Object in Focus

The Swedish King’s Cinnamon Cane

Cane coated with cinnamon bark, knob of guilded silver, c.1550, © Royal Armoury, Stockholm.

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Prepared by: Patrik Steorn, Centre for Fashion Studies, Stockholm University

Read the full paper here.

Made of a wooden branch that was originally straightened out, and then coated with cinnamon bark, this elegantly looking, and possibly still scenting, cane is 152 cm long and is held in the Royal Armoury collection in Stockholm. It was most probably owned by Gustav I Vasa of Sweden (1496-1560), suggested by the Vasa family weapon (a sheaf) and the initials GR (Gustavus Rex) that appear on the top knot. The ornaments at the top and the bottom of the cane are of silver, decorated with the type of Moorish interlace tracery that can be found in much Renaissance textile, costume and even armour.

The cane is mentioned in the royal inventories from the 1560′s, and there are notes that the king bought 8,5 pounds of cinnamon in 1541. It might be suggested that a part of this was used to coat this cane. The exotic origin of the spice and its characteristic and warm scent must have provided the wearer with a distinguished air. Katia Johansen of the Royal Danish Collections emphasizes that perfumed dress, accessories and textiles are abundant in historic dress collections and in documentary sources. Accounts from the European royal Renaissance courts show that shirts were washed in rose water and soft leather boots as well as expensive gloves were perfumed with ambergris, frangipani or intense musky civet. In the classic work The Foul and The Fragrant, Alain Corbin shows that more or less everything worn – fans, gloves, ribbons, handkerchiefs, sachets, negligees, underwear, pads, even medals and rosaries – could be perfumed in order to create a delicate individual atmosphere and to shield the wearer from the odor of the surrounding environment, long into the nineteenth century. The term conspicuous consumption refers to the importance of visually displaying social status through private consumption; here we can talk about olfactory consumption – the importance of letting others smell one’s position and very power of consumption.

 

Related material (visual, textual sources)

Cinnamon Cane: image 1 Cinnamon Cane: image 2 Cinnamon Cane: image 3

 

Bibliography

Corbin, Alain: The Foul and the Fragrant: Odor and the French Social Imagination, Leamington Spa/Hamburg/New York, 1986.
Cederström Rudolf: ”Staven och kanelkäppen”, Gustav Vasa Minnen (ed. Heribert Seitz), Stockholm, 1938.
Gillgren, Peter: Vasarenässansen. Konst och identitet i 1500-talets Sverige, Stockholm, 2009.
Johansen, Katia: “Perfumed Dress and Textiles” Berg Encyclopedia of World Dress and Fashion, Volume 10: Global Perspectives, part 2. (http://www.bergfashionlibrary.com/view/bewdf/BEWDF-v10/EDch10006.xml)
Rangström, Lena, Modelejon: manligt mode, 1500-tal, 1600-tal, 1700-tal, / Lions of fashion: male fashion of the 16th, 17th and 18th centuries, Livrustkammaren, Stockholm, 2002.

 

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