There can be a remarkable beauty in the everyday objects that surround us, though it takes a special kind of attention to appreciate it. Would the clients entering a sixteenth-century apothecary’s shop, for example, have appreciated the cheerful patterns that decorated the jars in which the ointments and powders to cure them were kept? These majolica jars, known as ‘albarelli’, were certainly decorated to indicate the wealth and status of the merchants who used them, but they were also functional objects, attracting the attention of buyers much as the smart packaging of cosmetics in a modern pharmacy might. It would be hard for the apothecary to believe that their shops, with their endless jars of potions and remedies, bunches of dried herbs and arcane ingredients, could capture the imagination of designers 500 years later.
Originating in Moorish Spain, these albarello jars with their bright decoration and elegant waisted forms arrived in Italy in the fifteenth century and were extensively produced there for three centuries. The name may derive from the Latin for ‘white’ (albus), perhaps because the jar would be covered with white parchment, tied around the neck to seal it. While many, especially the earliest designs, were decorated with graceful floral patterns, as they made their way to Italy they began to feature figurative paintings of gods or men, and some even depicted, rather graphically, the administration of the remedy contained within.
Soane’s new collection with Sophie Coryndon is full of patterns that were once in the background–one comes from the background of a medieval painting, another from a sixteenth-century funeral pall. The simple blue and gold botanical pattern on an albarello jar was the inspiration for the ‘Albarello’ print fabric, on which linear floral forms scroll their way downwards with effortless regularity. The ‘Ink’ colourway of the fabric imitates the original, while the fabric in ‘Apothecary Green’ has a spring-like freshness. The same pattern has also been applied to Soane’s new ‘Vetiver’ table lamp, which, along with five other painterly patterns inspired by albarelli, is at the heart of the new collection. Each lamp is named after a herb that once formed part of the apothecary’s store cupboard, many of which, in fact, are still in use today.
From second gallery left to right: The Apothecary Table Lamp – Vetiver; The Apothecary Table Lamp – Vinca; Sophie Coryndon hand paiting The Apothecary Table Lamps; Sophie Coryndon hand signing The Apothecary Table Lamp; Albarello in Apothecary Green by Sophie Coryndon for Soane Britain; Albarello in Ink by Sophie Coryndon for Soane Britain
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