The pottery for the Orvietan

by alberto satolli

On the parchment dated 1602 which reports the thirty simbols of the Arts of Orvieto, the emblem of the Art of the Apothecaries is represented by an albarello “at spool”, a typical pharmacy container of which were found several specimens of the same period made in local pottery, according to a traditional production handed down for centuries.

For irony of history, just when the activity of the potters trailed off until it disappears for almost three hundred years, in the same period appeared, in half Europe, but not in Orvieto, pharmacy vases made of cercamics with the inscription «orvietan», indicating the content, a “remedy for all the ills”.

The story of the Orvietan, started in Orvieto in 1603 with the municipal concession of a license to sell that secret compound, took place in some Italian squares up to success, obtained by the product – and by the producer, with the same name – at the big Parisian square of Pont Neuf, with the assistance of street artists who performed the play.

The real leap in quality occurred when, with the advent of the pharmacopoeia in the mid-seventeenth century, the Orvietan was counted as drug officially recognized, with equal dignity and an its own specificity.

Other than simply as Orvietan or Orvietanum, the drug was marketed in boxes with elegant metallic labels and exposed in vases of the drug stores with abbreviated registrations, deliberately hermetic, as antidote (ant. Orvietanum) or electuary (l. orvietan).

On one of the albarelli of the eighteenth-century pharmacy in Imola was written «orvie: di caras» which meant “Orvietan produced by the formula of Mosis Chara” author of the pharmacopoeia Regia Galenica, one of the first treaties printed in Geneva on 1676: such as this albarello of maiolica of 1765 came from an Imolese fabric, so all the other pharmacy vases that conteined the Orvietan were packed, with different forms and decorations, following the locals artistic traditions. There are therefore, especially in France, ceramics for the Orvietan of the factories of Paris, Montpellier, Moustiers Saint-Marie, Rouen, Toulouse and Marseille, where the cylindric vases of the Perrin factory took of, with the Orvietan inside, on british vessels.

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