Scented Memories

The 17th century Dutchman Constantijn Huygens (1596-1687) was a homo universalis. Besides being secretary to three successive princes of Orange, he was also a poet, diplomat, art connoisseur, composer and musician. He was in contact with everyone, nationally and internationally. What has received little attention so far is that he was also a perfumer.

In the Royal Library in The Hague, there are more than 150 perfume-related recipes from his hand, and through his extensive network, he also corresponded a great deal about them. Huygens’ hobby of perfumery arose from his interest in the natural sciences. He also derived status and prestige from it. It was a way for him to gain access to certain social circles.

In the project ‘Geheugen van Geur’ (Scented Memories) a team of researchers from The Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences’ Young Academy and Huygens Institute/NL-Lab, entirely in accordance with Huygens’ recipe, reconstructed a scent from his repertoire using old techniques, after which a French senior ‘nose’ converted the scent into a new perfume, entitled ‘Ode de parfum: to my mother’ (‘Rieckend water van mijn moeder’). The researchers hope that the project will allow people to experience history differently. They also want to draw more attention to the connection between emotion and memory by explaining how scents are processed in the brain and how they are inextricably linked to emotions and memories.

The scent can be smelled at the exhibition about Constantijn Huygens in Museum Huygens’ Hofwijck where one can also see how Huygens prepared his recipe. There is also a scented candle for sale.

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