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Perfume and Pomanders Le bain et le miroir

For now, this page focuses on extant examples of pomanders; while many portraits show pomanders worn at the end of a girdle (as in the 1564 portrait of Anne Fernely), sometimes it’s hard to tell whether it’s a pomander or just a fancy tassel or similar ornament. (For another nifty and clearly-a-pomander example from portraiture, there’s also this 1518 portrait of Jan Gerritz van Egmond by Jacob Cornelisz von Oostsanen, this portrait of Heinrich (?) vom Rhein zum Mohren from the late 1520s, this 1640 portrait of a lady by Wenceslaus Hollar, and this collection of illustrations on Wikimedia.)

Descriptions from 16th century documents, especially inventories, also appear in the list below.

See also The Painted Face for pomander recipes from 1573 and 1609, Scents of the Middle Ages for materials commonly used in pomanders and recipes from 1606 and 1615, and Stefan's Florilegium: Pomanders.

Additional descriptions of extant pomanders can be found in this article on Le bain et le miroir, an exhibition on beauty and hygiene held at the Musée du Moyen Âge.

From the 16th century descriptions, it appears that “pomander” can be the term for the actual scented stuff (and can, in fact, refer to scented beads, as “a cheyne of pomaindes, with buttons of silver betwene” and “a cheyne of pomaunder with a verey small ragged perle” in the New Year’s Gifts to Queen Elizabeth, 1577-8), or the fancy container for the scented stuff.

  • Item, une pomme d’or, plaine d’ambre, garnye de pierrerie; pesant deux onces quinze estellins …
    Une pomme d’ambre garnye de quatre badnes d’or par manière d’orbevoyes et huit menues perles et deux grosses, pendans à ung laz de soye azuré où il a ung gros bouton de perles.
    Item, une autre pomme d’ambre beslongue, à troys bendes d’or garnyes de pierrerie, c’est assavoir perles d’Escosse, rubiz d’Alixandre et esmeraudes, et ung touret dessus, faict d’un ballay, et pend à ung petit lacet à ung bouton de perles.
    Item, une autre pomme d’ambre à quatre bendes d’or hachées, à deux perles d’Escosse.
    Item, une autre pomme d’ambre, à troys petites bendes d’or et une grosse perle d’Orient, pendant à ung laz de soye où est ung bouton de perles.
    Item, une pomme d’ambre garnye d’or en croix, en laquelle huit grosses perles plates, à ung balay au bout; et pend à ung laz de soye ouquel il a ung bouton de perles …
    Item, une pomme d’ambre, d’argent doré, et a une perle au bout …
    Item, six pommes d’ambre, sans nulle garnyson …
    Item, une pomme à façon d’une pomme garnye d’ambre, laquelle est d’argent, et a escript ou mylieu 'Jhesus autem transeans' …Item, une pomme d’ambre, à quatre badnes d’argent dorè …
    Item, une pomme d’ambre couverte d’or, à fleurs de liz et à osteaulx; non pesée, pour ce qu’il y a pou d’or …
    Item, une grosse pomme d’ambre garnye de six pampes d’or qui sont à serpentelles, à menue pierrerie de perles, de grenatz et d’esmeraudes.

    Inventaire du Mobilier de Charles V, Roi de France, c. 1380
  • Pomander (V&A M.205:1 to 3-1925), Italy, 14th century; silver with gilding and niello
  • Pomander (V&A M.205:1 to 3-1925), Italy, c. 1350; shaped like an apple, in silver, silver-gilt and niello, with inscriptions relating to the Judgement of Paris
  • About the bordyre of the seid couche were xij appuls callid pomendambres, wrought withouten curiously of gold, garnysht of mugles and alle othir precious sauours of muskis recensitiues and restoratiues.
    Cleveland, John G. White Collection q091.92-C468, c. 1470
  • Silver-gilt pomanders, Germany, 15th and 16th century
  • Silver-gilt pomander, 16th century; and gilt-copper pomander, 15th century, both made in Germany
  • Silver-gilt pomander, end of the 15th century
  • Silver pomander made in southern Germany or Switzerland, c. 1500
  • Item a pomaunder of gold wt a red rose enameled yeven by my Lady Elizabeth Stafford poisaunt
    Inventory of jewels delivered for the use of the Prince, 1504
  • He being thereof then advertised, came out of his privy chamber, about eight of the clocke … holding in his hande an orange, whereof the meate or substance within was taken out, and filled up againe with the parte of a spunge, wherein was vinegar and other confections againste the pestilent aires; the which he most commonly held to his nose when he came along any presse, or else that he was pestered with any suiters.
    Cavendish’s Life of Wolsey; see also this portrait of John Bourchier
  • Design for a pomander (Rijksmuseum RP-P-OB-2982) by Albrecht Altdorfer
  • To the quene of Scottes a gyrdell of gold conteyning xxix lynkes with a grete pomaunder at oon ende, ponder. xviij vnces iij quarters.
    Lady Margaret’s will, 1509 (from Memoir of Margaret, Countess of Richmond and Derby)
  • Pomander attached to a girdle, 16th century
  • A pomander (British Museum 1854,0124.1) found in the Thames, dating to the 16th century, probably made in England. “Hollow sphere with five pearls, settings for another seven; twisted and cabled; suspension loop at top. Once enamelled. Made in two halves joined by a central tubular rod and a small ring-topped screw at the top.”
  • Item that ye cause a powmander of gold to be made wyth the Kynge and quenes badgeys for a new yers gyfte for the quene, and a chene of gold to hang the same powmander at her gyrdyll, so that the powmander and the chene wyth the facconne and all be of the value of x. And that Thomas Barnwell receyvour of our landes in Kent and Surrey present the same to her grace And that John Scot delyver the same to the Quenes grace.
    A memorandum of instructions written by the Duke of Buckingham, 1521
  • Design for a pomander by Wenzel Hollar, based on one by Albrecht Dürer
  • Pomander, Germany, 16th century
  • Itm a pomaunder enclosyd wt nedillworke & a strynge to hynge by.
    Inventory of the goods of the Guild of the Blessed Virgin Mary of Boston, 1534
  • A wooden pomander found on the Mary Rose, 1545
  • A pomaunder of gold …
    A pomaunder enclosyd in sylver

    An account of the Corpus Christi Shrine in York, 1546
  • Maide.
    Brother, thov art bvt a foole me thvs to checke,
    For I will haue my Pomanders of most sweet smell:
    Also my Chaines of golde to hang abovt my necke,
    And my broadered haire while I at home dwell;
    Stomachers of golde becommeth me well.
    To be faire and feate, nice and neate, is a gay thing:
    To colly and kis, my pleasvre it is, for all yovr new learning.
    Sister, in the third of Esay, the Lord saith plaine,
    For yovr broadered hairs yov shall haue baldnes:
    For youvr Chaines of golde yov shall haue halters certaine
    For yovr Pomanders and mvske, yov shal haue stinke dovtles:
    And for yovr stomachers, sack-cloth; this he dooth confes.
    Wherfore measvre yovr pleasvre by God’s woord and will,
    And yov shall finde that yovr minde is whorish and ill.

    The Booke in Meeter of Robin Conscience against his Father Couetousnesse, his Mother Newgise, and his Sister Proud Beautye, c. 1550
  • A parcel-gilt silver pomander, made in Italy in the 16th century; features a niello inscription, ASPETO • TENDO • CHE • PIATA • SI • MOVA • CHE • SOFRENDO • SI • VINCIE • ONI • PROVA
  • Silver-gilt pomander (Met 32.75.45) made in Germany in the 16th century; inscribed CANEL (cinnamon), MVSCAT (nutmeg), ROSMARIEN (rosemary), SCHLAG (?), WVRZ.N (gewürz nelke ?, clove), BERNSTEIN (amber)
  • By the Lady Margaret Strainge, a little round mounte of golde to conteyne a pomaunder in it.
    New Year’s Gifts to Queen Elizabeth, 1561-2
  • By the Lady Heniaige, a pomaunder gar’ with golde and 12 sparks of rubies and perles pendaunt, per oz.
    New Year’s Gifts to Queen Elizabeth, 1578-9
  • An Elizabeth I silver pomander (Christie's Sale 9194, Lot 246), spherical, with six segments each engraved with a portrait, made in London c. 1580
  • Silver pomander (Met 68.141.321) made in London c. 1580
  • Pomander (MFA 35.1547), silver gilt, English, c. 1580; wedge-shaped pieces inscribed ROSE; CEDRO; GESMINI; AMBRA; MOSCHETE; VIOLE; NARANSI; GAROFOLI
  • Pomander (Mount Holyoke College Art Museum 1986.33.127), silver gilt, Germany, 1580-1590
  • Pomander (Harvard Art Museums/Busch-Reisinger Museum BR65.14), silver gilt, 16th century Germany; inscribed IHS MARIA HILF UNS AUS NOT ON END
  • Pomander, Germany, 16th century; silver (also here, here, and here)
  • Pomander, German, 16th century, silver and silver-gilt; “The pomander opens to reveal six hollow segments secured to a central fire-gilt and engraved stem. The sliding lid of each compartment is labelled as follows, clockwise: Canel (Cinnamon), Negelren (Cloves), Muskat (Nutmeg), Schlag (a composite of ambergris, musk and civet - it was considered a remedy for stroke-like illnesses), Bernstein (Amber), Rosamarin (Rosemary).”
  • Silver-gilt pomander (Christie's Sale 2542, Lot 1046), late 16th century Germany; “the six loculi chased with strapwork, the domed top with ring unscrewing to reveal a spice spatula, with pierced hexagonal base, the hinged compartments and sliding lids each with corresponding Roman numerals”
  • Design for a spherical pomander (Ashmolean WA1863.133.414) by Etienne Delaune
  • Pomander of Mary, Queen of Scots
  • Pomander, 16th century; gold with diamonds (and other segmented pomanders)
  • Pomander in the shape of a death’s-head (skull), 16th century (see also these photos for a similar pomander, including how it opened and its inscription, as well as a portrait in which a similar pomander appears); also, Met 60.55.8a,b is a silver skull pomander, British, first half of the 17th century
  • Skull-shaped pomander, c. 1600, in gold with white enamel and rubies; interior has a sponge and perfume compartments
  • “Gold pomander case (British Museum 1978,1002.764) with openwork filigree in the form of an apple in two halves which screw together with a solid gold calyx and stalk and a pendant loop at top and with an applied six petal filigree flower at the base,” possibly made in Germany in the late 16th or early 17th century
  • A silver-gilt pomander (Christie's Sale 5929, Lot 168), probably Dutch, first half of the 17th century; “The top unscrewing to release five separate segments each with a narrow sliding cover, the outside of three segments engraved with a figure within an oval cartouche, one segment engraved with tulips and the remaining segment with foliage, the threaded top pierced with trefoil finial, the central core engraved along each of its five facets with stylised acanthus leaves.”
  • A German silver pomander (Christie's Sale 7731, Lot 28), c. 1600: “Globular and engraved with figures within foliage, opening to reveal six segments, each with sliding cover engraved with the name of a herb or flower: Cannell [cinnamon]; Rosen [roses]; Negelken [cloves]; Rosmarien [rosemary]; Muscat [nutmeg] and Schlag
  • Pomander (Met 20.67), made in Italy in the 17th century; covers are inscribed Neroli [orange flower oil], Cocco [cochineal or cocoa-nut], Macis [mace], Carvi [caraway]
  • A pomander or perfume-holder (British Museum AF.2863) of “gum benzoin(?) with enamelled gold mount; studded with emeralds,” made in Spain c. 1600
  • Pomander (V&A M.91-1919), probably made in the Ottoman Empire imitating western European fashions, c. 1600-1619; silver, parcel-gilt
  • Pomander (Rijksmuseum BK-1960-1) with enamel, rubies, emeralds, and diamonds on gold, c. 1600-1625; inscribed Roosen B, Caneel B, Nagel B, Angelica B, Folie B, Slack B
  • Pomander (Rijksmuseum BK-1959-45) in silver with a design of birds and flowers, c. 1600-1625
  • Pomander in the shape of a ship (Walters 44.464), gold with enamel, c. 1600-1650
  • Small silver pomander with six sections (Met 1974.356.668a-j), Dutch, first half of the 17th century; sliding covers to the segments are labeled 1. KANEL, 2. MUSCAT, 3. ROSMARIN, 4. SCHLAG, 5. NEGELREN, 6. WINRUTEN
  • Pomander in silver, made in Spain or Italy in the first half of the 17th century
  • to daughter Katherine my silver chaine wth a Powmander, wrought wth silver in the end
    Will of John Manning, 1620
  • Pomander in silver with a chain, Dutch or German, c. 1620; the exterior design features flowers and foliage, and the slide-off cover is engraved AVGSTEIN B [Amber], NAGELEN B [Cloves], ANNIS B [Anise], MEIRAEN B [possibly Myrrh], KANNEEL B [Cinnamon], MVSKATEN B [Nutmeg]; the "B" stands for balsam
  • Gold pomander with enamel and pearls, made in central Europe c. 1620-1640
  • Pomander, Low Countries, c. 1640; silver
  • Book-shaped pomander, 17th century, silver; see also personal ornament at the Hunt Museum for another book-shaped silver pomander
  • Pomander, Spain, 17th century; silver-gilt
  • Silver-gilt and enamel pomander (Chicago 1992.517), mid-17th century
  • Gold and enamel pomander (Chicago 1991.376), c. 1650
  • A Dutch jewelled enamel and gold pomander (Christie's Sale 7850, Lot 276), c. 1660: “Pear-shaped scent flask, the finial, formed as a vine, unscrews to release six hinged segments, each exterior panel enamelled with a portrait of a lady or a gentleman in red, surrounded by flowers and leaves and set with a precious stone (two missing), the interior stem a hexagonal vari-colour enamelled central axis, the base with raised enamel painted with a rosette.”
  • Of making Pomanders for Bracelets.

    I. The firſt sort. Take Orrice powder, Cloves, Mace, Cinnamon of each half an ounce, yellow Sanders, Styrax, ſweet Aſſa of each to drachms, Ambergrieſe, Musk of each one drachm, Balſam of Peru, oil of Rhodium of each one ſcruple, Civet two drachms, all being in fine powder (except the Balſam and Oil) mix together, and make into paſte with mucilage aforeſaid, of which form Beads, drying them in the ſhade for uſe.

    II. The ſecond ſort. Take Storax Labdanum one drachm and a half, Benjamin one drachm, Cloves, Mace, Spicknard, Geranium Moſchatum of each ten grains, Musk, Ambergrieſe of each ſix grains; with mucilage make a Pomander for Bracelets.

    III. The third ſort. Take Damask Roſe leaves exungulated two ounces, beat them impalpable: Musk, Ambergrieſe of each two ſruples, Civet one ſruple, Labdanum one drachm, with mucilage of gum Tragacanth, in Roſe-water aforeſaid, make a Pomander for Bracelets.

    IV. The fourth ſort. Take Storax, Benjamin of each an ounce and a half, Musk two drachms, oil of Cinnamon one drachm, with Mucilage afroeſaid make a paſte of Pomander, very excellent.

    Chapter 51, Polygraphice, 1673
  • Pomander with a sharkskin carrying case (Cooper Hewitt 1997-62-23), silver-gilt, 1682-1683