Key Ideas about this Work of Art
- This pharmacy jar features Gothic letter forms and floral patterns. The floral design is an example of the natural imagery commonly 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. By the 15th century, Iberian potters dominated the European market for albarelli (plural form of albarello). The jars were used 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 potters of late medieval Spain were masters of ceramic arts in Europe. They created tin-glazed vessels that were considered both beautiful and useful. To create tin-glazed pottery, the potters fired their clay objects in a kiln at least twice. The first firing was to harden the clay, and the second was to “fix” the painted details. The potters applied an opaque white layer of glaze to their clay vessels first, to create a smooth white surface onto which they could paint designs. The tin glazing of this pharmacy jar resulted in a white base layer that highlights the cobalt blue painted details.
Resources for Teachers:
- Read an article about the role of apothecaries in the medical system.
- Read an article to learn how pharmacy jars were used and see examples of jars with Gothic lettering.
- Read a blog post about natural imagery in Islamic art.
Resources for Students: