Stunning Collection of Renaissance Medicine Jars at Bonhams Fine European Ceramics Sale

Visitors to an apothecary's shop in Renaissance Italy or Spain would have been met with shelves of albarelli – cylindrical earthenware medicinal jars – all neatly labelled with their contents, ready to be dispensed. A wonderful collection of both Moorish pottery and Italian majolica albarelli, property of The Mary Duke Biddle Trent Semans Foundation is offered at Bonhams Fine European Ceramics Sale in London on Wednesday 22 July.

Lustred earthenware finds its origins in Europe in Muslim Spain. In the eighth-century, Moorish armies established a flourishing province of medieval Islamic civilization on the Iberian Peninsula. At first the Moorish potters made relatively simple wares, but after 1400 the kilns at Manises near Valencia produced intricate lusterware, a technique which probably originated in Iraq, often decorated with armorial designs for Spanish and Italian customers. These wares – among the masterpieces in ceramic art – became a very profitable industry and a vital one for the local economy. Thanks to the dominance of the Kingdom of Aragón, exports thrived and the technical perfection and virtuoso designs of the Manises craftsmen began to spread to countries – including Italy – where pottery was then still in its infancy.

The Mary Duke Biddle Trent Semans Foundation collection of albarelli contains many fine and rare examples. In addition to several beautiful and varied Italian jars, the collection contains a particularly fine and rare group of seven Manises lusterware jars with a total low estimate of more than £100,000.

The collection was put together in the 1930s and '40s by Mary Seman and her first husband Josiah Trent, a young medical student who eventually became the chief of Duke Hospital's Division of Thoracic Surgery.

Bonhams Head of European Ceramics Nette Megens said "It is very rare for a closed and historic collection to come to the market, this collection was formed nearly 100 years ago, and has been on view at Duke University for many years. The collection perfectly marries a deep interest in medical history with that of a love of early Italian and Spanish pottery. We are very grateful to the Mary Duke Biddle Trent Semans Foundation for giving us the opportunity to offer this collection for sale at Bonhams."

Other noteworthy albarelli in the sale include:

• Two maiolica albarelli, made in Faenza, one dated 1555, the other of similar date. Each jar is decorated in two horizontal sections in ochre and blue with sgraffito scrollwork and trophies serving as the background for a portrait of a man in Turkish dress within an oak-leaf cartouche over a pharmacy label reading CONFETIO DE CINAM. Estimate £3,000-5,000.
• A very large castel durante maiolica armorial albarello, made in Castel Durante in Le Marche in the first half of the 16th century. Painted with a polychrome scrollwork drug label inscribed 'SUC. VIOLAT' (Zucchero Violato or candied violets) above a coat of arms featuring a lion holding a palm branch flanked by the letters FG. Estimate: £2,000-3,000.
• A pair of armorial albarelli, dated 1580. Each decorated with a drug label in Gothic script reading 'FALANGA' and 'SALAM AROMATIC' (sic) above a coat of arms of three geese and a horizontal yellow band with three red blooms on a blue ground, flanked by trophies and enclosed in an oak-leaf border. The jars were produced in the province of le Marche, east of Perugia, between Pesaro and Pescara. Estimate: £4,000-6,000.


Related auctions