Section 4. The ‘Orvietano’: The Antidote of the Two Worlds
On 9 June 1603, an experimental investigator in materia medica, Girolamo Ferrante from Orvieto, was authorised by the local authorities to sell an antidote of his own manufacture: known as the Orvietano, made from more than 30 ingredients, most of them vegetable. The Orvietano was immediately an extraordinary success with the public, of the most varied social extraction. It was popular with ordinary people because of the way it was sold – often in market stalls in piazzas or in family-run shops, as happened in Venice from 1623 on. But it was also sought after by the elites: the Medici of Florence produced it themselves, while the court of Spain, the English nobility, the Sun King Louis XIV and many others consumed it habitually, in small doses, to prevent poisoning and to invigorate the body. Explorers and missionaries, from the Americas to China, also brought the ‘Orvietano’ with them to treat snake bites (by asperging the wound, once the superficial part of the bite had been removed) and to resolve frequent digestive disorders. The ‘Orvietano’ approved by the health authorities also entered the official pharmacopoeias of Europe – the texts that collected the prescriptions for medicines sold in apothecaries’ shops, to which the apothecaries had to strictly adhere. In fact, the jars used in the shops (the so-called albarelli), on which the words ‘Orvietano’ or ‘Orvietan’ stand out, can still be found in the antiquarian market. Its success, however, led to many counterfeits of the recipe and its sale by charlatans and actors on improvised stages. It became a cultural phenomenon, quoted by illustrious authors, reproduced on ceramics and tapestries, featured in painted or engraved scenes or on postcards, and so forth. The exhibition showcase displayed items collected by Lamberto Bernardini, who retrieved the original recipe for the antidote from archival sources in Orvieto, examined it in collaboration with chemists and pharmacists, and re-proposed it, with variations that made it a herbal amaro (http://www.lorvietan.com/laboratorio/).