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Aqua Tofana (also known as Acqua Toffana, Aqua Tophana, and Aqua Tufania and "Manna di San Nicola") was a strong poison that was reputedly widely used in Naples and Rome, Italy. During the early 17th century Giulia Tofana, or Tofania, an infamous lady from Palermo, made a good business for over fifty years selling her large production (she employed her daughter and several other lady helpers) of Aqua Tofana to would-be widows.
Aqua Tofana (literally meaning "Tofana water") was either the creation of Giulia Tofana or an older recipe that had been refined by Tofana and her daughter, Girolama Spera, around 1650 in Rome. The 'tradename' "Manna di San Nicola", i.e. "Manna of St. Nicholas of Bari" might have been a marketing device intended to divert the authorities, since the poison was openly sold both as a cosmetic and a devotionary object in vials that included a picture of St. Nicholas. Some of her customers claimed to have used it for its advertised purposes and only caused deaths accidentally. Over 600 victims are known to have died from this poison, mostly husbands of unhappy spouses. Tofana was arrested and confessed to producing the poison, and she implicated a number of her clients, claiming that they knew exactly what they were buying. She was executed in July 1659. There was much disquiet throughout Italy and many of her clients fled, while others were strangled in prison, and indeed many were publicly executed. Between 1666 and 1676 the Marchioness de Brinvilliers poisoned her father, two brothers, amongst others, and was executed on July 16, 1676.
The ingredients of the mixture are basically known but not how they were blended. Aqua Tofana contained mostly arsenic and lead and possibly belladonna. It was a colorless, tasteless liquid and so easily mixed with water or wine to be served during meals.
The legend that Mozart (1756—1791) might have been poisoned using Aqua Tofana is completely unsubstantiated, even though it was Mozart himself who started this rumor. Though not every one agrees with this. Research of Mozart manuscripts showed evidence to musicologists Oliver Hahn and Claudia Maurer Zenck that large amounts of arsenic were found in the manuscript of 'Die ZauberFlöte', the opera Mozart was working on the latest years of his life. Arsenic is one of the most important ingredients of Aqua Tofana.
Tofana is in many sources confused with Hieronyma Spara, "La Spara", a woman with a similar profession in Italy about the same time. Probably this is another name for the 'astroliga della Lungara'.
- Dictionary of Dates by Benjamin Vincent, London 1863.
- Chorley, Henry Fothergill. 1854. Modern German Music: Recollections and Criticisms. London: Smith, Elder & Co., p. 193.
- Robbins Landon, H. C., 1791: Mozart's Last Year, Schirmer Books, New York (1988), pp. 148 ff.