Albarello drug jar for the Countess' Ointment, Italy, 1530-1540
The inscription painted in Gothic lettering on the side of the earthenware jar translates from Latin as “The Countess’ Ointment”. It is thought that the ointment is named after the Contessa di Vadra, for whom it was prescribed to prevent miscarriages. The ointment was invented by Giulielmo Varignana (c. 1260-1339), a physician from Bologna, Italy, and is made from oil, nuts and plant roots.
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Glossary: drug jar
A (usually earthenware) container designed to hold apothecaries' ointments and dry drugs.
Pottery made of clay which is fired at a relatively low temperature. Earthenware is often semi-porous, meaning some liquid or air can pass through it. This can be altered by treating the pottery with a glaze.
A miscarriage is where a pregnancy ends before 24 weeks. Miscarriages occur in between ten and twenty per cent of all pregnancies.