Pomander, German, 16th Century

Silver and Silver-gilt


in the Mannerist taste, the exterior engraved with attributes of the goddess Venus: amorini, forget-me-nots, roses and gilly flowers (an emblem of fidelity). These alternate between three panels engraved with gods: Mars with his helmet, shield and lance; his mother Juno with the peacock and Venus with a radiant heart in one hand and her own son Cupid in the other.

The pomander opens to reveal six hollow segments secured to a central fire-gilt and engraved stem. The sliding lid of each compartment is labelled as follows, clockwise:

Canel (Cinnamon), Negelren (Cloves) Muskat (Nutmeg), Schlag (a composite of ambergris, musk and civet- it was considered a remedy for stroke like illnesses) Bernstein (Amber), Rosamarin (Rosemary).

German, 16th Century.

Height: 6.3cm

The term pomander arose during the Middle Ages from the French pomme d’ambre and referred to an aromatic ball made of ambergris, civet, musk, dried flowers, spices and scented oils. In time, the term became interchangeable with the containers into which these scented substances were kept.

The prophylactic function of scent was very important throughout the Middles ages and the Renaissance. Inhaling the aroma of specific spices and herbs, or simply carrying them on your person as a talisman, was thought to cure or prevent serious illness.

The complexity of the pomander evolved over time to better serve the curative function of scent. As certain spices started to be associated with the treatment of specific ailments, it became more important to keep the ingredients in a pomander separate. Thus the segmented pomander was created as a portable vessel within which these precious antidotes could be kept untainted, fashioned in antiseptic silver.