Salt Cellar, cast pewter

Salt Cellar, cast pewter

Salt Cellar

Cast pewter
England, about 1320
Inscribed in Latin 'Hail Mary full of grace, the Lord is with thee' and with the arms of France and England in use until 1340

This salt dates from about 1320 and is cast in relief with scenes of the Annunciation (the Angel Gabriel announcing to the Mary that she will give birth to Jesus) and the Latin inscription 'Hail Mary full of grace, the Lord is with thee'. The salt can be dated on the basis of the two shields of arms which represent the royal arms of France 'ancient' and the arms of England 'ancient' which were in use until 1340 when Edward III claimed the French throne and quartered the arms of France with those of England.

Salt cellars in silver or pewter were important vessels on the medieval dining table. Enough lids from such pieces survive to suggest that by 1400 they were part of the pewterer's stock in trade.

Salt was an expensive preservative and condiment and was used much more than it is today; it was not inappropriate therefore that a vessel containing salt should be elaborately decorated and inscribed. The religious nature of the inscriptions and scenes meant that for many years, the present example was thought to be a pyx (a container for the wafers used in celebrating the Mass). However, two very similar objects, in Paris and Berlin, found with the inscription 'when you are at table think first of the poor', indicate that it originally had a domestic function.