A Cryptic Vessel

Probably Marche or possibly Tuscany, Pharmacy or storage jar, 1530–50, tin-glazed earthenware. The Courtauld, London (Samuel Courtauld Trust) Photo © The Courtauld.

This storage jar was produced in the 16th century and possibly used to preserve medicinal or culinary ingredients. Among the extensive collection of pharmacy jars held by the Courtauld Gallery, this one is unique. Intriguing and mysterious. Its cryptic, fragmented inscription on the front provides limited clues about what the jar could be used for. The reverse which normally wouldn’t be seen, was heavily decorated with fantastical and unsettling grotesques.  

Through research as a part of the Illuminating Objects Internship Programme, MSc Science Communication student Mikayla Hu investigated the mysteries retained by this vessel from a perspective combining medicine and art.