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  • Place of origin:

    Italy (made)

  • Date:

    ca. 1480-1500 (made)

  • Artist/Maker:


  • Museum number:


  • Gallery location:

    In Storage

The origin of this mortar is uncertain, and the nature of the decoration is both unusual and enigmatic. The symbols can be interpreted as the first letter of the Herbrew alphabet and the number four. The stops adjacent to these symbols are contractions for vowels, and may modify their meanings; one could represent an alchemical sign for calcination, a process whereby substances were reduced by heat, or the other hand, it may simply be interpreted as or, the French for gold and Hebrew for light. The other stop may be another alchemical symbol for sel des Pélerins (Pilgrim's salt). Alternatively, it may symbolise silver. Vines and grapes also have symbolic association in an alchemical context. It is therefore probable that the decoration of this mortar carries a specific imagery.

Physical description

Conical mortar with rounded, projecting lip. Around the top of the body, a vine leaf interwined with a stem. On the body proper, delineated by two flattened astragals, four truncated, grotesque masks of a horned beast or stylised lion with vine tendrils, leaf and bunches of grapes emanating from the mouths; inscribed in relief between each mask with the symbols.

Place of Origin

Italy (made)


ca. 1480-1500 (made)




Height: 17.9 cm, Diameter: 21 cm rim, Diameter: 11.6 cm base

Descriptive line

Mortar with alchemical symbols. Italian ca. 1480-1500.

Bibliographic References (Citation, Note/Abstract, NAL no)

Motture, Peta. Bells & Mortars: Catalogue of Italian Bronzes in the Victoria and Albert Museum. London, 2001. pp. 200-202. cat. no. 72.



Subjects depicted

Masks; Grapes; Astragals; Tendrils; Vine leaf


Sculpture Collection

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