Apothecaries – speziali – were important places in the Renaissance city: a bit like modern-day chain chemists, they sold a range of products, from sweets, to medical remedies. They also sold wax, a lot of wax. Like so many neighbourhood hubs, they adhered to street corners – where they were more visible and could be easily reached – and they often gave their name to the street corners themselves. Here, it’s the rondini (swallows) that appeared in the shopsign that preserves the trace of a shop that’s been here for many centuries. If you go in today, you’ll actually see an early twentieth-century reconstruction of Matteo Palmieri’s shop – decorated with beautiful wooden furnishings, frescoes and splendid albarello jars that contained the herbal remedies. And a copy of Palmieri’s bust by the sculptor Rossellino – the original is in the Bargello museum.

You’ll also notice that there’s a good amount of space in the shop in front of the counter – a place to wait your turn. Waiting provided a great opportunity for gossip – in fact, recent research has shown these shops to be central nodes in the social networks of the city. All sorts of people came to these shops; they had a virtual monopoly on the sale of wax – a key commodity in the rituals of Christian devotion, but also a central element of display at funerals. So much so in fact that sumpturay laws actually regulated the quantities that could be used, attempting to curb the conspicuous consumption of too much wax by the very wealthy in their lavish cortèges.

Fabrizio Nevola

To cite this essay, we suggest:
Fabrizio Nevola, ‘The apothecary’s shop’ published online 2013, in ‘Hidden Florence’, The University of Exeter, https://hiddenflorence.org/stories/giovanni/8-the-apothecarys-shop/

Further reading:

Matteo Palmieri, Ricordi fiscali (1427-1474): con due appendici relative al 1474-1495, ed. Elio Conti (Roma: Studi storici – Istituto storico italiano per il Medio Evo, 1983)

James E. Shaw and Evelyn S. Welch, Making and Marketing Medicine in Renaissance Florence (Amsterdam: Rodopi, 2011)

Sharon T. Strocchia, Death and Ritual in Renaissance Florence (Baltimore  and London: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1992)