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ENGLISH, 17TH CENTURY
ENGLISH, 17TH CENTURY
ENGLISH, 17TH CENTURY
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ENGLISH, 17TH CENTURY
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ENGLISH, 17TH CENTURY

A SKULL POMANDER

Details
ENGLISH, 17TH CENTURY
A SKULL POMANDER
Silver; an apple opening and containing a skull; the apple with bite marks and an inscription reading 'A.D. 1628/ From Man/ Came Woman/ From Woman/ Came Sin/ From Sin/ Came Death'; the interior of the apple with silver-gilt cavity; the skull crowned with a wreath, and containing a miniature depicting Christ leading the souls out of Limbo with the inscription 'Post mortem, vita/ Ooeternitas'; set in a leather-box
Skull: 2 in. (5 cm.) long; apple 3 ¼ in. (8.3 cm.) high
Provenance
Possibly, King James II of England.
Ralph Bernal (1784-1854).
Bernal Collection, Christie's London, 23rd April 1855, lot 3506.
Lord Londesborough.
With Mrs How, London, mid-20th century.

Literature
'The Bernal Collection', The Times, 27 April 1855, p. 5.
T. Wright, Ancient, Medieval, and Renaissance Remains in the possession of Lord Londesborough, London, 1859; drawing by Frederick Fairholt, p. 63.
E.F. King, Ten Thousand Wonderful Things, London, 1860
Detroit Free Press, January 1880.
The Connoisseur, London, vol. 93, part 2, 1934.
Exhibited
London, Oliver Hoare, Every Object Tells a Story, 4 May - 5 July 2017, no. 273.

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Lot Essay

This extraordinary skull pomander would have been carried as a protection against infection or as a useful article to modify bad smells. The name derives from the French pomme d'ambre, meaning apple of amber. The present pomander would also have had a philosophical meaning for its owner. The skull form served as a memento mori, a reflection on human mortality, emphasised by the miniature painting to the interior depicting Christ saving souls from Limbo. The apple which encases the skull, has bite marks to the outside and an inscription which relates to the creation of man and to humanity's lapse into sin when Eve took a bite of the apple in the Garden of Eden.
The early provenance of the pomander has yet to be fully unravelled. It was first documented when it was sold at Christie's in 1855 as part of the famous Ralph Bernal collection sale which lasted for thirty-two days including 4294 lots. Four years later it was included in a catalogue of the collection of Lord Londesborough. For this catalogue Frederick Fairholt drew the apple and skull pomander; on the exterior of the apple in addition to the surviving inscription 'From Man Came Woman From Woman Came Sin From Sin Came Death' the drawing shows a royal crown with the initial 'JR', a reference to James II of England who ruled until his death in 1701. That this crown and the initials 'JR' are no longer to be seen on the apple is explained by a story recounted by Commander How in the mid-20th century, as told by his wife, Mrs How, who was a pre-eminent silver dealer based in London. Mrs How noted that when she owned the pomander she 'submitted it to the head of the Metalwork Department of one of our greatest museums, and he assured me that though the Skull and Apple container were genuine, and the inscription original, the lightly engraved crown and initials had obviously been put on by somebody at a much later date to give it a spurious association with James I. As the engraving was light he advised me to have it removed. This I did. A few months later he rang me up on the telephone to say he had made an interesting discovery; he had found an early reference to this particular object and a drawing of it showing the crown and “J.R.”, which, in the circumstances, was conclusive evidence that they were of early date.' However, that the crown and initials were not mentioned in the catalogue entry in the Bernal sale of 1855 suggest that they could have been added in the four years between the sale and the 1859 catalogue of Lord Londesborough's collection.

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