Thursday, December 17, 2009

A Golden Life

Interesting article in the news today...

Last year, French experts exhumed the body of Diane de Poitiers (1499-1566), the mistress of King Henri II. They tested her body and found high levels of gold in her hair. Since Diane was not queen and did not wear a crown, the only explanation for such contamination points to the ingestion of drinkable, or "potable," gold.

Diane was famous for the flawless skin and stunning beauty she preserved well into her fifties. She became Henri's mistress when she was in her thirties and he only in his teens. Despite being twenty years older than the king, she remained his favorite for over two decades and was banished from court only upon Henri's death in 1559.

Diane attributed her flawless complexion to daily bathing and swimming in frigid river water (her château, Chenonceau, spanned the river Cher, and she used to swim from the river's banks). Although these practices undoubtably helped, it appears she may have resorted to other, more expensive, measures.

Considered an elixir of life, gold posed a challenge to alchemists, who strove to render the element into an ingestible form. Paracelsus (1493-1539) and Birringuccio (1480-1539) each developed recipes for dissolving gold in nitric acid, which could then be drunk. Potable gold was prescribed for a wide variety of illnesses throughout the Renaissance. It was thought to have a particularly beneficial effect on the central nervous system and was often used to treat melancholy, epilepsy, and hysteria. An Italian monk used it to treat psoriasis and ulcers. In our day, gold salts are being investigated to treat autoimmune disorders such as lupus and psoriatic arthritis. ("A Brief History of Potable Gold" by Stata Norton, Ph.D.) In addition to its therapeutic powers, potable gold was reputed to be a strong aphrodisiac--something of considerable value to a royal mistress, one would imagine.

Anecdotal accounts claim that Diane drank a homemade broth every morning after bathing. Did this "broth" contain potable gold? Whether Diane drank gold to ward off illness, preserve her beauty, or increase her ardor, it appears to have worked--despite an occasional fling, King Henri never lost his fascination with her. The memoirist Brantôme, who visited her right before her death at the age of 66, claimed she was as beautiful and seductive as ever. Even allowing for some gallant hyperbole on Brantôme's part, Diane seems to have given new meaning to the term "golden years."

{Go here for an additional article on the discovery.}


Jackie Hodson said...

A brilliant piece, Julianne. And Truly Fascinating. We can love Diane for many reasons....I know I do :o)
Thank you!

Andrea Kirkby said...

A small correction; Anet is on the river Eure. It is one of Diane's other castles, Chenonceau, which spans the Cher.

Anet is not nearly as well known a castle, but it is worth a visit when it's open (irregular hours, mainly weekends with a guided tour) for the fine Renaissance architecture by Philibert Delorme. The circular chapel, with its tessellated pavement, is simply superb. I live 8 km away from Anet and the sight of the chateau's warm brick walls in spring sunshine is one of those things that regularly give me real joy.

Julianne Douglas said...

Thank you for the correction, Andrea. I fixed the post, in which I confused the two chateaux.

How lucky for you to live by Anet! I would love to visit the chateau one day. It's on my list of places to see next time I'm in France.

Thanks for visiting the blog! It's always nice to meet new people. I hope you'll return often.

Bearded Lady said...

Wonderful post Julianne. I had heard about Diane's gold elixir but did not know that they had tested her body and found gold. Very interesting.

Cleopatra was also rumored to have slept in masks made out of 24k gold and I have heard of some modern spas making gold masks for their clients. Gold supposedly combats free radicals. Not sure if it works, but you can bet most of us will not be able to afford that beauty routine.