Feminis and the 19th century Italian authors

Dr. Karl Kempkes

Feminis and the 19th century Italian authors

Three 19th century Italian authors, Carlo Cavalli, author of the first volume about the history of the Vigezzo Valley, Fr. Scaciga and Giacomo Pollini, refer to Giovanni Paolo Feminis in their books. The following article will dispute the documentary value of their information. All three authors praise Feminis for being the valley’s most generous benefactor and creator of Eau de Cologne. A thorough analysis of their works and biographies, however, proves Jean Marie Farina 1785-1864 (Paris) to have exerted a remarkable influence on the authors. At the time, Farina was a very important figure in his hometown Santa Maria Maggiore as well as throughout the Vigezzo Valley. Because he claimed to be Feminis’ heir in the production of Eau de Cologne, he probably praised and spread the word about Feminis’ good deeds, including Feminis’ alleged donation of 60,000 Lire to the parish church of Santa Maria Maggiore, the construction of the street leading from Domodossola into the Vigezzo Valley and the establishment of a school and community centre. However, the fact that there are no records or documents to confirm these deeds compromises the credibility of the information given by the three authors named above, and confirms the role of Jean Marie Farina as their only possible source. This article also cites John Ruffini and his report about a visit to the Vigezzo Valley as a contemporary witness to the formidable influence of Jean Marie Farina.


Introduction: Jean Marie Farina 1785-1864 (Paris) and his Italian home country.

  1. Dr. Carlo Cavalli: „Cenni Statistico-Storici della Valle Vigezzo“, Torino, 1845.
  2. Fr. Scaciga della Silva: „Vite di Ossolani illustri“, Domodossola, 1847.
  3. Dr. Giacomo Pollini: „Notizie Storiche, Statuti Antichi, Documenti e Antichità Romane di Malesco“, Torino, 1896.
  4. Conclusion

When seeking to prove the historical value of these documents in relation to Feminis, one ought not forget  that Jean Marie Joseph Farina enjoyed vast popularity  and influence in his home town.
As Maurizi reports, the reconstruction of the Vicar Ponti church between 1840 and 1846 led to a general appeal for help. Jean Marie Joseph Farina is said to have come forward and donated the sum of 4000 lira which would explain why he consecrated as saint patron of the rosary chapel.
In the rosary chapel of the church Santa Maria Maggiore, there is a commemorative plaque on which the following has been engraved (English translation): „In memory of Jean Marie Joseph Farina, patron of this chapel, generous benefactor of this church and worthy heir of Johann Paul Feminis, from the thankful  villagers 1846“. The previous information explains that if Jean Marie Joseph Farina enjoyed a good reputation in his home town it’s first and foremost due to his charitable acts. It’s also precisely for that reason that his ideas and opinion was taken into account. In the following text, we shall try to find out whether or not there was an actual relation between Jean Marie Joseph Farina and Feminis the way it has been descibed by the authors in 19th century.

1. Dr. Carlo Cavalli : « Cenni Statistico-Storici della Valle Vigezzo », Torino, 1845

1.) Who was Cavalli?
Maurizi refers to Cavalli in the following terms.
„Franz Anton Cavalli, son of the late Karl Hieronymus Cavalli (1798-1842) was a pastor in Santa Maria. His brother Carl Cavalli (1799-1860) was a famous historian. He obtained his PhD in medical science at Pavia University before opening a practice in his home town. At the same university, he was honoured the title of Professor for his outstanding work in obstetrics. At the University of Turin, he received a PhD in medicine and in philosophy. As a dedicated doctor, he wrote a book in 1835: „The history of an extraordinary illness existing for 28 years“ and „The history of the nervous fever which spread around the region of the Vigezzo valley between 1839 and 1840“ published in june1844 in Turin in the medical science review. His greatest success was the publication in 1845 of a book in three volumes: „Statistic and historic indications relative to the Vigezzo Valley“ which is the first written work giving a detailed account of this region’s history. He got actively envolved in the construction of a road connecting Domodossola to the Vigezzo Valley, he was mayor of Santa Maria Maggiore, of Crana, he was the chairman of the provincial consul in Ossola as well as the parlementary representative for the subalpine region. He was honoured with the cross „Ss. Maurizio e Lazzaro“ and was a member of various italian and international academies.

It thus appears that Carlo Cavalli played a particularly important role in both Santa Maria Maggiore and Crana and that he was greatly appreciated and known.

On analysing his work, we are able to draw the two following remarks:
1. Cavalli didn’t have sufficient time to conduct the proper preliminary historic research which would have been necessary for the writing of his work. The attentive reader will notice that it is merely a  collection of various reports and articles, written by various people.
2.His personality and reputation were sufficient so as to make his work famous. This explains how his books happened to be added to the historic section, without however ever having been checked.

2.) The relationship between Cavalli and Jean Marie Farina from Paris.
In the previous description relating to Cavalli’s life, Maurizzi stresses that the latter was in favour of the construction of a road between Domodossola and the Vigezzo Valley. The building of this road „strada caregiabile“ (which was equipped for vehicles) was of great importance to the people of the region. In those days, only very narrow paths existed and the bridges were so narrow that it was usually almost impossible for two mules to pass one another. This network was a part of everyday life in this area. That explains why some parts of the valley are today still not accessible with a vehicle. Tourists who venture into the valley will most certainly know how to appreciate the romantic character of it all. The means of transport being like in the good old days, on a mule’s back or in the traditional baskets which women carry on their back. For the natives ,however, these means of transport also imply more hard work, earlier ageing and of course a shorter life expectancy.

In the early 19th century, responsible men realised the importance of having a road built through the whole valley. Connecting Domodossola to Locarno and thus improving the economic situation of both the area and of the inhabitants greatly. They put a big effort into carrying out this plan which was to have a great impact on the economy of the region. It appears that during the road works, Dr. Carlo Cavalli is the person who got the most involved. this has been recorded in three books which are to be found in the town archives of Santa Maria Maggiore. Only once the work had started did the real difficulty of the job unveil itself. The idea was to build a road connecting the „dales of the hundred valleys“ (as they called the region) Very steep hills and glens had to be taken into consideration. One of the major problems was of course the financing The local authorities didn’t dispose of the right sum of money, and the region hadn’t planned on supporting the project. However, the men who had decided to carry out the road works didn’t lose hope. They remembered the emigrants who in the past once already had shown their generosity in helping Santa Maria Maggiore. This is how the money was slowly raised. The following commission was founded for this purpose. (see communal archives of Santa Maria Maggiore.)‘La deputazione nominata con Atto Consolare delli 17 octobre 1821 del Consiglio Generale della Valle di Vigezzo porterà il nome di Commissione della Strada nuova da Domo D’Ossola alla Suizzera Cantone Ticino per la Valle di Vigezzo’. This commission was divided into two groups: ‘Questa commissione si divide in due sezioni una permanenta nella Valle e l’altra in Pariggi’. A sort of tandem between „the valley“ and Paris began. What we are solely interested in, is the composition of the commission in Paris.  This is what can be read in the report:  ‘Quella di Pariggi e composta dalli SS. Fratelli Trabuchi di Malesco, Gio Batt. e Gio Maria Zio e Nipote Mellerio, Francesco Mellerio e Gio Margaritis di Craveggia e Gio Maria Farina di Santa Maria Maggiore’.
When the members residing in Paris were visiting their home town, they would seat at the Italian commission as illustrates the following excerpt: ‘Quall’ora alcuno de membri della commissione di Pariggi si ripatriasse formera parta della commissione permanente’.
The commissions‘ aim was to gather as many souscriptions and donations  as possible, so as to secure the financing of this infrastucture. ‘L’ufficio della commissione si è collocare sottoscrizione e oblazioni per formare il fondo…’.

Jean Marie Joseph Farina from Paris had an important role to play: he was placed at the head of the German commission. ‘Il Sig. Gio Maria Farina inparticolare ha inaltre l’incarico per le soscrizioni ed oblazioni nella Germania…’. these are excerpts from ‘Atti diversi della deputazione del Consorzio per la costruzione della Strada Vigezzina’ which are to be found in book 11/II of the communal archives of the town Santa Maria Maggiore. In this volume have also been recorded the donations from Paris. In a short time, 27000 lira had been raised and the project was supported by Paris throughout. Questions and specific requests were mostly sent to the French „delegates“. ‘Raporte dalli deputati della nuova Strada Vigezzina d’Italia alli Sign. Melerio Gio Maria, Fratelli Trabuchi, Farina Gioan. Maria … residenti in Pariggi’.
In 1831, Jean Maria Farina made his way to Santa Maria Maggiore where he immediately took the responsibility as head of the commission. On 20.09.1831, he as well as  signed Guiseppe Anton Borgnis, Cavalli, Peretti and other so called « Condeputati » signed a letter addressed to Sig. Alfrazzi, in relation to the construction of the road. When Jean Maria Farina returned to Paris, the plans of construction took a bad turn and in 1832 dr. Carlo Cavalli, the president of the commission, wrote to Jean Marie Farina so as to ask for his help:
„Regardless of the trouble we had at the start of the construction of the road through the valley, the work is advancing at a steady pace even though a finishing date is not yet foreseeable. There are now only three hundred meters missing from Santa Maria Maggiore to Ossola. We however at present appear to be in a bad phase. Our financing has run out and the region hasn’t yet mentioned it’s wanting to help us. We therefore now put our trust in those who until now have supported this project financially and hope their generosity won’t fail us. We are therefore trying to gather as many donations as possible from individuals like Trabucci, Mellerio and Bonanzi who, in turn, may be able to use their influence so as to enlarge the circle of donators. We appeal to all wealthy inhabitants of the Vigezzo valley, this edifice will be a land mark in the history of the region. Finishing the construction of this road will be a tremendous move in the improving the lives of the inhabitants here. It is now up to you to consider the idea and perhaps carry out a charitable act. If your status allows you to get involved in this project, it would be more than a sheer act of generosity to participate in the construction. And you yourself, as well as, all the people of the region will profit from it. Please allow me to express in advance my sincere gratitude along with the many thanks from the people who will honour your memory.“

The letter from Dr. Cavalli to Jean Maria Farina, Paris:

Al Sig. Gio Maria Farina

Pregiatissimo Signore
Malgrado gli sforzi dei nemici della nostra cara patria la strada vigezzina non solo ebbe principio ma venne con calore proseguita sino quasi a loccare il suo termine, mancano infatti poco piu di trecento metri propinquo senza interruzione da Sanzta Maria Maggiore imo al piano dell’Ossola; ma disgrazialamente all’ascesa dell’ultimo gradino ci vediamo mancate le forze. Il fondo delle comuni trovasi oramai essurito; la Provinci anon ci lascia piu speranza di susidio, non avendo, stando l’attuali sistema, alcuno ameno sopravanzo.
Non ci rimane che la confidenza nella patria carita die dovizioni patrizi Vigezzini, i quali non vorrano certamente permettere che vadi deserta un opera cosi utile, incominciala merce le loro fatte largizioni e proseguita sotto i loro favorevol auspici. In tale persuasiva i sottoscritti osano di caldamente interessare l’esperimentato amor patrio della S.V. perche voglia di concerto con codesti buoni patrizi Trabucchi, Mellerio e Bonzani conquiacussi aprire una nuova e volontana sollecitazione presso i dovizioni Vigezzini chi si trovano in codeste capitale e far si che coi loro filantropia sussidii possi finalmente aprire l’asta dell’ultimo tronco e vedere il suo termino la strada vigezzina, che deve formare etrnamente epoca negli annali del nostro paesi nativo e perpetrare nell cuore riconoscente di tutta gusta popolazione la memoria die generosi di lei promolori.
Voglia importanto la S.V. accogliere favorevolmente la domanda die sottoscritti; appoggiarta coll influente di lei patrocinio e cosi doppiamente meritare dalla cari comune patria. Ne ricevi intanto gli anticipati ingraziamenti e le benedizioni degli abitanti di queste luoghi e l’assicuranza per parte dei sottoscritti con cui hanno l’onore dichiarasi
Di V.S. Pregiatissima
Santa Maria 27 feb. 1832”

For a more profound analysis of the events relating to the construction, it is no doubt of importance to know that Cavalli was on very good terms with Jean Marie Farina from Paris and that they even happened to know one another very well.

3.) What does Cavalli tell us about Jean Marie Farina?
At the end of his 18th chapter, Cavalli wrote: “We will finish this chapter by giving several bibliographical references relating to a wealthy inhabitant of the Vigezzo valley. This person happens to be Johann Paul Féminis. He was born towards the end of the 17th century into a known family which however did not have much money. At a very young age he made his way to Germany where he began earning a living. He worked for quite some time in a haberdashery and wondered from café to café. His talent however pushed him in another direction. While living in Cologne, he created a simply fabulous fragrance. He is supposed to have presented his discovery to the public on 13 January 1727. This perfume was rapidly appreciated by all and called „Miracle water“ from Cologne. It’s with this name that this perfume travelled the world and as it is nowadays still known by all, there is no need to go into more detail. From here on, Cavalli admits that if Feminis managed to create this miracle water, it’s due to the donations and he is said to have introduced  the brand « di Colonia ». Cavalli speaks highly of the donations which Feminis is supposed to have made. He writes: „it obvious that Johann Paul Féminis became rich within in a few years. He nevertheless never forgot where he came from. He generously participated in the reconstruction of the church of Santa Maria Maggiore for which he donated the sum of 60000 lira, he took up the refurbishing of the parish house, the Crana oratorium and he donated 50000 lira for the construction of the school. He had a number of other plans for his home town only he died on the 26th November 1736.

It’s important to point out that this is the first text in which the sum of 60000 lira is mentioned in relation to the town of Santa Maria Maggiore along with the projects which Feminis is supposed to have had ready (interrupted because of his death).
On the whole, Cavalli points out in this conclusion how rich Feminis became thanks to his ‚Aqua Mirabilis‘ and most importantly, he stresses the donations he is supposed to have made to his home country. The author adds: „So as to immortalise his memory, the inhabitants of the Vigezzo valley have hung a number of portraits of the man in the buildings which he contributed to upkeep. Canvases were put up in the church and parish house of Santa Maria Maggiore, in the oratorium of Crana and another in the primary school. This is the inscription which figures under the portrait: Johann Paul Feminis from Crana, tradesman, distiller of the Aqua Mirabilis of Cologne, generous donator in the reconstruction of the church of Santa Maria Maggiore, also took part in the restoration of the parish house and the oratorium of Crana. May the man who invested in his home town be blessed and may he rest in peace. All his fellow citizens are grateful to him. He will forever be praised by his people.
Cavalli neither gives any information to the artist, nor to when  the paintings were painted. His comment „ al natural“ means that the painting is real  size and not that the portrait was painted when he was still alive. Moreover, Cavalli pays little interest to when exactly the inhabitants of the Vigezzo valley pay their respects to Feminis, nor does he give any dates as to when the paintings were put up, considering that the one in the oratorum is signed 1833. In addition, Cavalli takes for granted that all the painting trace back to the same artist whose signature appears on the painting hanging in the school, information which however isn’t correct.

Cavalli only pays little attention to these details. He doesn’t seem to be interested in Feminis as a person either and hardly any information is provided as to the time at which he lived. His being mentioned in chapter 18 is somewhat odd and unjustifiable. Why does Cavalli make it a point to relate Feminis’ life in this chapter? In the following, one notices a number of discrepancies in the
In the following you will notice a discrepancy it the time scale featured in the table of content. This tends to prove that Cavalli lacked historical facts regarding Feminis:
Chapters    XIII:     1670 – 1700
XIV:     1700 – 1720
XV:     1720 – 1744
XVI:     1744 – 1760
XVII:     1760 – 1788
XVIII:     1788 – 1790     (Gioanni Paolo Femminis di Crana!)
XIX:     1790 – 1797

The dates mentioned in chapter 18  correspond in fact more to Jean Marie Farina from Paris. The information later quoted plainly refers to this individual. Here is how Cavalli describes the people’s gratitude towards Feminis:
“In memory of Feminis who died a bachelor. Johann Anton Farina from Santa Maria Maggiore took over and the business in nowadays run by Jean Marie Farina. The recipe for this miraculous water was therefore never lost. He not only inherited the know-how, but also the love for his country. He proved to be very generous and met the cost for the construction of a hospital in hometown, destined to the poor.”

The central theme is here revealed to us. The construction of a hospital in Santa Maria Maggiore. Cavalli, who had once been mayor of the town, appeared to have a particular interest in it’s development. He is furthermore a physician and without a doubt one of the most important ones: “ « Presidente della Congregazione di Carita ». In the first half of the 19th century, after having overcome the troubles due to Napoleon, the bishop Nova started a charity campaign in his diocese.

Cavalli got passionately involved it the charity project the same way as he did for the construction of the road between Domoldossola and Locarno. His mandate as mayor of Santa Maria Maggiore was characterised by these projects. These aspects must be taken into consideration when analysing the historic facts which Cavalli relates about Feminis. The following letter is an open correspondence destined to Jean Marie Farina. The final passage points it out clearly:
“May he be blessed by God and all others, may he be happy on earth and in heaven  he who finds a way to help the destitute and the unlucky even when strength departs him. The worthiest accomplishment is the act of charity which is embodied by the Christian love towards the poor and unfortunate. This feeling is however regrettably  dying out for men like Feminis are disappearing. Oh! If our ancestors were to resuscitate they would lament that we live in an unhappier world than their own was: ‘Even when hunger tormented us, when exposed to wars or wild beasts, when oppressed by the government or robbed of our goods, never did we loose our faith in God. We always stayed true to our beliefs, to our God, we always supported our home and nation, we remained loyal to our friends, human towards our enemies, empathetic with the suffering, indifferent to pompous occasions but mostly we always made it a point to be highly considered in the towns we travelled to for work which we didn’t have in our own country of origin.’ Jean Marie Farina from Paris had claimed to be the descendant of Feminis thus possessing the original recipe for “Eau de Cologne”. He praised Feminis, made him out to be a saviour, in the hope that the homage be passed down to him. It’s under this light that the praise given from Cavalli to Feminis is to be understood. It is of little interest to find out whether the 60 000 lira donated to the church Santa Maria Maggiore was a coincidence or if it was the result of an order.  The documents testifying to this donation are nowhere to be found or non existent.  Feminis’ construction project of a path between Crana and Santa Maria Maggiore lined with columns may have led Cavalli to write this praising text. What’s more, the idea of building a road of about one kilometer long between the two towns boarded with columns does appear to be somewhat ridiculous and exaggerated. The locals tend to smile at this project when questioned about it. It is difficult to understand how someone like Cavalli, who mostly supports the constructions of useful roads could have been in favour of this project.
In short, it is important to point out that the allegations made by Cavalli on behalf of Feminis are, historically speaking, to be considered with precaution. Moreover, this information is a part of the Cavalli’s complete work and could, for this reason, lead to wrong conclusions.

2. Fr. Scaciga: ‘Vite di Osssolani illustri’ dell‘ Avvocato Fr. Scaciga della Silva con un quarto storico delle Eresie.’ Domodossola 1847.

1.) Sacaciga’s comment.
In his preface to the reader, Scaciga note: „My book throws a light on the lives of some men who were characterised by their wisdom and kindness. Had I whilst writing, glanced at Plutarque’s book, I would have soon noticed that the pompous title of „famous men“ he awards to leaders or philosophers of the antique couldn’t be applied to the men I mention in my book. But at a time like this one when titles are handed out lightly, no one will blame me for it. The public must however be indulgent on my behalf regarding the expressions I have used and whilst reading will keep in mind that I write in the name of my people. This anthology is a  homage to nation. It is less of a scientific study and more of a personal one. This is in fact easily noticeable in the preface to the chapter on Feminis. This is what he writes: „The story I am about to tell is no other than that of the Aqua Mirabilis (miracle water). Therefore the reader will forgive my enthusiasm when telling this part of the history. I dedicate this page not to writing , science or philosophy. My interest is much more devoted to this  sweet smelling „water“ which so many young people appreciated.“

2.) What does Scaciga tell us about Feminis?
After the previously mentioned comments, Scaciga continues as follows: „Johann Paul Feminis was born  at the end of the XVII century in the Vigezzio valley in Crana, a village attached to Santa Maria Maggiore. When he was a young man, he travelled to Cologne where he opened a haberdashery. A few years later he had a stroke of luck and the alcohol based perfume he invented and which became famous world wide, is today still known under the name of: Acqua di Colonia“. According to Scaciga, the elaboration of this perfume is a sheer coincidence. Cavalli on the other hand supports the it’s his hard work in combination with his exceptional gift which enables Feminis to create this perfume.
This is how the former justifies his creation as luck.

„According to a rumour which is of reliable source, this discovery is linked to the English. According to this story, English troops on mission in Goa were exposed to an epidemic of dysentery which took the lives of a number of soldiers. Following this, all medical staff was gathered and asked to find a remedy. They supposedly mixed different essences together and treating their patients with it. The sick are said to have made a quick recovery after it. One of the officers happened to be in Cologne, and on encountering Feminis revealed to him the formula of this „Aqua Mirabilis“ thus making him a successful man.“

This is the first time ever the recipe has been related to the English. There is no doubt that Jean Marie Farina from Paris is the person responsible for their story, desperate to attribute a certain amount of prestige to his product. Jean Marie Farina, as mentioned further on, is in fact one of Scaciga’s sources. Scaciga decsribes his sources as reliable ones. He however introduces a nuance to his evelations, which to some extent contradict his argumentation: „It has to be said that some who share the secret won’t accept this rumour“.  They claim that Feminis is the  creator of this product and that he settled in Cologne on 13 January 1727, where he started up his business.“

Scaciga is attentive to the  accomplishment of the individuals for their country. This author who just like Cavalli is in favours of the construction of a road between Domodossla and Locarno, is proud to be a Vigezziner. That is the reason why he makes it a point to relate the accomplishments of his compatriots in a book which is dedicated to them. He continues: “In the field of chemistry, which was as it’s beginnings, this product was considered fabulous. The sent was described as being soft and bewildering and it was said to be efficient against a number of complaints. In less than ten years, Feminis had made a fortune. However this success didn’t make him forget his origins. So as to support his home town he repeatedly provided the poor with financial support. A number of thumbs are witnesses of such generosity; the same way a number of monument have  been dedicated to these benefactors so the financial support also went toward the construction of the road from Domodossala to Malesco which passes through Santa Maria Maggiore.
Sacaiga pay homage to a number of people, and to Feminis in particular. Indeed, Feminis invested the sum of 60000 lira  towards the reconstruction of the church in  Santa Maria Maggiore, the parish house, the oratorio, the refurbishing of a school and the roadwork between Santa Maria Maggiore and Crana. „
Scaciga is the second author to mention Feminis but he clearly states that his information is based on what Cavalli write whom he gives as a source. This is how the non scientific allegations made by Cavalli on behalf of Feminis are perpetrated in literature. The following author therefore has the opportunity to quote both Cavalli and Scaciga! Scaciga who seems to be highly interested in Feminis expresses his regret as follows: „fate made this man a wealthy one, however he was only able to enjoy his achievements for several years as death struck him quite rapidly. He died 26 November 1736 in Cologne.“
After that, Scaciga turns away from the theme of Feminis. He tries to give life to this benefactor thanks to the portraits given of him. „The people pay him thanks and therefore his portrait is to be seen in four different places. The inhabitants of the Vigezzigo valley can’t but read the generosity of this man in all his facial features. Both older and younger generations gaze at them with a look of recognition. What a virtuous man!!!“
Scaaciga himself incerrted three question marks. A couple of years after his death, the sheer mentioning of the man would have caused a very different reaction. His memory would have been all the more present. In the town registers of Santa Maria Maggiore, there is a list of the donations for the needy. (vergl. ‘Nota del Speso per il Ven. Ospidale di Santa Maria Maggiore’ im Gemeindearchiv) here are some of the names:

‘1728 dato per vestire un figlio…12.–.–
1734 dato a Giacomo Ant. Feminis per sepelire un suo figlio…7.–.–
1735 pagato a Giacomo Antonio Feminis…6.–.–
1736 pagato a Giacomo Antonio Feminis…10.–.–
1736 per fatto sepellire un poveretto morto…4.16.–
1742 a Giacomo Ant. Feminis…8.–.–
1742 a Maria Feminis…5.–.–
1746 alla moglie di Giacomo Ant.Feminis…6.–.–
1747 a Giacomo Antonio Feminis…4.–.–
1749 a Maria Feminis…7.–.–
1749 pagato a Maria Elisabetta Feminis…5.–.–
1759 pagato a Carlo Gioseppe Feminis…8.–.–
1761 pagato a Gioseppe Maria Feminis…7.–.–
1761 pagato a Francesco Maria Feminis…8.10.–” and so on

A the time, even Johann Maria Farina from Cologne was aware of the situation in which Feminis‘ parents were in. In fact, there exists a letter dating back to 7 March 1739 written by Feminis and addressed to Barbieri in Brussels which proves it. Here is what it says: „ The trouble to which my brother and Guilemi went to so as to gather money for their parents and for the church  was all in vain“. (‘La grande pena che si a dato mio frattelo et il Guilelmi pensando di tirare qualche cosa per li suoi parenti e poi per la nostra chiesa sono state tute invane…’)
Both Scaciga and Cavalli find an explaination for this: „The ceator died, but the secret outlived him. It’s Johann Anton Farina who is said to have inherited the recipe and then transmited it to Johann Maria Farina, name still known nowadays.“

Scaciga and Jean Marie Farina from Paris
This is how the story told by Scaciga about Feminis ends but he continued the story relating to the „Aqua di Colonia“ and that is when it is possible to unveil the origines of the sources. As some exerpts are very revealing it seems appropriate to quote them:
„If the success of a product can be mesured at the number of imitations there are of it, only few to have achieved the level of „Aqua di Colonia „ from Feminis. Jean Marie Farina born in Santa Maria Maggiore and who later took up the French nationality was very successful with the French, English German and Prussian royalty. He became the official deliverer for these different courts and was granted the right to wear the crest when on duty. The parisian commission for remedies awarded him 18 August 1810 a special approbation and he recieved flattering recognition from Prerey, Beyeux, Bertholet, Lefaivre, Broussais, Pelletan, Distel and Capuron, highly recognized medical, surgical and chemical professors. All this is of course a hommage to the verues of this „water“.
Even if Farina could boast about having a secret, he had to lead a hard battle against the imitations.
Other products were advertised for and others were called Acqua di Colonia. It was however time for Paris to realise that no other could match Farina. That’s why this perfume was largly used by both women and men when having a bath. It was used to treat migranes, earache, tookache, cramp and stomach complaints. In short, it was used a all times. This meant that the producer found if hard to keep up with the rising demands.
The name Acqua di Colognia  was soon not enough to distinguish itself from the other products on the market. The parisians were fond of the Acqua di Colonia by Giovanni Paolo Feminis which explained why so many others try to imitate it. Farina took all these people to court and won each time. The first court order dates back to 24 August 1814 against a so-called Senaux Cantio. There were a number of law suits and I hope that the reader isn’t disappointed that I shouldn’t state the different reasons for a case. I just want to stress once again the multitude of imitations thus ponting out to the popularity of the product.“

At the end of this study, Scaciga dwells more specifically on the imitations. This dreaches the bounderies of our research and are therefore none of our interest because as explained above, the details can’t but come from Jean Marie Farina from Paris.

3. Dottore Giacomo Pollini
Notizie Storiche, Statuti Antichi, Documenti e Antichita Romane di Malesco. Torino 1896.

Pollini is an author who devoted his work to the history of his own area of origin, Malesco, situated in the Vizzego valley. What’s striking is that he doesn’t dedicate this chapter to Feminis. On a number of accounts, he explains how Jean Maria Farina from Paris influenced the historical Italian stories and in particular those relative to Feminis. Amongst others, Pollini relates how a number of inhabitants from the Vizzego valley expatriated to France, Switzerland, Austria or Germany. This is how he continues:
„Mostly, these are people from Toceno, Santa Maria Maggiore and Crana who slowly climbed the social ladder. One of the most famous ones was a so called Johann Paul Feminis born in Crana and died in 1736, known as the creator of Acqua di Colonia. During the winter months he was known in Cologne for his chimney sweeping services; and the rest of the year he ran a haberdashery. His life went on like this until the day he met he met an English solider returning from the Indies and who gave him the secret recipe of the miracle water.  This water which enchanted all was very successful and is nowadays still known as the  Acqua mirabile di Colonia by Johann Maria Farina who is from Santa Maria Maggiore in the Vigezzo valley, a descendant of Feminis.“

It is interesting to point out that the sergeant described by Scaciga turns into a plain soldier under the orders of another. It is possible that this change should have occurred so as to make the story more plausible as it seems rather improbable that a sergeant would have tried to get in contact with a common merchant. Interestingly enough, Pollini quotes his sources in his footnotes. It reads: 2 It’s one of Farina’s friends who told me this story. This friend is Gio Francesco Nino de Druogno, deceased in 1877 at the age of 88.“

In this context, one mustn’t omit to quote another extract of Pollini’s, indicating how Jean Marie Farina was perceived by his contemporaries. Here is the relevant passage: „ A number of inhabitants of the Vigezzo valley managed to save up important sums of money and some even had a couple of millions set aside which they used for themselves and family in their home villages. The investments were mostly repairs or extensions. The most striking investments are to be seen between Masera and Trontano where luxurious villas were built.

Near Masera, two villas are particularly worth mentioning. One belonged to Johann Maria Farina, the creator of Eau de Cologne whose success can be measured at his impressing villa; the other belonged to a so called M. Cav. Felice Mellerio de Craveggia who also had himself an impressing villa built.


It is thus possible to say that the facts stated by these three 19th century writers have without a doubt been influenced by Jean Marie Farina from Paris. In John Ruffini’s book „Carlino and other stories“, the reader discovers the actual influence which Jean Marie Farina (Paris) had on the people of the Vigezzo valley. In Jean Marie Farina’s lifetime, Ruffini paid him a visit in person in the Vigezzo Valley where he met the famous man who gave him a warm welcome.   In his book, Ruffini describes in the first place his general impression on discovering the valley and it’s only afterwards that he mentions Jean Marie Farina. On arriving in Domodossola, Ruffini asked his host about finding a guide to take him round the valley. It’s M. Battistino’s name which was given to him. A man working for Jean Marie Farina and who soon took him to Santa Maria Maggiore. It’s during their walk that Ruffini discovered Jean Marie Farina’s real image. Hardly had they entered into the valley  when the Farina mansion imposed itself on them.

„I was struck by the appearance of a very handsome country-house, which stood on a lofty eminence facing us, surrounded by noble terraced gardens. The mansion commanded the same extensive views of the beautiful valley that strike the traveller so forcibly from the bridge of Crevola. I pointed out this dwelling to my guide with an inquiring look. „Palazzo del Signor Padrone“, was his answer. „Your padrone then is rich?“ „Hu!“ returned Battistino with a lengthened exclamation, waving his hand expressively up and down. „Tanto ricco! – ricchissimo! Tanto seior!“ And this was followed by a long and eloquent eulogium, or history, unfortunately lost upon me, with the exception of the words „Generoso, generosissimo – da Paris.“

As the two men approached Santa Maria Maggiore, the church bell started to ring, which gave Battistino yet another opportunity to praise his master:

„As we advanced, the sound of a fine-toned church-bell came wafted on the air. It sounded like a rejoicing peal. Battistino became excited, and contrived to make me understand that the bell, the great bell, was a gift from his padrone to the church.”

After having reached  Santa Maria Maggiore, the two men went to the church. Here again Jean Marie Farina’s name is mentioned in Ruffini’s text, however this time, it’s the meaning he has for the people which is stressed.

„I was going to propose that we should leave the church, when a large crowd entering, relieved me from the attention of the congregation, and I remained a forgotten observer. The new-comers were two young couples, surrounded by their respective friends, coming to the altar to receive the nuptial benediction. „Pepine and Ghita, Giovanni and Maria!, said my guide in an undertone, as he pointed out the couples, and he went on to make me understand that his pardon had given the dot (marriage-portion). His enthusiasm now seemed to lose all power of expression in words, and to concentrate itself in his two bright eyes, while I thought to myself: „This pardon of him must be a rare character – a rich and liberal man dispensing his wealth in shedding happiness among the simple population of this retired valley.“

When leaving the church, Ruffini observed the respect which the inhabitants showed towards Farina: “At hte church door, a crowd gather around Battistino’s master and other individuals shared their gratitude with him. This fatherly man received these complements with a smile before leaving the groupe.

Ruffini met Jean Marie Farina in front of the church who  kindly invited him to his home. Together they leave Santa Maria Maggiore by car. On their way, Battistini points out a road from Santa Maria Maggiore to Domodossola and as Ruffini doesn’t appear to understand straight away Jean Marie Farina gives a rapid explanation: “ Battistino is trying to tell you that I had that road built between the two towns. A couple of years ago, there was nothing but a muddy path in it’’ stead. As I live in the region, I was one of the most interested.”

When reading these few extracts of Ruffini’s book, it seems clear that Jean Marie Farina was considered to be an exceptional  man, known and admired by the villagers as well as by the whole Vigezzo valley. Considering his reputation, it seems normal that his opinion should have been taken into account.

For this purpose, it is impossible to analyse the 19th century writers’ text without taking these fact into consideration, that being jean Marie Farina’s influence on the authors of the time. It’s also in that respect that the information as to Feminis has to be considered.

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