Thanks to scientific research, the Renaissance allows us to make considerable progress in the art of the perfumery. Chemistry replaces alchemy and improves the distillation and the quality of the essences.
During the Renaissance period, marked by the rediscovery of Greek-Latin antiquity and by the invention of the printing press, a large number of technical texts in Italian and in French divulge recipes for fragrant waters to perfume clothes, the body, houses, and also dried perfumes used to compose the “fragrant apples” or "Cyprus birds". These substances perfume gloves and belts, a fashion introduced to France from Italy and Spain it contributes to the prosperity of the tanneries of Grasse. Animal raw materials, very much appreciated for their seductive and aphrodisiacal powers, enter the composition of numerous recipes.
The new maritime routs, discovered from Spain and Portugal, gave elegance to the hegemony in Venice. Christopher Colombus brings vanilla from the New World, Peru and Tolu Balm, the copal, cocoa and tobacco. Vasco de Gama, having discovered the Indies, brought on his boats cinnamon, benzoin, incense, ginger, pepper and cloves.
The great perfumers of the Renaissance were Spanish or Italian. The first inherited their science from their Arab predecessors; the second took advantage of the wealth of the peninsula and the tastes of the aristocracy and the middle classes for fragrances. They manufactured their own essences and aromatic waters.
When Caterina de' Medici came to France to marry the future king Henry II, she brought with her from Italy the perfumer René Le Florentin. He opened his own shop on the Pont au Change and became famous for his fragrances. It opened the road to numerous Italian perfumers who established themselves in Paris, given particular incentive also by Maria de' Medici.
The fashion of perfumed products spread. The finest skins from Sicily, Sardinia or Spain were tanned and perfumed. These fragrant leathers, called "Spanish leathers", were very fashionable in the XVI century.
The physicians considered vegetal or animal fragrant substances to be excellent remedies. Ambrosias Paré created some special bathtubs called "marmites à plantes" to take aromatic baths and to recover from illnesses.
A certain hostility then developed towards the baths. It was thought that water was a vehicle of contamination. It washed less and less. In the XVI century, "to wash" meant to pour water over some parts of the body. Rather than to wash, the correct term was "to degrease".
Appearance started to play a more important role. The XVI century marked the beginning of fragrances class. Aromas take the place of hygiene to hide dirt and to cover bad odours.