Saturday, May 31, 2014

Unusual Artifacts: A Medicine Pot and Cover, 1540-55

Apothecary Pot and Cover
Italy, 1540-1555
The Victoria & Albert Museum

During the Middle Ages, as the art of creating medicines become more prominent and standardized, books of the ingredients of medicines were shared by apothecaries, and soon, an increasing demand for appropriate storage vessels for medicines developed.

Pharmacies were, subsequently, a major source of income for makers of maiolica.  As the V&A tells us, “The pharmacies and dispensaries of monastic orders, hospitals and noble families required large numbers of jars to store their various herbs, roots, syrups, pills, ointments and sweetmeats. These were sometimes marked with coats of arms or other heraldic devices.”

Such drug containers , inscribed with their contents, began to be produced in the middle of the Fifteenth Century.  Non-inscribed vessels continued to be made.  The  upside of these were that they could be washed and refused for other tinctures.

The shape of this Italian, Sixteenth-Century pharmacy bottle is based on Fifteenth Century  glassware.  It is made with a lid.  On the front, in a panel enclosed by a decorative band with leafy scrolls scratched through a blue ground, is a half-length figure of a bearded man in profile against a blue sky. Below this panel, a scroll is inscribed in Gothic characters with the name of the contents: “A. Eufragia.”  This was also called “Eyebright water,” a suspension of roses and herbs which was meant to cure illnesses of the eye, and, in doing so, strengthen the head and promote better memory.

This was made in Castelli, Italy, between 1540 and 1555 by the workshop of one Orazio Pompei.

No comments: