Sugar and Fire

Abraham Bosse, Banketbakkerij, 1635, Etching, 264 x 342 mm, Amsterdam, Rijksmuseum

The ambivalence of inventories, which rarely add the exact purpose of crucibles, pans and preserving jars, requires great caution when classifying rooms as laboratories. Places that obviously served as laboratories, such as the fonderia in the Uffizi in Florence, can be used as a comparison. The fonderia included a glass workshop and a forge, a pharmacy and a pastry shop. All of these businesses could be summarized under the term chymistry. The products of the Florence fonderia ranged from glass, goldsmith’s work, and medicines to confectionery, cosmetics, and perfume (Fanny Kieffer, The Laboratories of Art and Alchemy at the Uffizi Gallery in Renaissance Florence: Some Material Aspects 2014).

Jan Luyken, Making Sorbet in a Kitchen, 1689, Etching, 146 x 81 mm, Amsterdam, Rijksmuseum

The production of confections, syrups and other sweets were an important part of early modern chymistry. The making of sweetmeats, candied fruits, dried flowers, and baked goods required expert knowledge of the reactions of the various ingredients with one another and with heat. The transformation of sugar into confectionery, into jellies, dry suckets, wet suckets, syllabub, colourfully patterned spice cakes and marzipan figures was technically and artistically demanding. For festive occasions, complete center pieces consisted entirely of confectionery constructions.

Marcos Martinón-Torres’ archaeological analyzes show that the arts of fire – alchemy, metallurgy and medicine – were not separated in the early laboratories characterized by the large number of different vessels made of ceramics, metal and glass (The Tools of the Chymist: Archaological and Scientific Analyzes of Early Modern Laboratories 2007 and Inside Solomon’s House: An Archaeological Study of the Old Ashmolean Chymical Laboratory in Oxford 2012). On the basis of Lady Arundel’s, Lord Ruthven’s and many other recipe books, as of course the exemplary Casino di San Marco in Florence, the list of the arts of fire could be expanded. In a smaller laboratory, individual areas were not separated (see also Lawrence Principe, Places of Miracles and Corruption: Alchemical Laboratories in Representations of the Early Modern Period 2014). Tart Hall featured with the the Pranketing Room such a comparatively small space, which nevertheless had to make a big impression on visitors.

Porcelain Vase with European Design, 16th Century, London, British Museum

The room showcased Lady Arundel’s expertise through the overwhelming number of expensive porcelains, brass pots and various glasses. Decorated by flowers in porcelain vases and small porcelain figurines, the varied collection of vessels showed Lady Arundel could prepare an equally large variety of medicines. Her equipment would have been the envy of her less privileged male professionals, who would not have been able to afford neither porcelain nor glass, especially not high-quality Venetian glass.

The making of confectionery as well as iatrochemical medicines and distilled waters were part of the household duties of women. This kind of applied medical research and the associated representative rooms have so far received little attention in relation to the more conspicuous interiors of noble women. Gendered spaces and their importance for the production of art and knowledge have first been researched about twenty years ago and much work remains to be done (Elizabeth Honig, The Space of Gender in Seventeenth-Century Dutch Painting 1997). Separated from the kitchen next door as well as from the large dining room, the Pranketing Room clearly belonged to the multifunctional rooms widely used in England (Amanda Flather, Gender and Space in Early Modern England 2007).

Frontispiece of “The Immortality of the Human Soul” with Portrait of Walter Charleton, 1657

An indication of the appreciation of Tart Hall as a laboratory space long before the use of Arundel House as seat of the Royal Society can be found in the person in charge of the property after it had been confiscated during the English Civil War: Henry Pierrepont, Earl of Kingston (Calendar of the Committee for Compounding 4, London 1892). The natural philosopher and physician Walter Charleton dedicated one of his works to Pierrepont (The Immortality of the Human Soul 1657). In his dedication, Charleton praises Pierrepoint as an experienced natural philosopher. It is likely that Tart Hall and its equipment were used by Pierrepont and possibly even Charleton during Lady Arundel’s absence.

Cite this blog post
Jennifer Rabe (2021, June 5). Sugar and Fire. Lady Arundel 1654–2054. Retrieved May 23, 2024, from

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