Pomander

English
about 1580
Marked by Unmarked


Object Place: Europe, England

Dimensions

H. 6.4 cm (2 1/2 in); W. 3.4 cm (1 5/16 in.); Weight 50.2 gm (1 oz 11 dwt)

Accession Number

35.1547

Medium or Technique

Silver gilt

Not On View

Collections

Europe

Classifications

Silver

The spherical pomander rests on a spool-shaped foot with a fluted upper and lower rim. An eight-sided central container is attached to the removable finial, which has eight facets and is surmounted by a grotesque figure. The body of the pomander is composed of eight wedge-shaped pieces, each hinged to the base on the lower edge. In the closed position, the upper edges of the wedges are held in place by the tightened finial; when opened, the sections fan out around the central post. Each section is engraved with the names of perfumes on the outer face with wriggle-work, and on the interior has an engraved sliding cover. The inscriptions read: ROSE; CEDRO; GESMINI; AMBRA; MOSCHETE; VIOLE; NARANSI; GAROFOLI. The underside of the base is engraved with a cartouche from which the armorials have been removed, surmounted by an archbishop’s hat with tassels. Each wedge of the pomander is assembled from five flat pieces, with the top section left open to accommodate the sliding cover. The foot is composed of three formed pieces, and the central section is a faceted and seamed sheet. The finial is cast.


Men and women of late-medieval and Renaissance Europe wore pomanders of aromatic substances to eliminate bad odors and prevent infections. The earliest known examples held mixtures of spices, herbs, and blossoms molded into a ball and inserted into simple cases of open metalwork. By the sixteenth century, elaborately decorated containers with separate compartments for individual scents were worn hanging from a girdle or suspended from a long chain around the neck.
This hexagonal pomander has eight hinged compartments that slide open. Inside, each wedge-shaped section is engraved with the name of the substance it was meant to house: ROSE (rose), CEDRO (cedar), GESMINI (jasmine), AMBRA (ambergris), MOSCHETE (musk), VIOLE (violet), NARANSI (orange), and GAROFOLI (clove). The central container is capped by a grotesque figure atop a second hexagonal sphere, which may be removed to fill the pomander. Under the spool-shaped base is an engraved cartouche that once surrounded a heraldic coat of arms.1 Pomanders like this one were worn until the last quarter of the seventeenth century, when they were replaced by small bottles of liquid scents or perforated vessels containing aromatic vinegar.
Yvonne J. Markowitz, “Pomander” in Artful Adornments: Jewelry from the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston by Yvonne J. Markowitz (Boston: MFA Publications, 2011), 130-131.

Inscription

Each section is engraved on the outer face with wriggle-work, and on the interior has an engraved sliding cover. The inscriptions, the names of perfumes, read: ROSE; CEDRO; GESMINI; AMBRA; MOSCHETE; VIOLE; NARANSI; GAROFOLI [rose, cedar, jasmine, ambergris, musk, violet, orange, clove]

Provenance

By 1919, with Walter H. Willson Ltd., London; May 7, 1929, sold by Walter H. Willson, Ltd. to Frank Brewer Bemis; 1935, gift of Frank Brewer Bemis to the MFA. (Accession Date: November 7, 1935)

Credit Line

Bequest of Frank Brewer Bemis