Pharmacy jar

Pharmacy jar

Pharmacy jar (albarello)
Valencia (Manises), Spain
1375–1400
Museum no. C.123-1931

An albarello was a form of storage jar that originated in the Middle East. It stored spices, herbs or medicines, which were exported to Europe, where the form of the container was copied. They became a popular shape for pharmacies, because they often had a pinched-in waist, which meant they could easily be grasped when they were lined up close together on a shelf.

This example was made in Spain, in the Christian-owned workshops of Manises, near Valencia. At first, these were staffed by potters from the Muslim lustre industry at Málaga, and the earliest products continued many motifs from their Islamic antecedents. This included the use of Arabic inscriptions. One particular word is common on pharmacy jars from Manises, the Arabic word al-'afiya , meaning 'well-being', which is appropriate for their medicinal contents. However, the word is written in a very stylised way, so that it becomes a pattern rather than a readable inscription.