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Image of Gallery in South Kensington
On display at V&A South Kensington
Medieval & Renaissance, Room 62, The Foyle Foundation Gallery

Spice-Stand

about 1540 (made)
Artist/Maker
Place Of Origin

This triangular vessel from Spain, similar in form to small salt cellars, may have been used as a spice dish. The decoration is inspired by motifs found on classical antiques and architecture, such as the scroll-shaped feet, the three supporting figures in the shape of grotesque females and the reliefs around the sides depicting cherubs fighting dragons. The dragons have been based on images in bestiaries, books about the behaviour of animals, which were used by Renaissance artists as sources for design.


object details
Categories
Object Type
Materials and Techniques
Silver-gilt, raised, chased, embossed, cast and matted
Brief Description
Spice-stand, silver-gilt, raised, chased, embossed and matted, Spain (possibly Córdoba), about 1540.
Physical Description
Triangular spice dish, silver-gilt, with three hemispherical bowls set into the top and cast female terminal figures at each corner, serving as feet. Between the bowls are leavy motifs and the three sides are chased and embossed into relief with cherubs and fabulous beasts among floral scrolls. The background surfaces to top and sides are matted (punched with hundreds of tiny indentations) to contrast with the shiny relief decoration.
Dimensions
  • Height: 7.2cm
  • Length: 21.05cm
  • Width: 18.5cm
  • Weight: 0.62kg
Measured for the Medieval and Renaissance Galleries
Marks and Inscriptions
Unmarked.
Gallery Label
Silver Gallery: Typical Renaissance features are the scroll-shaped feet with supporting female grotesque figures and panels on three sides with friezes in relief depicting cherubs fighting dragons within acanthus foliage. The images of the dragons are based on Bestiaries, books. on the behaviour of animals used by Renaissance artists first described by the Greeks from the 2nd to 5th centuries.(26/11/2002)
Credit line
Bequeathed by D. M. Currie
Object history
Currie Bequest



This piece is attributed tentatively to Córdoba because there is an unmarked brazier decorated in the same style in the Córdoba Cathedral treasury (see Oman under References for image).
Historical context
Spices were an essential part of the wealthy European diet in the late medieval period. Culinary and medical spices from the East were imported by sea and land by Asian merchants, for whom European mercantile centres (such as Alexandria and Damietta in the Levant) were on the fringes of a much bigger Asian trading empire. Although relatively small amounts of spices were imported when compared to other foodstuffs such as grain or salt, they were highly valued in Europe and frequently transported in armed galleys. Pepper, largely sourced from the west coasts of south India and Sri Lanka, represented nearly two thirds of the spices brought into Venice in the 15th century, but ginger, cloves, cinnamon (used for spicing wine, meat and fish) and many other spices were in widespread, if select, use throughout Europe. Although the Venetians enjoyed a monopoly in this lucrative trade for most of the late medieval period, Genoese, French and Spanish merchants were also active.



This silver spice-stand was probably made around 1540 in Córdoba in southern Spain. In the early medieval period the city of Córdoba had been the capital of the Caliphate (the Moorish kingdom) in Spain and by the 16th century Spanish cuisine still retained dishes which looked back to its Islamic history. An anonymous 16th century Spanish cookbook called Manual de mugeres en el qual se contienen muchas y diversas reçeutas muy buenas (Manual of Women in which is contained many and diverse very good recipes) lists a 'Moorish stew' featuring cloves, cinnamon and caraway. The spice-stand would have been placed on the dining table with each of the three hollows probably containing a different spice (and possibly salt) with which to flavour the diners' food and drink. It is designed in a highly fashionable style for the date, incorporating grotesque creatures and cherubs possibly inspired by antique decorative schemes recently discovered in Italy.
Subjects depicted
Summary
This triangular vessel from Spain, similar in form to small salt cellars, may have been used as a spice dish. The decoration is inspired by motifs found on classical antiques and architecture, such as the scroll-shaped feet, the three supporting figures in the shape of grotesque females and the reliefs around the sides depicting cherubs fighting dragons. The dragons have been based on images in bestiaries, books about the behaviour of animals, which were used by Renaissance artists as sources for design.
Bibliographic References
  • Oman, Charles. The Golden Age of Hispanic Silver 1400-1665. London: HMSO for Victoria and Albert Museum, 1968, cat. no 68, p. 27, pl. 88. Catalogue of Spanish, Portuguese and Spanish-American silver in the V&A.
  • Kennedy, Kirstin. Sharing and status: the design and function of a sixteenth-century Spanish spice stand in the Victoria and Albert Museum. Renaissance Studies. Feb. 2010, vol. 24, no. 1 [special issue: 'Re-thinking Renaissance Objects: Design, Function and Meaning', ed. by Peta Motture and Michelle O'Malley], pp. 142-155.
Collection
Accession Number
M.151-1921

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record createdFebruary 9, 2004
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