Monday, November 29, 2010

My lucky day and a pair of Italian 16th century Maiolica Apothecary jars

Pair of Italian 16th century Maiolica Apothecary jars  

During the year before Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans, Louisiana I and a good friend Paul-Anthony would go every morning to two consignment antique shops and after to a Mexican restaurant for lunch. It was worth going to the consignment shop every day as fine rare antiques were being brought in every day all day priced at penny's on the dollar . Sometimes we would go a few times in one day. The shops were own by two brothers.

During that year some of my favorites that I bought are a 18th century Baroque Russian silver chamber stick for 2 dollars, A 1810 Upstate New York, Cuban mahogany Federal tiptop candle stand for $60. A American Flint cut glass punch bowl from the early 19th century for a few bucks, some Antebellum New Orleans made coin sliver fiddle pattern spoons for little of nothing.

I also met new customers there. One time I met a lady and her interior decorator at the shop. They were looking for Old Paris porcelain for a 1850's Greek Revival gust house they were opening on Saint Charles Ave in the Garden district in Uptown New Orleans. After I sold them Vases to go on the mantels of the gust house I and Paul were invited to the fabulous opening party.

One day I happen on a pair of brightly colored 16th century Italian Maiolica Apothecary jars. They were not in the best of condition as there were chips on the lip and base and also cracks on the body. But at $20. for one and $16. for the other I knew I was getting the deal of the century. Plus having seen hundreds of similar jars in the same condition in major museums in Europe and America thru my travails I knew that condition can be looked over when the example is rare.

And rare & highly unusual my jars were for their complex classical imagery and their elaborate Latin inscriptions. Having beautiful bright pigment and different scenes painted around the body with biblical, mythological, Renaissance scenes all mixed as if this 16th century artist was on a cycledelic trip! We have winged suns and lion faces. Each jar has a large family cost of arms held by two cherubs, A Roman solder on horse. Adam and Eve expelled from the garden of Eden, a cherub at the gate of Eden to bar the way to the Tree of Life, pages of music Italian gray hounds. The good shepherd looking over his sheep with village and fruit trees in foreground. Renaissance solders kneeling. A nude woman with small head, beads, pendants
 and other figures.

Latter in the day one of my best customers (also a antiques dealer) stop by and fell in love with the jars on the spot. He asked the price and I told him I would not sale them until I could do some research on them. He would not drop it and had to have them. After taking me out for a nice dinner I quoted him a price off the top of my head of $2,200. He tried to negotiate the price down but I told him that if he wanted the jars that night without me researching them he would have to pay my price. He did. A few years latter we reconnected in Baltimore and I asked him what ever happen to those jars I sold him. He told me I don't know I had them in a box in my home and they disappeared. I think my maid stole them. I did find out after I sold them that they were worth about three times what I sold them for but I made my money only owning them in less then 24 hours, a very nice profit and turnover.

The jars are of a form used in pharmacies to store dry drugs. The cylindrical shape was considered to resemble a little tree trunk, hence the name albarello for this type of jar. The slight inward curve of the side would permit it to be grasped when standing among a row of closely packed jars on a shelf in the pharmacy. The development of this type of pharmacy jar had its roots in the Middle East during the time of the Islamic conquests. Brought to Italy by Hispano-Moresque traders, the earliest Italian examples were produced in Florence in the 15th century. Albarelli (plural) were made in Italy from the first half of the 15th century through to the late 18th century and beyond. Based on Persian designs said to emulate bamboo (the traditional manufacturing material), the jars are usually cylindrical with a slightly concave waist. Such jars served both functional and decorative purposes in traditional apothecaries and pharmacies, and represented status and wealth. The jars were generally sealed with a piece of parchment or leather tied with a piece of cord.

Maiolica, the refined, white-glazed pottery of the Italian Renaissance, Maiolica is distinguished by its white, opaque glaze, due to the presence of tin-oxide, a powdery white ash. Tin was an expensive imported substance, which made maiolica a far more expensive commodity than ordinary pottery. It was adapted to all objects that were traditionally ceramic, such as dishes, bowls, serving vessels, and jugs of all shapes and sizes. It was also used as a medium for sculpture and sculptural reliefs, as well as floor and ceiling tiles. The latter were rectangular, laid side by side across specially adapted joists. A maiolica workshop would have consisted of about eight workers, each with a special task—gathering fuel, preparing and firing the kilns, preparing the raw clay, throwing or molding it into shapes, mixing and applying the glaze, and decorating it with ceramic pigments. All worked under the leadership of a master potter, who in most cases would have owned the workshop.

I and Paul at the Mexican restaurant for lunch after Antiquing

Jar with Family coat of arms and the Good shepherd looking over his sheep 

Adam and Eve expelled from the garden of Eden

Renaissance solders kneeling

Coat of arms with nude woman with small head

Family coat of arms and the cherub at the gate of Eden to bar the way to the Tree of Life

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