Chocolate: The International Sensation

Joseph-Théodore Van Cauqenbergh, Paris, France 1774
Silver, aramanth wood
Walters Art Museum, Baltimore, Maryland.
Van Cauqenbergh, Joseph-Théodore. Chocolate Pot. 1774. Silver, aramanth wood. Walters Art Museum, Baltimore, Maryland. 1948.

Provenance: John Alfonse Walter, Aux Cayes, Haiti, prior to 1793, [mode of acquisition unknown] [1827 inventory]; Susan Rodgers (wife of John Alfonse Walter), Baltimore [date of acquisition unknown], by inheritance; Laura Walter, Baltimore [date of acquisition unkown], by inheritance; Ethel R. Gray, Baltimore, 1911, by inheritance; Walters Art Museum, 1948, by purchase.

Cacao is a bean crop grown on trees and the fundamental basis for chocolate production. Europeans arriving in the New World found indigenous people to be consuming chocolate most commonly in the form of a drink with froth, and when the newcomers began to explore its additional uses, they created foodstuffs and even medication. The natives created chocolate by roasting and skinning the cacao beans, then crushing and grinding them to produce a more malleable substance, often adding other natural substances such as vanilla or honey for an improved taste.

Cacao played a vital cultural role in the lifestyle of native Americans, such as the Mayans and Aztecs. Archaeological research revealed engravings in ceremonial clay bowls of deities associated with the crop, and chocolate’s linguistic origin actually traces back to a phrase about the food of the god’s.

The European settlers saw much more commercial than religious potential in cacao, and word and taste of chocolate quickly spread across the continents. Thousands of pounds of the it were shipped to Europe, where the English eventually combined it with milk, liquor, and other ingredients. The manufacturing process involved the cleaning, roasting, cracking, and fanning of cacao beans, followed by their grinding and mixture with the prepared accompanying ingredients; the work required was quite manual and similar to that done by the native Americans with whom they found it. In Europe, this work was assisted by early manufacturing machinery, such as heated cauldrons, surfaces, mortars, and surfaces.

In the late 17th century, France’s consumption of chocolate, particularly by royalty, was common knowledge. The Siamese queen sent gifts of two silver chocolatiérs and five chocolate-pots, one of which was entirely gold, to Louis XIV. These grandiose presents served as models for equipment that soon became used all over Europe and even in British American colonies. The image above shows a later design of the instrument gifted to Louis XIV, the silver chocolatiére.

The transport and spread of chocolate resulted in its eventual development into a social symbol. In European countries such as Spain and Italy, it was consumed largely by those of upper and religious class. It was used in artwork as an indicator of social elevation, particularly in situations where it was being served by a foreign servant, which historical perspective can attribute to the crop’s close connection with imperialism.

Chocolate’s presence further generated something of a social stereotype surrounding women. This was rooted in its consumption by nuns and the European priests’ condemnation of it because of the financial expense; however, chocolate later became a symbol of female malignance in general. Its association with witchcraft became a widespread idea; it was said to be used in love potions, with other key ingredients such as menstrual blood. This social link was solidified on a higher, more legal level by Inquisition allegations of the creation of such potions.


Bonnart, Robert. Un cavalier et une dame buvant du chocolat. 1718. Engraved maunuscript. BnF, Department of Manuscripts, CLAIRAMBAULT 503, National Library of France. Accessed October 9, 2018.

Coe, Sophie D. et al. The True History of Chocolate. United Kingdom: Thames and Hudson, 1996.

Earle, Rebecca. The Body of the Conquistador: Food, Race, and the Colonial Experiences in Spanish America, 1492-1700. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2013.


The Telescope and Tradition

Galileo Galilei, Florence, Italy, 1609
Convex objective lens and concave lens in a long tube
Museum of the History of the Science, Florence.
Galilei, Galileo. Galileo’s 20x Telescope. 1610. Convex objective lens and eyepiece in a long tube. Museum of the History of the Science, Florence. 3 December, 2018.

Provenance: Copy of telescope held by the Istituto e Museo di Storia della Scienzia, Florence One of a pair – see Inv 11094

The telescope was initially designed by the Dutch spectacles maker Hans Lippershey in 1608; he claimed to create a tool that magnified distant objects three times using a concave and convex lens. Its body was no more than two silver tubes fitted together, about seven inches long. The telescope obviously went on to be further developed into the monumentally valuable instrument we know today. The one pictured above, a model of Galileo’s 20X telescope, was created a year later in Florence, Italy. It used both a concave lens, serving as the eyepiece and one convex objective lens serving as the objective. These are on either end of a long tube, positioned so that they have the same focal points. It had a relatively small field of view compared to what we are used to in the modern telescope.

Because the telescope was created by a spectacles-maker, the original purpose was to magnify objects on Earth, not those in the sky. It was originally used for commercial purpose as a sort of amusing toy or tool for Enlightenment Europe to see what was originally far more difficult to perceive. Initially, it wasn’t even perceived as a potential tool for the military; clearly its untapped potential was exponential. Therefore, when Galileo pointed this new instrument towards the heavens, the effects and implications were monumental.

The telescope was one of the most important technological advancements of the European Enlightenment. Prior to its advent, scientists used tools such solar quadrants, armillary astrolabes, and parallactic instruments, all of which were considerably precise in measurements considering their context but did not provide nearly as much detail or information as the telescope. However, they were enough to provide solid theories off of which the astronomers with access to telescopes based much of their own ideas. The physical observations this tool provided held the potential to challenge the groundwork of all that society had known up until this point; never before had people been given the opportunity to see the world from a non-human centered point of view.

It was with this pre-telescopic equipment that Ptolemy and Copernicus developed their respective geocentric and heliocentric models of the universe. Following them was Tycho Brahe, a well-respected Danish nobleman, who also did not have access to the telescope and developed a model somewhere between Ptolemy and Copernicus’: one with an immobile Earth surrounded by a rotating moon and stars while the rest of the planets circled the sun. His student, Johannes Kepler, set about proving his instructor wrong by returning to Copernicus’ heliocentric model with the use of a telescope. Galileo additionally advanced and employed the telescope to support the heliocentric model, inciting his famous controversy with the Catholic Church.


Graney, Christopher M. “Francesco Ingoli’s Essay To Galileo: Tycho Brahe and Science in the Inquisition’s Condemnation of the Copernican Theory” History and Philosophy of Physics, Cornell University Library (18 Nov 2012): 1-60.

Graney, Christopher M. “Of Mites and Men: Johannes Kepler on Stars and Size”. History and Philosophy of Physics, Cornell University Library (9 Feb 2018): 1-19.

Hollricher, Olaf and Wolfram Ibach. “High Resolution Optical and Confocal Microscopy.” Confocal Raman Microscopy Springer Series in Optical Sciences, August 31, 2010, 1-20.

Peterson, Mark A. Galileo’s Muse. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press, Oct 17, 2011.