Women and the New World

Aroma Vases

Ceramic works from Tonalá, produced in the Mexican region of Jalisco, and the successor to prehispanic ceramic work, was highly valued in New Spain as well as in Europe. In particular, there was a very high demand for flower vases and pitchers like these from the 17th century that stimulated several of the senses. The sense of sight, given their beauty. And the sense of smell, because the clay used to manufacture them gave the water a pleasant scent. For this reason, they were used as perfume containers and were known as “aroma vases”, a quality which extended to the flavor of the water they contained. Furthermore, people were pleasantly surprised by the sounds they made and the feel of their burnished surface.

These ceramic works allow us, through the custom of “eating clay”, to corroborate the new role acquired by women in Western culture starting in this period. Their role was once again subordinate to men, who largely determined the standards of feminine beauty. The aforementioned custom was widely practiced by the women of baroque society, and survived right up through the 19th century, in spite of efforts by doctors and confessors to eradicate it. According to documented sources, it involved “devouring” fragments of such pitchers in small doses in order to obtain the properties that were presumed to be contained in the clay from which they were made. By doing so, they managed to lose weight and attain paler skin. Standards of beauty have currently shifted, although they continue to enslave women far more than men.