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Share Sixteenth-century drug jar from Italy acquired by the British Museum through Cultural Gifts Scheme

The Arts Council has announced that an outstanding tin-glazed earthenware jar has been donated to the public through the Cultural Gifts Scheme. The albarello (Italian for drug jar) has been allocated to the British Museum in honour of Dr Dora Thornton, former Curator of Renaissance Europe and the Waddesdon Bequest.

The front of the albarello shows a woman in profile amidst finely rendered grotesque decoration consisting of masks, garlands and scrollwork – a preeminent expression of sixteenth-century decorative fashions. It dates to c.1510-30 and is believed to have been made in Siena for the Monastery of Santa Chiara in the close-by town of Massa Marittima. The cylindrical form of the jar together with the prominent inscription GALVZA PESTA at the front indicate that it was probably used for storing powdered oak galls in the Monastery’s pharmacy.

The albarello will be united with its sister piece, and an extensive collection of Italian Renaissance tin-glazed earthenware at the British Museum. Both jars were originally part of a larger set of pharmacy jars, of which twelve examples survived. With this gift, ten are now held by public museums across Europe, in France, Germany, and Italy, as well as the UK.

They stand out among surviving albarelli because of their considerable size, rare straight-handled form and their membership to a known set. Though the set has been dispersed, it remains the most extensive body of jars from a single workshop and pharmacy to survive from the early sixteenth century.

Following acceptance and allocation of the gift, the donor company’s director, Sam Fogg, said: “I am very pleased to have been able, through the Cultural Gifts scheme, to present this outstanding maiolica albarello to the British Museum, in honour of Dora Thornton and in tribute to her scholarship and her ability to communicate her knowledge to both specialist and wider audiences. Especially notable in the context of this gift is Dora’s remarkable catalogue, co-authored with Timothy Wilson, of the British Museum’s world-class maiolica collections, which has become an essential resource for all of us who love and study these beautiful ceramics.”

Edward Harley OBE, Chair, Acceptance in Lieu Panel, said: “I am delighted that this beautiful albarello has been given, through the Cultural Gifts Scheme, to the British Museum to honour Dora Thornton. I hope that such generosity will encourage others to use the Cultural Gifts Scheme to donate objects to the UK’s public collections.”

Arts Minister, Caroline Dinenage, said: “Thanks to the Cultural Gift Scheme, this outstanding object will find a fitting new home at the British Museum, where it will be enjoyed by millions each year and honour the work of a former curator.”

Notes to editors

Download an image via WeTransfer here 

The acceptance of this albarello will generate a tax reduction of £19,000.

Object information:

A large maiolica double-handled albarello decorated with a left facing female bust within a cartouche and amid grotesque decoration on a dark blue ground inscribed GALVZA PESTA
Italy, Siena, c. 1510-30
tin-glazed earthenware
H: 35 cm; base diameter: 16 cm; rim diameter 15.5 cm


Paris, Drouot, 29 June, 1977 (lot 11);
European private collection acquired in Paris in early 1980s
Sold at Sotheby’s, New York, 31 Jan 2013, lot 354;
Michel Vandermeersch and Camille Leprince acquired at Sotheby’s New York;
Exhibited at Masterpiece London, June 2013 by Vandermeersch;
Sam Fogg acquired from Vandermeersch in May 2014
[Note: An Art Loss Register certificate detailing all known provenance has been provided]

The Cultural Gifts Scheme was launched by the Department for Digital, Culture, Media & Sport in March 2013 as an important element of its expanding programme to encourage philanthropy for the arts. The Acceptance in Lieu Panel, chaired by Edward Harley OBE, advises Ministers on all objects offered under the Cultural Gifts Scheme. The Scheme is administered by the Arts Council and enables UK taxpayers to donate important objects to the nation during their lifetime. Items accepted under the Scheme are allocated to public collections and are available for all. In return, donors receive a reduction to their income tax, capital gains tax or corporation tax liability, based on a set percentage of the value of the object they are donating: 30 per cent for individuals and 20 per cent for companies.

The Arts Council is the national development agency for creativity and culture. By 2030 we want England to be a country in which the creativity of each of us is valued and given the chance to flourish and where everyone of us has access to a remarkable range of high quality cultural experiences. Between 2018 and 2022, we will invest £1.45 billion of public money from government and an estimated £860 million from the National Lottery to help deliver this vision.

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Nisha Emich – National Communications Officer

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