Ivory mortar and pestle, Europe, 1501-1700

Made:
1501-1700 in Europe
maker:
Unknown

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Science Museum Group Collection
© The Board of Trustees of the Science Museum

Science Museum Group Collection
© The Board of Trustees of the Science Museum

Ivory mortar and pestle, mortar carved with alchemy scenes and cherubs, snake carved around pestle, possibly 16th to 17th century

Mortars and pestles were used to grind plants, minerals and hard substances for drugs. The mortar is decorated to a high quality with cherubs using alchemical apparatus for distillation. The pestle, carved from a single piece of ivory, shows a snake coiled around the handle. The snake is symbolic of medicine and a snake wrapped around a staff is linked to Asclepius, the Greek god of healing.

This mortar and pestle allegedly belonged to Queen Victoria. She is believed to have presented it to the Chambers family who were in the royal household’s service from 1830 onwards. It may have been a purely decorative piece as it looks as if it has hardly been used.

Details

Category:
Pharmacy-ware
Object Number:
A641078
Measurements:
pestle: 155 mm 35 mm, .21kg
mortar: 130 mm 95 mm, .59 kg
type:
pestle
taxonomy:
  • furnishing and equipment
  • tools & equipment
  • grinder - tool
  • furnishing and equipment
  • tools & equipment
  • pounder