This magnificent and unique medicine chest was made for Vincenzo Giustiniani (d. 1570), the last Genoese governor of the island of Chios in the eastern Aegean Sea. He ruled Chios from 1562 until the Turks expelled the Genoese in 1566 after an occupation of some two hundred years.
Hygeia was the ancient Greek goddess of health. She gave her name to the philosophy of hygiene. The cult of Hygeia started in Athens in the 600s BCE, in connection with the cult of Athene, goddess of wisdom and purity. Statues of Athene and Hygeia stood at the entrance to the Acropolis temple in Athens.
This drug jar is labelled “DIASCORD”, an abbreviation of the full Latin name Diascodrium. This translates as “water germander”, which was a thick liquid medical preparation (known as an electuary) that had a similar consistency to honey. It contained a range of ingredients and existed in a variety of different recipes – some including opium. Among the conditions it was at times used to treat were diarrhoea, dysentery, plague, colic and fevers. It could induce sleep and was recommended for women during childbirth. Drug jars have a number of different shapes, design motifs and decorative styles which can help date the objects. Although quite crude in design, the face of the winged cherub – a feature of numerous drug jars – is quite realistic. Elsewhere a songbird motif and peacock feathers can be seen.
Two candidates for "blessed thistle" here: First, Cnicus benedictus (St. Benedict's thistle, blessed thistle, holy thistle or spotted thistle), is a thistle-like plant in the family Asteraceae, native to the Mediterranean region, from Portugal north to southern France and east to Iran.
Next, blessed MILK thistle:
Silybum marianum, colloquially identified as Carduus marianus, known as milk thistle, is an annual or biannual plant of the Asteraceae family. This fairly typical thistle has red to purple flowers and shiny pale green leaves with white veins. Originally a native of Southern Europe through to Asia, it is now found throughout the world. The medicinal parts of the plant are the ripe seeds.
Common names for this species include blessed milk thistle, Marian Thistle, Mary Thistle, Saint Mary's Thistle, Mediterranean Milk Thistle, Variegated Thistle and Scotch Thistle.
The earthenware pharmacy jar was used to store terra sigillata, or “sealed earth”. Terra sigillata was a clay-like soil that was believed to have medicinal qualities. It was first used on the Greek island of Lemnos in around 500 BCE. It was usually prepared into cakes and then dried. The clay was then crushed into a powder and taken with liquids or made into a paste and smeared on the body. Terra sigillata was believed to fight against a number of diseases, including plague, and was highly sought after during epidemics.
The jar on the right was used to store Sciroppo di Sannicola, Latin for “Syrup of Sanicle”. Sanicle is a herb related to parsley and was mixed with sugar to make a syrup. The plant’s name is Latin for “healthy”. The syrup was taken by the spoonful to heal internal ulcers, especially in the kidneys and bladder. St Francis of Assisi (c. 1181-1226) is shown on the drug jar receiving the stigmata from heaven. His stigmata, which are said to have appeared in 1224, were the first recorded instance of the phenomenon. He received the stigmata in recognition of the difficulty of setting up his religious order, the Franciscans. The jar is shown with a similar example for syrup of sanicle (A42625)
The label of this pharmacy jar 'El: Alcherm' stands for a preparation called Electuary of Kermes. An electuary is highly prized medicinal paste which was often made using complex and sometimes very exotic ingredients. Kermes is a red dye obtained from the crushed dried bodies of a female insect. The recipe also called for 1 lb of silk, juice of sweet apples, rose water and honey.
The growing influence of biomedicine in the 1800s did not necessarily replace established forms of treatment based on belief and superstition. What could be referred to as folk medicine – customs that often went back generations – continued to be practised. For example, this dried frog carried in a silk bag was used to prevent fits.
Fumaria (Fumitory, Fumewort; from Latin fūmus terrae, smoke of the earth) is a genus of 50 species of annual plants, native to Europe, Africa and Asia, most diverse in the Mediterranean region, and introduced to North and South America and Australia. Fumaria indica contains the alkaloids fuyuziphine and alpha-hydrastine.Fumaria indica may have anti-inflammatory and anti-pain potential.
Goa stones are named after their place of origin, Goa, in India. They are artificially manufactured versions of the bezoar stones found in animal stomachs. Goa stones are made from a combination of clay, silt, shells, resin and musk and are typically spherical in shape. Scrapings from Goa stones mixed with water were drunk as a remedy for numerous ailments, including plague. They were also placed in drinks to counteract suspected poisoning. Goa stones were highly valued and could change hands for enormous prices. This stone has an ornate case made from silver with a silver tripod stand.
The inscription “SEM D’ APPIO” indicates that this jar was for smallage seeds, smallage being a variety of wild celery. As well as being used for flavouring foods, smallage was used medicinally to encourage menstrual flow and the passing of urine. Albarello vases, with their characteristic hourglass shape, originated in Persia. The shape was developed so that lots of jars could be put on one shelf, but each could still be safely removed by grasping it around the middle. This type of decorated pottery is known as maiolica (or majolica) and is believed to be named after the island of Majorca, where the finest pots of this type were said to be made. This example is from a group of potteries based in the town of Deruta, in Umbria, Italy.
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