Aromatic Artistry: Perfume Bottles Through the Ages

30-5608_3 By the late 19th century, perfume and scent bottle popularity was at an all time high and designs consisted of complex artistry combined with some of the foremost designers in the world, like this ornate pliqué-à-jour enamel bottle, circa 1890

“A perfume is a work of art, and the object that contains it must be a masterpiece,”

-Robert Ricci, with The House of Nina Ricci.

 

Perfume, the fragrant liquid eternally linked to the ideals of elegance and luxury, has a long and fascinating history. Today, the word perfume is used to describe lovely scented mixes. However, the origins of perfume take us back to something quite different from the modern fragrances we admire. Tied to expressions of religious devotion, health precautions, and cleanliness efforts – and pure pleasure – perfume’s earliest origins are a point of great intrigue.

As one of the earliest examples of perfume bottles in history, this Egyptian examples is a testament to the high regard of the fragrant substance An early example of a perfume bottle from Ancient Egyptian culture that is a testament to the Egyptians high regard for liquid fragrances

Evidence of perfume making first appeared in the Ancient Egypt, when plant-based balms and essential oils were worn by both men and women for both religious and daily wear. In recent times, archaeologists have uncovered elaborate Egyptian recipes for perfume-making that undeniably assert the importance of perfume in the Egyptian culture. In fact, Egyptians even had a god of perfume, Nefertum. Undoubtedly, these humble beginnings paved the way for other cultures experimentation in perfume craft. The sophisticated Greek and Roman empires heralded their fragrances as valuable works of art. In the 12th century, perfumery spread into Western Europe, particularly Paris, where production became an art form and the demand reached a feverish pace. However, the first of modern-type, alcohol-based perfume was proudly made for Queen Elizabeth of Hungary in 1370. Soon after that, the art of perfumery proliferated throughout the continent.

Yet, no other era in history saw the perfume industry flourish quite like the 19th century. A time of burgeoning fashion, socio-economic change and scientific advances, perfume was brought to the state as we know it. In fact, wearing perfume became as much as a part of a ladies’ beauty regime as hair and makeup. Of course, with these developments came an entirely new craft: perfume bottles. Because such an elegant substance practically demands all surrounding things luxurious, these small bottles witnessed immediate success.

In the late 19th century, designers like Thomas Webb crafted ornate, complex perfume bottles like this red cameo glass example. In the late 19th century, designers like Thomas Webb crafted ornate, complex perfume bottles like this red cameo glass example.

As vessels for these lovely fragrances, perfume bottles are often considered a necessary and ideal accessory for perfume. Though they have existed since ancient times, when earlier Egyptians used containers of wood, glass, and clay, it wasn’t until the 19th century that perfume bottles became an art form of their own. In this time, an era that observed an unbounded fascination for finery, it was recognized that a bottle that encloses such an irresistible scent must be as striking and beautiful as the scent that is envelops.

In the early 1800s, early Europeans crafted a wide variety of one-of-a-kind bottles that featured materials such as gold, silver, shells, and even semi-precious stones. Within elite circles, these bottles experienced enormous popularity. In fact, some women even wore their most delicate bottles as jewelry and most proudly carried them in their evening pouches.

An elegant viper wraps itself around this incredible Lalique Serpent art glass perfume. Circa 1920 An elegant viper wraps itself around this incredible Lalique Serpent art glass perfume. Circa 1920

By the late 1880s, perfume bottle craftsmanship flourished into unfathomable popularity. Building upon earlier motifs, styles of perfume bottles became much more sophisticated and intricate. This period saw the emergence of famous perfume manufacturers, such as Thomas Webb and Rene Lalique. Largely in part due to the extravagant floral Art Nouveau and Rococo styles and advances in glass making, craftsmanship was taken to an entirely new level. Now, perfume bottles began to represent distinct schools of design. Bottles wrapped in vibrantly colored cut glass, shrouded in silver overlay, porcelain, and even crystal mediums in complex designs like ornate plique-à-jour patterns, delicate enameling, and opaline glass demanded talented artistry and brought considerable attention. The perfume market consequently clamored for these intimate objets d’art, coveting the rich foliate and colorful designs which until then had only existed in the dreams of perfume connoisseurs. The 20th century ushered in a designer’s craze for perfume and the emergence of classic perfume staples that we know today.

Perfume bottles have long been prized for their functionality and as beautiful objets d’art. Today, these tiny treasures possess an incomparable charm regarded by both collectors and admirers. Viewed as a staple commodity in today’s culture, perfume’s long history epitomizes the importance its held for thousands of years. Without question, there are few things that evoke such a pleasant feeling quite like a fragrant perfume

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