“The Sense of Smell,” ca. 1750

This print, titled L’Odorat, was issued in France circa 1750. It’s a typical example of the Rococo style: beautifully dressed aristocrats engaging in flirtation while enjoying a garden landscape, all rendered in soft, bright colors and delicate curves.

It’s also a reminder that the mid-18th century was a golden moment for Western fragrance. In addition to cultivated gardens like these, the French upper classes could enjoy more forms of scent than ever before, thanks to royal support of Grasse as a center of perfumery. In addition to liquid perfumes, they owned scented gloves, wigs, and fans; fragranced pomades and vinegars for the skin; potpourri blends that were placed in elaborate porcelain diffusers; and small, jewelry-like containers called vinaigrettes containing aromatics that acted to protect the wearer against disease—and bad smells in general.

I’ve just begun rereading Patrick Suskind’s novel Perfume, which takes place in the 1750s. This is one image I’ll have in mind as I’m reading!

From the collections of the Cooper Hewitt / Smithsonian Design Museum.

Print, The Sense of Smell, ca. 1750; Designed by François-Thomas Mondon (French, ca. 1709 – 1755); France; hand-colored etching with watercolor on paper; 19 5/16 X 21 15/16 in. (49.0 X 55.8 cm); Gift of Eleanor and Sarah Hewitt; 1921-22-290

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