Traditionally pinecone jars of this type with gold lustre decoration have been associated with production at Deruta, a hill-top town in Perugia, Umbria (see Julia Poole, Italian maiolica and incised slipware in the Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge, 1995, pp. 187-188, no. 262). Poole attributes the Fitzwilliam example to Deruta 'on the existence of numerous others with moulded scales decorated with lustre overall'. Timothy Wilson and Elisa Sani discuss two similar pinecone jars where 'the discovery of a lead-glazed pinecone jar under the Palazzo Ducale in Urbino raises new possibilities as to the use of these fascinating jars at a high social level', see T. Wilson and E. Sani, Le maioliche rinascimentali nelle collezioni della Fondazione Cassa di Risparmio di Perugia, 2007, Vol. II, pp. 85-88, nos. 92a-92b.
The present jar appears to have a closely matched cover, examples with surviving covers are extremely rare, only three lustred examples with covers have been published. Two in the Louvre, Paris, are illustrated by Jeanne Giacomotti, Catalogue des majoliques des muses nationaux, Paris, 1974, nos. 666 and 667, and one of these (the latter) is illustrated by Wilson and Sani, ibid., p. 88, fig. 1. The third example is in the V&A Museum and is illustrated by B. Rackham, Catalogue of Italian Maiolica, Victoria and Albert Museum, London, 1940, no. 517.
It is not known what jars of this type were used for. Suggested uses include storage for sweets or biscuits, possibly made from pine-nuts, or other substances derived from or containing pine-nuts.1 Poole suggests that they could perhaps have been gifts associated with courtship, betrothals or weddings.2
1. Perhaps including pinoccate or pignoccate, made from pine-nuts, sugar and whipped egg-whites. For a discussion of this, see T. Wilson and E. Sani, ibid., pp. 360-361.
2. Poole, ibid., p. 187, notes that 'in the medieval health book, Tacuinum Sanitatis, one of the uses of pine-cones was said to be in stimulating the libido. The illustration in the late fourteenth-century Italian MS in the Bibliothque Nationale, Paris, shows a cone-covered tree and a gentleman handing a cone to a lady'.