherine (with their respective iconographic attributed, the vase with lilies and the wheel).
The miniature is made in a combination of techniques: linocut, collage, acrylic on canvas and is ready to hang, provided with a sawtooth hanger (allowing perfect balance and balance corrections if needed) and canvas stretchers already in place, on the back (if, due to display or storage conditions the canvas should need stretching in the future, the pegs are just pushed in a bit).



Animals that heal

"Animals that heal" (Animale vindecatoare) is the title of the new temporary exhibition in the making at the History of Pharmacy Collection in Cluj-Napoca. The exhibition will open in the first days of January 2017 and will be on display for six month, in the center of Cluj, in Unirii Square no. 28.

Rather numerous medieval and early modern apothecary ingredients were obtained from animals and insects. The eighteenth-century written sources from Transylvania, pharmacy inventories, pharmacopoeias, apothecary taxes (lists of ingredients and prices), mention 80 such ingredients, much more than in the era’s Austrian pharmacopoieas for example. Some were exotic, obtained from sperm whales, civet cats, cuttlefish etc., while others were local, obtained from common European species (such as the so-called Spanish fly, bear, deer, pig and others). The ingredients include various organs, secretions or even pathological “products” from the body of the various species of animals, such as the bezoars.
The exhibition shall tell the tale of these less usual medicines and illustrate it with various jars for such ingredients and also historical samples of some of them.
Stay tuned! 


New book out soon

My most recent book, entitled "FOCUS - The History of Pharmacy Collection in Cluj-Napoca", will soon be available. It is a bilingual (Romanian-English) popularizing presentation of the pharmacy collection and of its most bizarre ingredients and products. The presentation is structured according to the nature of the ingredients (of human, animal, mineral and vegetal origin), followed by some of the most common products such as tooth powders and elixirs. I have appended a glossary of terms, as some are a bit specialized, and a brief, basic bibliography of works dealing with the history of pharmacy in Transylvania.



Dacian-inspired gifts for men

Continuing the special offers for the 2016 shopping season, Atelierul de istorie presents the gift for men, with items inspired by the ancient Dacian civilization. The package includes:
  • cotton T-shirt, black, serigraphy imprint in white Draco-the Dacian war -standard
  • handmade leather pendant (stamped veg-tan leather, hand-dyed with Gel Antique) on leather cord - depicting the same symbol
  • bone pendant, camel bone on leather string
  • linocut book mark / business card
  • red wrapping


New amulet necklaces

I have just received a new batch of bone and glass beads, so I naturally completed the series of amulet necklaces inspired by ancient Roman fashion, available online at www.atelieruldeistorie.ro. The pieces combine elements made of various materials: glazed pottery, bone beads, sand glass beads, bronze charms, crystal pieces, all strung on natural leather, colored cord. In Antiquity such pieces of jewelry were worn to ward off evil and protect the wearer against the evil eye.


Apothecary uses of nutmeg

 As the name indicates, nutmeg is the nut-type fruit of the tress from the Myristica fragrans species, native of the Molucca Islands in Indonesia, also knows as the Spice Islands. Nutmeg was used in India traditionally as a cooking spice, but also as a hallucinogen and an aphrodisiac. Arab merchants brought it to Europe in the sixth century, where it was well-known by the twelfth century. It increases blood circulation, fights sleepiness, and is also recommended for cardiac afflictions. The medicinal properties of nutmeg are based on the essential oil they contain and that has the following effects: stimulant, carminative (calms abdominal pain and favor the evacuation of intestinal gas) and in larger dosage narcotic. The oil is also often employed in hiding the unpleasant taste of other medicine.

Detail of nutmeg and blues apothecary glass for such nuts, from the temporary exhibition "The History of aphrodisiacs"

The History of Pharmacy Collection in Cluj-Napoca includes five jars for this products, apparently often for entire nuts (Nuces Moschatae) or their oil (Oleum Nucis Moschatae). The majority of the jars were once used in the old St. George’s pharmacy (two glass jars with painted Baroque signatures from the eighteenth century and one blue glass bottle with faceted glass stopper, from the beginning of the twentieth century). Another jar, made of porcelain, has a bilingual inscription – Latin and Hungarian – and was also used in Cluj, in the Mathias Corvinus apothecary shop. The wooden jar was used during the nineteenth century in a pharmacy from Baia Mare.

Eighteenth-century nutmeg oil glass jar. Signature in Baroque cartouche with vegetal volutes and crown.

Nineteenth-century porcelain jar with bilingual signature.

 The collection also preserves the stained glass shop sign of the Mathias Corvinus pharmacy in Cluj-Napoca. The work is signed and dated 1919 and it depicts the kneeling knight - king of Hungary born in Cluj. The cult of king Mathias was blooming in the city during the nineteenth and the beginning of the twentieth century, so it was only natural that a pharmacy located in the center would would depict him and bare his name.


Detail of Mathias Corvinus depicted on the pharmacy shop sign

The FOCUS exhibition thus for December 2016 displays these various apothecary jars for nutmeg, two actual nuts, and the apothecary sign discussed above can be seen in the basement where the laboratory of the old pharmacy is located.




Etsy coupons

In tone with the shopping season, I have created, for the first time, Etsy discount coupons. It took a while to figure out how to promote them and concluded that the best was is to adapt the shop cover photos. This is the result for both of the shops I run on Etsy: Goddess Gruia (art) and The Proper Leather Studio (handmade leather items):

New cover advertising the 5% discount coupon, available until Christmas 2016
The 10% discount available until December 31st 2016 for handmade leather wallets and bracelets


Dacian-inspired gifts for women

Atelierul de istorie has officially started the 2016 end of the year shopping season with special sets for both men and women. The special packs are inspired by the history of the ancient Dacians and, starting with the ladies, the gift wrapped set includes:
- black cotton T-shirt with serigraph rendering the war standard of the Dacians, the half wolf-half snake mythical Draco
- natural color cotton bag with the same imprint
- special edition coral pendant on leather string
- handmade, linocut book mark/business card


The princes of Transylvania

During the Early Modern Period Transylvania was an autonomous principality, fighting to maintain its status among the great powers surrounding it, the Ottoman and the Habsburg empires. 16 princes have ruled this principality, for shorter or longer periods of time, though few of their reigns have been spared contestation and inner and outer conflicts. The portraits of the 16 Transylvanian rulers, officially covering the period between 1571 and 1686, are reproduced on a set of postcards available at the History of Pharmacy Collection and at the National History Museum of Transylvania in Cluj. Most of the depictions are rendered from nineteenth century watercolors preserved in the collection of the history museum, though a couple of rulers, missing from the series, have been taken from sixteenth-seventeenth century engravings.
The set will be available during the Doors Open Days on November 26th, in Unirii Square no. 28. 

The following princes (including Habsburg generals like Basta and Romanian characters such as Mihai Viteazul) are depicted:
  • Stephanus Bathori - 1571-1576
  • Christophorus Bathori - 1576-1581 
  • Sigismund Bathori - 1581-1602
  • Andreas Bathori - 1599-1601
  • Mihai Viteazul - 1593-1601
  • Georgius Basta - 1603-1605
  • Stephanus Boskai - 1605-1607
  • Sigismundus Rakoczi - 1607-1608
  • Gabriel Bathori - 1608-1613
  • Gabriel Bethlen - 1613-1629
  • Georgius Rakoczi I - 1630-1642
  • Georgius Rakoczi II - 1642-1658
  • Franciscus Rhedai - 1658
  • Johannes Kemeny - 1660-1661
  • Michael Apaffi I - 1661-1684
  • Michael Apaffi II -1684-1686


Experimenting with Shopify

There is so much talk about Facebook shops and it would be so easy for customers to shop directly on Facebook (as some seem rather unclear about how they should find out more about the products promoted on Fb and how to order them on another website), that I gave Shopify a go. See Goddess Gruia's shop HERE.
The trial period is 14 days and then the minimum monthly fee is 9 dollars. It would seem a bit more expensive than Etsy for example, i.e. without promoted listings.
Shopify is a straightforward application, but setting up a shop is still time consuming. The advantage is that it can be used independently from a proper website. The disadvantage is that it does not (or I have not figured it out yet) show all products together, as sites do, but rather you get to share on Facebook your individual products or collections. Another thing is that people might be more used with and more trusting towards sale sites such as Etsy as compared to buying directly from someone's Fb shop.
Still, I'll see what happens until the end of the trial period :)


Main square of Cluj in 1870

Sárdi István is the author of one of the emblematic paintings rendering the main square of the city of Cluj during the nineteenth century. One of these works depicts several houses on the northern side of the square, typically Renaissance in their structure, portals and window openings, with outreaching wooden attics. The era's atmosphere is suggested by the depiction of a fast-moving chalet, the painted commercials on the facades and the women in nineteenth century costumes gathered by the public water well.
The postcard is available at the History of Pharmacy Collection and at the National History Museum on Transylvania in Cluj.

Postcard reproducing almost all of the painting, edited by the National history Museum of Transylvania
Black and white reproduction of the entire painting.

Murádin Jenő has attempted to reconstruct the painters life and career. He states that "Sárdi was born into a famous Unitarian family from Torockó (Rimetea). He first learned from György Vastagh (1834–1922), a painter who studied in Vienna, then he went to the Kunstschule of Nurenberg with a scholarship offered by Gusztáv Keleti (1834–1902), the founder of the Drawing School. Sárdi met the well-known Hungarian painter Mihály Munkácsy (1844–1900), who even offered him his own studio. When Sárdi returned home, he taught drawing in the State Training School of Kolozsvár, but his last decade was marked by the disease of tabes dorsalis (syphilitic myelopathy). Unfortunately many of his paintings have been lost or destroyed." 
See more on the painter in Hungarian HERE.


Zibethum - apothecary cat secretions

Zibethum is obtained from the anal glands of the civet cats of the Viverridae and Nandiniidae families of Africa and Asia. Nowadays the paste in question is used in the perfume industry, but in the eighteenth century it was employed for its pharmaceutical properties, part of several antispasmodic, aphrodisiac, or stimulant products. Since Zibethum was exotic and among the curious ingredients of animal origin, in Transylvanian pharmacies it was mentioned as “Zibethum veris” (real, authentic Zibetum). The stress on its authenticity betrays the clients’ lack of trust in the bizarre products of the era. Similarly, the Mummy Powder was also accompanied by the adjective “veris”.

Old engraving depicting civet cats

Zibethum is mentioned in several of the pharmacy inventories of Transylvania (of Alba Iulia in 1751 and 1752, of Târgu Mureş in 1789), in all three apothecary taxes written for Transylvania during the eighteenth century (by Tobias Maucksch in 1750, by Hutter-Soterius in 1753, by Felfalusi and Ahlefeld in 1753) and in the Pharmacopoeia Austriacoprovincialis of 1774.

Nineteenth-century milky glass apothecary jar inscribed Zibetum and the 1789 inventory of the pharmacy in Targu Mures listing the ingredient.

The History of Pharmacy Collection in Cluj-Napoca includes one jar made of milky glass with the paper label inscribed ZIBETUM and the 1789 inventory of the pharmacy from Târgu Mureş that mentions the product. The glass jar was used in the beginning of the nineteenth century in a pharmacy from Baia Mare – evidence of the fact that the product continued to be used after the end of the eighteenth century as well.
Those who believe the consumption of wild cat secretions is weird must be advised that people’s obsession with these animals’ digestion continues today, as the much appreciated Kopi Luwak coffee is obtained from beans partly digested and eliminated through feces by the wild palm Asian cats.

Kopi Luwak, the most expensive coffee


Apothecaries and cures in Early Modern Cluj

This is the title of my latest presentation delivered during the "Cluj/Kolozsvár/Klausenburg – 700" international conference held in Cluj-Napoca by the Sapientia and Babes Bolyai Universities. My presentation attempted to reconstruct the Early Modern history of apothecary shops and pharmacies of Cluj (i.e. between the 16th and the 18th century), identifying traits and developments in the field  (in comparison to the rest of Transylvania and Western Europe) and to verify is there are any novel strategies in marketing and retail employed by pharmacists to boost their sales. Until the article is finished for the collective volume of the conference, fell free to check my presentation on academia.edu HERE.
The full program of the conference is available in Romanian HERE.

One of the documents preserved at the History of Pharmacy Collection in Cluj is an eighteenth-century manuscript, a tariffs project by Tobias Maucksch or Mauksch, the privileged pharmacist of Cluj, owner of the apothecary shop hosting the museum today.


Winter miniature

As snow has set in early this year, I felt inspired to create this small series of winter landscapes. They are actual miniatures, measuring no more than 14 x 15 cm framed and with passepartout. The silver frame matches the color palette of the small acrylic on cardboard works. The paintings are ready to hang.
They are available on www.atelieruldeistorie.ro.



Doors Open Days

The History of Pharmacy Museum in Cluj prepares for another special event on November 26th, the last Saturday of the month, between 10 and 4. Visitors shall gain free access to the main exhibition and to the temporary exhibition Gold and Gems at the Pharmacy that is open until the end of the year. The main even though is that we shall organize a small fair with historical and contemporary postcards, on sale starting with 10 bani a piece! There are Communist postcards depicting views of the City and of the History Museum, contemporary cards with views from the History of Pharmacy Museum, nineteenth century reproductions of watercolors with the princes of Transylvania and guild diplomas from Cluj from the same century.


The Beans of St. Ignatius

In the end of the seventeenth century the Czech Jesuit brother Georg Joseph Kamel was active as a missionary in the Philipines, but he also performed botanic research in these oriental islands. His drawings and descriptions of local plants eventually reached London (the first lot had been stolen by pirates), where they were published. Kamel was the first to describe a crawling plant that the Philipinese called aguwason, dankkagi, or igasud and he called, scientifically, Strychnos ignatia after St. Ignatius of Loyola, the patron saint of the Jesuit order.

Georg Joseph Kamel

The bitter fruit of this plant, in the shape and size of an orange, has hard, almond-shaped seeds called faba Sancti Ignatii. The beans contain two toxic alkaloids, stricnine and brucine. In small doses they act on the transmission of nerve stimuli towards the muscles and in higher doses can causes death through asphyxiation.

Apothecary jar from the collection.

During the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries the beans were used in curing goiters, cholera, asthma, epilepsy and other afflictions, but their use was limited in time due to their toxic effects. They were rediscovered during the nineteenth century and were used in the making of the homeopathic dilution called Ignatia or Ignatia amara, recommended as remedy against strong emotional suffering and contradictory, hysterical symptoms. It was, and still is mainly used by women who show “symptoms of emotional stress such as headaches, twitches, digestive problems, throat pains and fear of birds (especially chicken)”.
1790 inventory of the pharmacy shop in Targu Mures mentioning Faba Sancti Ignatii

The collection includes three items related to this ingredient: several beans of St. Ignatius, one with grate marks, used during the nineteenth century in the pharmacy from Baia Mare; a small glass bottle marked IGNATIA from a nineteenth-century homeopathy set from the same location, and a glass jar with the signature FABA ST. IGNATII from Valeriu Bologa’s collection.
Small homeopathy bottle for Ignatia.

St. Ignatius' Bean with grate marks.