Scent Gallery: Scientists Create Fragrances for Prado Culture

Facing each other finally smiled again without having to stare. Lips are bright red. Masks fall off, faces return. That’s cool, but nothing against it: smell the scent again at the end.

Our sense of smell has had a particularly hard time during the pandemic. Not just because the epidemic prevented him when he was sick. It is inconceivable that people would have blindfolded or plugged their ears for two years. Vision and hearing are particularly noble senses, as Aristotle believed. On the other hand, our noses are so low in the hierarchy of the sense organs that we can hardly notice how we have largely dispensed with their impressions because they are wrapped in mystical layers to filter particles.

The end of the mask requirements promises real sensory intoxication. There is no place more impressive than it is now in the Prado in Madrid. This is despite the fact that the city has an infection rate of 203 and that China faces the following lockdowns.

The museum, which owns all five icons of the senses that Jan Brueghel the Elder painted with Peter Paul Rubens in 1617 and 1618, is dedicating a separate exhibition to the olfactory icon this spring. It’s a showcase for scent – and an invitation to the new age of mask-free.

“The Essence of Painting” is the name of the olfactory symphony that visitors can experience in a room in the Flemish Painting department. Their formation was more complex than the almost blurred hall might suggest. The five sensory symbols hang here against a dark background: seeing, hearing, tasting, touching – and at the end of the room the sense of smell. You can overlook the four black machines that look a bit like the HAL 9000, the malicious computer from Kubrick’s “A Space Odyssey.” It’s hard to believe there’s an orgy of scents to be experienced here. But as is often the case, the complexity of the sense of smell is underestimated.

One thing is clear to the researchers: Brueghel wanted people to be able to smell his work

For months, scientists from Spain’s largest research institute CSIC have been busy identifying about 80 species arranged by Bruegel in the Spanish Infanta Isabella Clara Eugenia Garden in Brussels. The Guardian Garden was popular at that time: it collected exotic plants and made perfumes from them. The researchers’ work now suggests that Brueghel developed his pictorial composition not only according to visual standards but also according to olfactory standards. The painter wanted people to smell his work.

For today’s viewer an overburden. The organizers of the exhibition are of course aware of simultaneous imagining and thus make it easier for visitors to experience the painting through their noses.

They bet high: the months of work were as good as they were in vain. Just last week, masks became mandatory in Spain. After 699 days, it is now possible to visit the Prado Unmasked for the first time. At least in theory. Because many Spaniards still don’t really like them mascarilla sporadic. The perfume gallery is a nice temptation, especially for those who are still skeptical: let the caps fall!

Jan Brueghel the Elder painted the scent symbol with Peter Paul Rubens in 1617 and 1618.

(Photo: Otero Heranz, Alberto / Madrid, Museo Nacional del Prado)

The Spaniards have worn face masks for nearly two years with almost Prussian discipline. There are no protruding noses in the subway, almost no self-made rags. The blue surgical mask was part of the essential equipment for everyone over the age of five. For months, masks were mandatory outdoors. And the Spaniards stuck with that—even when they were jogging in the park early in the morning.

That ended, according to the political announcement. But in Spain, the clemency of Freedom Day cannot be felt, there is even talk of “sindrome de cara vacía”, the empty face syndrome, which according to relevant media reports mainly affects adolescents in Spain, who wear their complexes masks, pimples or braces covered She now feels naked and at the mercy of strangers.

70 percent of Spaniards want to continue wearing mascarilla

Far from any scientifically proven protective effect, the mask became a kind of incantation for many Spaniards. With her, they above all felt immunity. So it’s no wonder that many are not yet ready to break up. Across all party lines, 54 percent of Spaniards think it’s too early to take off their masks. 70 percent want to hold it, at least when shopping, at the movies, or at a concert. In any case, it remains mandatory on public transport.

In any case, in the Prado that afternoon, Spanish visitors can be distinguished quite clearly from foreign tourists by their masks. Only in the hall with the perfume fair they raise it too mascarilla. It’s just very seductive.

Curator Alejandro Vergara, along with Spanish perfumer Gregorio Sola, selected ten scents from the lush palette. Sola created scents from them, not all of which are as beautiful as the ones in the fig tree in the background or the bouquet of carnations, roses, and jasmine that Venus Rubens holds under her nose. The civet cat curls up on the ground in front of the strong scent of wild animals. Their odor comes from glandular sacs between their hind legs. In Brueghel’s time, secretion was used as a fixative for perfumes.

It is best to ignore the fact that the civet recently made headlines as the host animal for the SARS virus. Just like the aerosol that is supposed to fill the exhibition room to the ceiling. After all, you are here for a rush of senses. So you approach one of the four black machines on the side wall of the hall. On the screen, you tap daffodils, roses, or orange blossoms and then close your nose to a glowing red ring that blows a small cloud of fragrance into your nose in a quiet sound.

“AirParfum” is the name of the technology of these dispensers, thanks to which one can perfectly distinguish individual notes. Presenting noble gems turned out to be rather despicable.

Neither the mechanical buzz nor the normal touch screen detracts from the fragrance experience itself. All you have to do is close your eyes. Then the smell does the rest, as if your sinuses have suddenly cleared up again after a long cold. Breathe, sniff, sniff, breathe. There, the luminous garden, in the middle of the dark hall.

This park will not disappear soon

Perfume fade. But surprisingly, this park does not disappear again so quickly. That’s the really magical thing about the show. The smell has one characteristic that makes it special: it lasts longer than other sensory impressions. It is not for nothing that the aroma is the center of memories, it is not for nothing that Proust takes the aroma of linden blossom tea and Madeleine as a starting point for a whole journey through time, which wants nothing more than to break the dominance of the sense of sight.

At the perfume fair in Madrid there is also an example for our present. As philosopher Byung-Chul Han once said in an article on the art of slowing down: “Information has no smell. This is where it differs from history.” After two years of staring at infection numbers and infection curves replacing odor, it’s time to switch from just seeing. It will take a bit of practice. You can taste this new old time in Prado. But spring flowers are blooming elsewhere, too.

The core of the painting. perfume galleryPrado Museum, Madrid. Until July 3, 2022.

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