18th century North Italian, probably Veneto, blue and white albarello vase from Liguria, used for balm of wisdom
The drug once stored in this jar has its origins in alchemy. Called the ‘Balsam of Wisdom or Philosophers’, it was expensive and highly sought after. Used as a protector from plague, the balsam contained a secret oil of philosophers. Also known as ‘Oil of Brick’, ‘Oil of Philosophers’ was obtained by subjecting a brick soaked in oil – usually olive oil – to distillation at high temperatures.
Apart from plague, the resulting balsam could be used for pretty much anything, including fevers, nosebleeds, gout, stones in the bladder, wounds, aches, pains and paralysis.