Albarello (Pharmacy Jar) with Alternating Fields of Chevron and Floral Patterns (work of art)
Key Ideas about this Work of Art
- This pharmacy jar features chevron designs and floral patterns. The floral design is an example of the natural imagery often used in Islamic decorative arts.
- This jar is an example of an effect referred to as “melted blue.” The pottery was fired at a temperature that was too hot, and it caused some of the glaze to melt.
- 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 design painted on this jar is distorted in several places. This effect (according to a document from Valencia dated 1449) is called blaus regalats, or “melted blue.” It is the result of firing the clay at an excessively high temperature. The extreme heat caused the blue glaze to run. It is unknown whether this effect was an accident or if the vessels were over fired on purpose. Scholars have suggested that potters may have welcomed the melting of the blue glaze because it created interesting variations in the pattern. The cost of producing these jars would have been so high that even the imperfect ones would have been kept for use rather than thrown out.
This pharmacy jar’s design was inspired by vessels made in Syria during the Mamluk period. Many of these vessels found their way to Europe after the Pope lifted trade restrictions with the Mamluk Empire in 1344. This jar’s slightly sloping neck is similar to the shape of early Syrian albarelli (jars).
Resources for Teachers:
- Read an article about the role of apothecaries in the medical system.
- Read an article about the ways in which pharmacy jars were used.
- Read an article to learn how Islamic and Christian cultures influenced each other on the Iberian peninsula during the time in which this pharmacy jar was made.
Resources for Students:
- View a Spanish plate with geometric designs that are similar to the ones on this pharmacy jar.
- Watch a video that explores Assyrian to Iberian cultures.
- Read an article to learn more about Spain, the country in which this jar was created.