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When I was in Florence last month, a British historian gave me and my friend a tour of the Uffizi Gallery, one of Italy’s most important museums. The Uffizi contains a priceless collection of paintings and sculptures from the Italian Renaissance. Our guide shared a treasure trove of knowledge about art and history as well as some “odd” pieces of trivia. While many of them don’t surprise me, others are beyond strange.

I’m just the messenger!

• During the Medieval and Renaissance period, the forehead was the most important feature of the face. To better showcase their face, women often removed their eyebrows and eyelashes and would subsequently recreate them by taking the fur from rats and mice and painstakingly apply it to their own brows and lashes.

• The Renaissance ideal of beauty was a white-faced mask “of youth.” Many women wore a white lead and vinegar-based makeup to create the desired pasty look. Even six-year-old girls wore lead-based makeup to look like their mothers. Since it was toxic, many girls died before they were 20.

• The prostitutes of ancient Rome would dye their hair and teeth red because red was considered to be the color of passion. As a result, the rich women of Rome shaved the hair off the heads of their slaves and used it to make wigs for themselves and then dyed them red.

• In the Middle Ages, it was a sin to “self pleasure” yourself.

• During the Renaissance, women made disposable dildos by carving stale bread and putting dill and spices on one end.

• While husbands had lovers, women weren’t allowed to express their sexual feelings. In an attempt to seek sexual release, women carried morsels of food in their handkerchiefs and inserted them into their vagina and let their lap dog… You get the idea… Midgets and dwarves were popular in the royal courts for the same purpose. They would crawl under the giant skirts of women and…

• During the Middle Ages and the Renaissance some women wore little pouches of ground glass. If they weren’t virgins on their wedding night, before intercourse, they inserted the ground glass into their vagina which caused them to bleed, so their husbands believed they were a virgin. (I can’t help but wonder if the husbands were “injured” by the glass, but there was no mention of this.) However the glass often caused sepsis, and the wives subsequently died.

• If nuns were discovered to have had sexual intercourse, they were tortured with a “breast plucker.” The giant iron claw was tightened around their breasts until it ripped them from their body! During this barbaric process they were given smelling salts to keep them conscious.

Kind of makes you wonder what future historians will say about Botox, breast implants, mammograms and Viagra.

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  1. I love how you ended this piece; as I read the line about women removing their eyebrows and lashes and then recreating them by taking the fur from rats and mice – I thought about all the hideous things women do to their faces/bodies now and wondered if we’re really any less grotesque! Same with a lot of the sexual practices, although I’m not sure I’ll ever look at stale bread the same way again! Essie xx

    • LOL! We’re not much different… Oh! I almost forgot something else I can add to the list for future people to laugh at. I have cadaver skin, holding my left breast implant in place. After chemotherapy… hopefully this will go on the list someday… my first breast implant dropped down toward my navel, so my surgeon made a sling out of cadaver skin! Kind of weird, don’t you think? xoxox, Brenda

  2. My oh my, who knew. I have seen lots of museums in Europe, but never one where the guide’s talk was filled with tidbits of erotica. Though we find many of the ancient customs vulgar or appalling now, I too, wonder how people will look back on our botoxed, breast-implanted women of today.

  3. WE HAVE COME ALONG WAY BABY!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
    I knew NONE of THAT!
    The BRITISH always have the BEST TRIVIA!!!!!!!!
    THANK YOU for the HISTORY LESSON!!!!!!!!

    ps.I have a dress I want to share with you will be in touch!

    • Elizabeth, Our guide acknowledged that the British had always been known for being interested in anything of a sexual nature. She said it with a little grin! Would love to know more about the dress! Looking forward to hearing from you! xoxo, Brenda

  4. This reminds me of my high school days in Chicago when my classmate Joyce Gagliardo started a trend by shaving off her eyebrows. Being ever the practical one, I told her, “You know they may not grow back”. She responded, “Of course they will”. When I saw her at our 25th reunion, she looked at me and said, “You were right. They never grew back….”

    • Marika, I’m role reversing with Joyce and trying not to laugh! While I didn’t deliberately get rid of my hair, I lost every hair I had to chemo. Less than half came back. I now have no hair on my left leg and very few on my right. Weird! xoxox, Brenda

    • LOL! I didn’t include the WORST NUN TORTURE… with photo of the device… because I would imagine it’s beyond anything that happened during the Spanish Inquisition, but you’re right. They don’t have anything on the Italians… Very perceptive of you! Brenda

  5. Oh My! The things you learn in a museum. Once again I am so happy to be living now. Yes I think some of our “beauty” practices will seem barbaric in the future but the bar is set fairly high. Thanks for sharing snippets of your trip, I love it!

    • Haralee… I think the prep/primer, contouring/highlighter and duck lips of the Kardashians have been part of setting the bar high, don’t you? What happened to just a little lip gloss and some mascara? xox, Brenda

  6. My husband has a small piece of freeze dried cadaver bone in his mouth, facilitating a dental implant. What would the Middle Ages people have thought of that? Really makes you wonder…

    • Alana, They may have wondered if the dentist ate all the meat off first. Evidently, cannibalism was practiced back then as a means to supplement their nutrition!!! It’s always been a strange world hasn’t it? xoxo, Brenda

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