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Albarello pharmacy jar, Deruta, Italy, 1701-1900

This albarello pharmacy jar carries the label “Elle De Gentiana”, which refers to a preparation using the roots of flowers belonging to the Gentian family. These roots were used in a large number of medical preparations. The design shows a nurse administering an enema – a once very common method of introducing liquids such as medications or purgatives into the body via the rectum. Albarello jars, with their characteristic hourglass shape and multicoloured decoration, originated in Persia. The shape was developed so that many jars could be put on one shelf, to save on space, but the jars could still be removed safely by grasping them around the middle. This type of decorated pottery is known as maiolica (or majolica) and is believed to be named after the island of Majorca, where the finest pots of this type were said to be made. This example is from one of a group of potteries based in Deruta, in Umbria, Italy.

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Glossary: pharmacy

The preparation and medicinal dispensing of drugs.

Glossary: enema

A liquid injected into the anus. Enemas can be carried out for medical reasons, as a treatment for constipation, or as a way to give drugs.

Glossary: albarello

A form of jar, typically from Medieval Spain, used for storing drugs. The word ‘albarello’ is of Spanish origin but historians appear divided over whether or not the design of the jar originated in Spain, Morocco or China. The shape of the waisted jar is distinctive.