Historical Cream Foundation, Trotula #278

An oil based face whitener that would modernly be described as a foundation. This cream is similar to the Roman cream found in Southwark. It has a strong, thoroughly medieval scent that is not necessarily appealing to a modern user. The consistency is pleasant and it would be particularly appropriate for someone with dry skin or living in a dry climate.

GREEN, MONICA H. THE TROTULA: AN ENGLISH TRANSLATION OF THE MEDIEVAL COMPENDIUM OF WOMEN’S MEDICINE. PHILADELPHIA: UNIVERSITY OF PENNSYLVANIA PRESS, 2002. PRINT.

MateriaCommon NameIngredient UsedScientific NameReason for Substitution
Oliua RosaRose OilRose OilRosa damascena essential oil
Anxungia GallineHen’s GreaseCoconut OilCoco nuciferaTo make the display more accessible, I chose coconut oil for its comparable consistency.
Cera AlbaWhite WaxWhite WaxBeeswax
AlbumenEgg WhiteEgg WhiteEgg White
CerusaWhite LeadWhite Lead SubstituteZinc Oxide & KaoliniteWhite Lead is universally recognized as toxic.
CamphoraCamphorCamphorCinnamomum camphora
Nux MuscataNutmegNutmegMyristica fragrans
GariofilusClovesClovesSyzygium aromaticum

“A CEROTUM WITH WHICH THE FACE CAN BE ANOINTED EVERY DAY IN ORDER TO WHITEN IT IS MADE THUS. LET OIL OF VIOLETS OR ROSE OIL WITH HEN’S GREASE BE PLACED IN A CLAY VESSEL SO THAT IT BOILS.” (Green, 179)

I added rose oil to the coconut oil and heated it until it started to smoke. Fats and oils don’t truly boil, but at the smoke point they seem to.

“Let very white wax be dissolved, then let egg white be added and let the powder of well-powdered and sifted white lead be mixed in, and again let it be cooked a little.” (Green, 179)

The first time I did this step I added the egg when the oil and melted wax were too hot and I fried it. When I let it cool a little it worked better and then it did indeed need to be cooked again. When determining the ratio of pigment to oil & wax I was guided by the ratios I use in the Roman cerotum. This worked well.

“Then let it be strained through a cloth, and to this strained cold mixture let camphor, nutmeg, and three or four cloves be added.” (Green, 179)

By this point the cerotum has lost any trace of rose scent, so these three ingredients are added for their fragrance

“Wrap this whole thing in parchment. We do not apply this cerotum in any way until the cerotum smells good.” (Green, 179)

To be honest, I’m not really sure what is meant by waiting for the cerotum to smell good. I wrapped it in parchment paper and let it sit for several days until it lost any lingering smells from cooking. It’s still not pleasant in a modern sense, though I have to say it appeals to me.

“From this let the woman anoint her face…” (Green, 179)

I really liked this cream. It is moisturizing and leaves a subtle paleness on the skin without looking like clown white, which is far too heavy for the proper medieval aesthetic. That’s part of why they used lead, something my own experiments with lead exemplars, opacity, and texture bear out very clearly Applying the lead exemplar next to my substitute exemplar on my arm yielded similar looks, but the lead exemplar felt creamier on the skin.

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