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Recipes for Early Modern Beauty

  • Free
  • Discussion
  • Captioned (online)
An laptop sitting on a desk, on the laptop screen is an etching from a 17th-century book where a woman is applying cream to her face while looking at a mirror.
Exploring Research Seminar, Photo: Kathleen Arundell. Image on screen: from the frontispiece to The Accomplished Ladies Delight, Hannah Woolley, 1675. Source: Wellcome Collection. Attribution 4.0 International (CC BY 4.0).

What you’ll do

Watch an online conversation about early modern health and beauty routines, and what they reveal about western European women’s lives. Three researchers discuss beauty recipes, regimes, art and artefacts from across the period and from different perspectives.    

Professor Jill Burke, author of ‘How to be a Renaissance Woman’, explores what recreating historical cosmetic recipes can reveal about life for women in 16th-century Italy.   

Hayley O’Kell talks about Iberian women’s addiction to eating fired clay, a beauty fad that captured the attention of some of the period’s most famous artists and writers.   

Dr Romana Sammern discusses the connections between early modern beauty, art and artefacts – reflecting on what objects like toilet boxes and ointment jars can tell us about beauty cultures.  

The discussion is facilitated by Patricia Akhimie, Director of the Folger Institute at the Folger Shakespeare Library.

The event took place on our YouTube channel.

Our major new exhibition, ‘The Cult of Beauty‘, explores notions of beauty across time and cultures. It runs from 26 October 2023 – 28 April 2024. 



Need to know


Booking a ticket guarantees you entry to the online event. You will be given joining instructions in your confirmation email.

Captioned (online)

The online event will have live captions, which may be useful for people who are D/deaf, hard of hearing, deafened or neurodiverse. The captions will be embedded in the event video window online. Ticketholders for the livestream will also receive a link to view the captions in a separate window.

For more information, please visit our Accessibility page. If you have any queries about accessibility, please email us at access@wellcomecollection.org or call 0 2 0. 7 6 1 1. 2 2 2 2

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About your contributors

Photograph of Jill Burke

Jill Burke


Professor Jill Burke is Chair of Renaissance Visual and Material Cultures at the University of Edinburgh. She has published widely on the history of art, gender and the body. She is currently Principal Investigator of a Royal Society-funded project, Renaissance Goo, working with a soft-matter scientist to remake 16th-century cosmetic and skincare recipes. She was on the curatorial team of ‘The Renaissance Nude’ exhibition at the J Paul Getty Museum and the Royal Academy, London in 2018–19. Her first book, ‘Changing Patrons’, questions the motivations behind Italian Renaissance art patronage and her second, ‘The Italian Renaissance Nude’, was nominated as a Choice Outstanding Academic Title in 2019.

Photograph of Hayley O’Kell

Hayley O’Kell


Hayley O’Kell was recently examined for her PhD at the University of Leeds, her research funded by the White Rose College of the Arts and Humanities. Her doctoral research investigates early modern Iberian women’s agency in the realms of beauty, fashion, finance and law. She has received several awards and grants, travelling to Spain frequently as part of her research. Recently, she undertook a project working with Wellcome Collection to demonstrate the research potential of their Spanish manuscripts.

Photograph of Dr Romana Sammern

Romana Sammern


Dr Romana Sammern is Elise-Richter Fellow of the Austrian Science Fund at the Institute of Art History at the University of Salzburg, and she is coordinator of the academic programme of Figurations of Transition, an inter-university cooperation between the University of Salzburg and the University Mozarteum. Her research focuses on early modern art and knowledge, with an emphasis on the convergence of body, image and medicine. She is currently working on her second book on cosmetics and art, 1500–1800.

Photograph of Patricia Akhimie

Patricia Akhimie


Patricia Akhimie is Director of the Folger Institute at the Folger Shakespeare Library. She also serves as Director of the RaceB4Race Mentoring Network and is an Associate Professor of English at Rutgers University-Newark.  She is the author of ‘Shakespeare and the Cultivation of Race: Race and Conduct in the Early Modern World’ and editor of forthcoming ‘The Oxford Handbook of Shakespeare and Race’. Patricia is currently working on a new edition of ‘Othello’ for the Arden Shakespeare, fourth series, and a monograph about race, gender and editing early modern texts.  Her research has been supported by the National Endowment for the Humanities, the Folger Shakespeare Library, the John Carter Brown Library and the Ford Foundation.