Albarello drug jar used for Balsam of the Philosophers, Italy, 1701-1800

1701-1800 in Veneto

Buy this image as a print 

License this image for commercial use at Science and Society Picture Library

C17 North Italian blue and white albarello vase from Liguria, used for balm of wisdom. Black background.
Science Museum Group Collection
© The Board of Trustees of the Science Museum

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.


Medical Ceramic-ware
Object Number:
drug jar
  • furnishing and equipment
  • container - receptacle

Cite this page


We encourage the use and reuse of our collection data.

Data in the title, made, maker and details fields are released under Creative Commons Zero

Descriptions and all other text content are licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 licence

Using our data


Download catalogue entry as json

Download manifest IIIF

Our records are constantly being enhanced and improved, but please note that we cannot guarantee the accuracy of any information shown on this website.