Caterina Sforza Toilette Class 2020


At Gulf Wars XXIX on Wednesday I will be teaching a class on the toilette of my favorite person from the Renaissance, Caterina Sforza!

Caterina Sforza signature and quote

Caterina Sforza (1463-1509), Countess of Imola, was an exceptional woman. In her private life Caterina was devoted to various activities, among which were experiments in alchemy and a love of hunting and dancing. Her stillroom book was handed down to her son, Giovanni de’ Medici, and transcribed with his permission by a captain of the Bande Nere in 1525. In the volume, entitled Gli Experimenti de la Caterina di Forli, there are 454 recipes of medicinal, chemical, and cosmetic focus. Her recipes were published by Pier Passolini in 1893. I translated 20 of her recipes for my book available in the Kindle Store and by print from Amazon.

Here are the handouts for the class. The PDF is available here.


Link to previous class pamphlet handout:

Pale skin, fair hair, rosy lips and cheeks, high forehead, thin eyebrows, and curls. These were the characteristics of ideal beauty during the Renaissance in Emilia, Romagna, Lombardy, the Veneto, and Tuscany (1450-1600).

s1600Young_Woman_Receives_Gifts_From_Venus_and_the_Three_Graces%2C_Botticelli.jpg 1600×1067 píxeles

Take caution, though, to not cake on the makeup like later Elizabethans did:

elizabeth i young
No. Just, no.

Haven’t you noticed how much prettier a woman is if, when she makes up, she does so with so little that those who see her cannot tell whether she is made up or not? But others are so bedaubed that it looks like they are wearing a mask and dare not laugh be-cause they fear it will crack. Such women never change colour except when they dress in the morning, and must spend the rest of the day like motionless wooden images…. How much nicer it is to see a woman, a good looking one I mean, who obviously has nothing on her face, neither white nor red, but just her natural colour, which may be pale or sometimes slightly tinged with a blush caused by embarrassment or the like, maybe with her hair toudled and whose gestures are simple and natural, without working at being beautiful?” — Book of the Courtier by Castiglione, 1513 

Also, never forget the power of the rose!


To all aromatic mixtures are added roses, which are the best things for imparting scent. — Nostradamus 

Cleansing the mouth and face, combing/ scenting the hair, applying a whitener, as well as applying rossetto, body powder, and perfumes were all part of the daily ritual of a noblewoman throughout the Middle Ages and Renaissance.

Come to the class to discuss, learn, and try Caterina’s products!

Herbs Used

– Alkanet root, Brasilwood (Sappanwood), and red sandalwood are plants that calm skin inflammation and are used for rouge.

– Beeswax is essential to provide a moisture barrier and pseudo-emulsifier in creams.

– Cerussa is a poisonous lead based whitener for the face. Titanium dioxide (TiO2)is a food safe white pigment and good substitute in cosmetic recipes.

– Clove, nutmeg, cinnamon, musk are aromatic herbs with great medicinal properties when ingested or applied to the skin. They are uplifting and sensual fragrances.

– Lavender is an aromatic flower that contains a high content of linalool. Linalool is a terpene alcohol which calms the nerves and lessens pain.

– Myrrh contains sesquiterpenes, which make it effective as an antimicrobial wound healer.

– Olive Oil is rich in polyphenols, which are well known to protect against free radical damage, as well as vitamin E, which is the main source of protection against free radicals that damage the skin. 

– Rice powder contains para aminobenzoic acid which protects the skin from UV rays, ferric acid which is an antioxidant that provides protection especially when added to vitamin E, allantoin which is an anti-inflammatory agent, and tyrosinase which is an oxidase that limits the production of melanin.

– Rose possesses mood-elevating properties, heals acne scars, and provides nourishment for mature or sun damaged skin. Rose helps balance the skin’s PH and controls and balances sebum production, making it useful for skin imbalances such as dry and oily skin. 

– Rosehip seed oil contains antioxidant beta-carotene, and essential fatty acids omega-6 and omega-3, helping to repair and rejuvenate damaged skin.

– Sage (Salvia officinalis) is a tonic and stimulant. It is valued as a mouth treatment because of its anti-inflammatory and antiseptic properties.


“Thou must know, Margaret, that a young lady could not have a complexion so clear, white and delicate if she did not aid it to some degree with art, or else it might show at times by mischance as might often happen, that it is not so fair. And they do not reason well who say that a lady, so she have a fair complexion by nature, may ever thereafter set it at naught and neglect it. And for this cause I would grant that a gentlewoman should use continually waters of price and excellence, but without solid matter to them or but the very least part. And for these I may know to give you receits most perfect and most rare.” — Il dialogo della bella creanza delle donne, 1541 



Anon. Manual des Mugeres.

Banckes Herbal.

Delightes for Ladies.

Mattioli Herbal.

Mistress Jadwiga. Medieval Oils and Waters.

Passolini, Pier. Caterina Sforza Volume III.

Pointer, Sally. Artifice of Beauty.

Rucellai, Girolamo. Secreti del reverendo Alessio Piemontese.

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