Seeing smell
in The senses in early modern England, 1558–1660

The results of Molecules, Series 1 depicts three of the most influential molecules that defined twentieth-century perfumery, aldehyde C12, Iso E Super®, and Galaxolide. It joins a long art historical tradition of cross-modal representations of sensation, particularly smell. This chapter examines a few of the many early modern pomanders housed in private and public collections. It explores whether a molecule can be considered fine art, and, if so, which representation of that molecule best captures its olfactory beauty and renders it 'visible'. To understand the cultural signification of early modern pomanders requires a synaesthetic approach: we must train ourselves to 'see' smell in the past. To see smell in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries involves fine arts and photography, the chemicals that we recognize as perfume transcribed into abstraction, either through elevating their chemical bonds into gilded prints or capturing their reaction through photography.

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