Aqua Tofana: slow-poisoning and husband-killing in 17th century Italy

A Blast From The Past

Detail from "The love potion", by the nineteenth century Pre-Raphaelite Evelyn De Morgan. The tangled tale of Aqua Tofana is intimately connected to the "magical criminal underworlds" of the 17th century, which supplied love philtres, potions, medicines and poisons to a mostly female clientele. Detail from “The love potion” by Evelyn De Morgan (1903). The tangled tale of Aqua Tofana is intimately connected to the “criminal magical underworlds” that flourished in the 17th century. Swarming with dubious alchemists, self-proclaimed sorcerers and renegade priests, these remarkable communities supplied love philtres, charms and poisons of varying efficacy to a mostly female clientele.

Early in the autumn of 1791, while he was still hard at work on the great requiem mass that would form such a large part of his legend, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart fell mortally ill. Convinced that there was no chance of recovery, he

began to speak of death, and asserted that he was setting the Requiem for himself… “I feel definitely,” he continued, “that I will not last much longer; I am sure that I have been poisoned. I cannot rid myself of this idea… Someone has given me acqua tofana and calculated the precise time of my death.

Scholars have wrangled now for two full…

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