While the Osmothèque in Versailles covers the history of perfumery as a science, Barcelona’s Museo del Perfume (site in Spanish and Catalan) takes it a bit farther than that. With the very grand claim that “la historia de la perfumería es tan antigua como la historia de la humanidad" (the history of perfumery is as old as the history of humanity), the Museo lays claim to over 5000 bottles, miniatures, catalogues, labels, and old advertising relating to the history of perfume from prehistory to the present day, including Mesopotamia, Egypt, Israel, Greece, the Phoenicians and Carthage, Rome, Islamic civilizations, and the Renaissance. All this is organized into two parts: one containing flasks, bottles and jars from ancient civilisations and the Modern era, and the other containing relics from the current, industrialized era of perfumes.
Scent itself is not the focus of this collection, founded in 1961, but rather the receptacles that have held the various ointments, oils and other liquids with which people have perfumed themselves throughout the ages. These containers tell us something about the centrality of perfume in human history, as Ramon Planas, the Museum’s founder, explains:
El perfume, en todos los tiempos ha sido y es, un producto apreciado y valioso, por lo que, los frascos y demás recipientes que los han contenido, han destacado, desde siempre, por ser originales en sus formas, o valiosos en los materiales empleados, o ambas cosas a la vez.
(Throughout history perfume has been and is a valued and valuable product, inasmuch as the bottles and other receptacles that have contained it have always been designed to be original in form, or valuable in the materials used, or both at once.)
For those who cannot visit the museum, una mini visita has been constructed consisting of photographs and information on selected pieces, as well as some information on the perfumes contained within. It is not clear what percentage of the collection may be viewed online. This gallery, like the museum itself, is divided into precommercial and commercial collections.
Although (according to this reviewer) it does not provide samples of historical perfumes, El Museo del Perfume has been included in our series on smell as a reminder of the importance of smells and perfumes — which, so far, can’t be transmitted via the internet — to the human experience. But the museum has been criticised for “turning the olfactory art into a visual one, which is more familiar and therefore less challenging”: see this 2011 interview with Chandler Burr, former perfume critic for the New York Times and current director and curator of the Center of Olfactory Art in New York City. (Watch this space for more on the COA!)
El Museo del Perfume is located in the back of the Perfumería Regia in the centre of Barcelona. Click here for their location and opening hours, or check their list of useful links for more information on perfumes and perfumery.