Pomander

A pomander is a case for holding aromatic spices, herbs or substances from the animal world. People believed that having these substances close to the body would ward off evil, illness or even death.

Pomanders originated in the East and were first recorded in Europe in the 13th century. They were worn during the Black Death and other outbreaks of the plague as a protective jewel.

Pomander

 

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Pomander

Western Europe, 1600-50
Silver and mastic
Given by Miss Mabel M. Boore
V&A: M.105:1 to 8-1939

Pomander

 

Another style of pomander was made of open metalwork. This design allowed the aroma of the substance kept at the centre to escape freely through intricate perforations.

This elegant pomander, elaborately decorated with enamel and pearls, would have been worn suspended from a long chain or girdle.

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Pomander

Central Europe, 1620-40
Gold with enamel and pearls
Case 1. 298-1854

Pomander; Central Europe, 1620-40; Gold, enamel, pearls; Museum no. 298-1854

 

Pomanders were made in a variety of forms. This small one is shaped like a skull, reminding the wearer to prepare for death by living a virtuous life. When the pomander is opened, four compartments are revealed, each with a letter to indicate its contents.

Pomander in the shape of a skull

 

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Pomander in the shape of a skull

Germany, 1700-1800
Partially gilded silver
Croft Lyons Bequest
Case 11. V&A: M.804:1, 2-1926

Touch the skull to explore
Cinnamon sticks, cloves and rose petals

 

Cinnamon sticks, cloves and rose petals would have been the basic components for the substances contained in the skull. They were often crushed and rolled into balls before being placed in the container.

Like other medicinal and health-giving substances - gums, resins, herbs and fragrances - they would have been sold in apothecary shops.

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Cinnamon sticks, cloves and rose petals

 

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This portrait shows a woman wearing a pomander suspended from a girdle around her waist.

Pomanders were often worn hung from girdles or attached to a rosary. They were then ready to be held in the hand or up to the nose to counteract bad odours or protect against infections.

Portrait

 

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Portrait of a Lady

Southern Netherlands, about 1622
By Cornelis de Vos
Oil on oak panel

Reproduced by kind permission of the trustees of
The Wallace Collection, London