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Santa Maria Novella

About the brand

Santa Maria Novella is an Italian brand famous for its traditional apothecary preparations, combining medicinal and wellness properties. Fully named ‘Officina Profumo Farmaceutica di Santa Maria Novella’, it is the oldest pharmacy in the world. The Santa Maria Novella team only produces natural products that pay close attention to the art of herbalism, integrating over eight centuries of knowledge and experience.

The story of Santa Maria Novella begins 800 years ago just outside the city walls of Florence. In 1221, the catholic Dominican order founds the convent of Santa Maria Novella in the lush Tuscan hills. The monks start cultivating a botanical garden to create medicines, ointments and balms for the small infirmary of their monastery. Their herb garden is the start of Santa Maria Novella’s age-old experience in pharmacopoeia and natural preparations.

Santa Maria Novella’s legacy is deeply intertwined with Florence’s history, personalities and social tissue. In 1334, the Dominican monks of Santa Maria Novella rise to greatness by healing the Italian merchant Dardano Acciaioli with extracts of bearberry. Once he recovers, Acciaioli finances the construction of the Chapel of San Niccolò in Florence as a sign of gratitude. Today, this chapel is the very heart of Santa Maria Novella’s flagship store. Its Gothic vault is decorated with frescoes depicting the four continents and wooden statues allude to healthy living, referring to the effectiveness of the Officina's preparations.

Each of Santa Maria Novella’s products has its own special history. For example, their first famous perfumed waters with medicinal properties date back to 1381. During the plague decades of the Late Middle Ages, the Dominicans of Santa Maria Novella begin distilling rose water or ‘Acqua di Rose’ which is used both to sanitise rooms and as a mild medicine.

A few centuries later, Santa Maria Novella plays a leading role in Europe’s history of perfume-making. When in 1533, a very young Catherine de Medici leaves Florence to marry the future king of France, she asks for a perfumer to join her entourage. Catherine chooses Renato Bianco, who is trained by the monks of Santa Maria Novella, as her personal perfumer. For the King of France, Bianco creates a wonderful bridal gift that embodies Florence's grace and enchants the entire French court. Santa Maria Novella’s homage to this gift of love is called ‘Acqua della Regina’ or ‘Queen’s Water’. Still hand-formulated in Florence, this timeless, remarkably light and fresh Eau de Cologne combines the provocative citrus and bergamot with subtle white flowers and deeply exotic spices. The bewitching essence of the oldest fragrance of Santa Maria Novella keeps on intriguing people around the world.

When the remarkable products of Santa Maria Novella become well-known all over Italy, the pharmacy opens its doors to the wider public in 1542. The pharmacy is officially recognised as the ‘Foundry of His Royal Highness’ in 1612. For another two centuries, the directors of Santa Maria Novella continue to be Dominican monks. These are notable figures such as Angiolo Marchissi, one of the great scholars of alchemical science of the seventeenth century and Cosimo Bucelli, who is an experimenter who loves to combine medicinal properties with pleasant scents. Bucelli creates a collection of cosmetic recipes entitled ‘Secrets of the Foundry of His Royal Highness’, and brings Santa Maria Novella to the attention of the five corners of the world.

Since the 19th century, Santa Maria Novella products are lauded by royal houses, notable artists and personalities. A period of audacious growth and innovation follows: alongside the traditional preparations, its cosmetic and personal care items such as balms, ointments, soaps and perfumes become extremely popular. Today, Santa Maria Novella’s traditional flagship store has become a cultural destination. Walking into its frescoed chapel, the ambience is more like a museum with scores of heady aromas. The pharmacy is an oasis where Florence's ancient and aristocratic soul lives and resists the passage of time, combining art, culture and pleasure. From this timeless temple, Santa Maria Novella exports its refined products all over the world.

Santa Maria Novella continuously renews its alchemy of tales and wonders. In their Italian workshops, artisans produce not just perfumes but also herbal remedies, soaps, shaving balms, toothpaste, gels, lotions, distillates, perfumes and eau-de-colognes. Centuries after its start, the experience of Santa Maria Novella’s Dominicans has expanded to include the worlds of cosmetics, fragrances and wellness products.

Santa Maria Novella has been a household name at Graanmarkt 13 since we discovered the brand many years ago. We instantly fell in love with the Italian approach to fragrances and apothecary products. Browse our e-shop for a wide range of Santa Maria Novella products, or let us guide you through their wonderful world in our Antwerp store