Key Ideas about this Work of Art
- This pharmacy jar features a palmette, or hanging palm branch, design. This is an example of the natural imagery often used in Islamic decorative arts.
- The jar was created using a technique known as tin glazing, which was introduced to European potters by potters from the Middle East.
- Pharmacy jars like this one represent the blending of Islamic and Christian cultures in medieval Spain.
- Pottery painters in Valencia and Catalonia developed their own unique design styles for glazing jars.
This albarello (pharmacy jar) represents the blending of Islamic and Christian cultures in medieval Spain, on the Iberian Peninsula. Iberian potters introduced the Middle Eastern technique of tin glazing to Europe in the 10th century. Tin glazing is a process that involves firing clay in a kiln two times. The first firing creates a smooth surface for the potters to create their designs. By the 15th century, Iberian potters dominated the European market for albarelli (plural form of albarello), or pharmacy jars. The jars were sold in pharmacies and contained powdered substances like medicines, herbs, and pigments. Potters in Valencia, and later Catalonia, developed their own designs for the glazes that they used on pharmacy jars. Their designs often combined Spanish Gothic and Islamic symbols.
The decoration on this albarello was painted by hand. Its design is made up of four large palm leaves that point downward, with smaller palmettes (decorative motifs that look like a palm leaf) pointing upward. The “shoulder” of the jar features a leaflike motif, and the neck of the jar features blue bands that are repeated at the base.
This albarello was most likely created by Catalan potters and is an example of their specific style of blue-and-white pottery. Valencian potters migrated to Catalonia in the second half of the 15th century, to develop their own artistic traditions and sell their work to new patrons and commercial markets. Catalan potters used variations of the leaf patterns that were developed in Valencia, including the upside-down palmette. The palm leaf pattern, according to some scholars, looks like a pinecone when it is upside down.
Resources for Teachers:
- Read a blog post about natural imagery in Islamic art.
- Read an article to learn how Islamic and Christian cultures influenced each other on the Iberian peninsula during the time this pharmacy jar was created.
- Read an article about the role of apothecaries in the medical system and discover how pharmacy jars were used.
Resources for Students: