The engraved portraits which decorate each segment of the pomander follow the style of the Dutch engraver Simon de Passe (c.1595-1647), with the subject closely framed in an oval. Possible identifications of the sitters include King James I (1603-1625), wearing a deep ruff and hat, King Charles I as Prince of Wales (1625-1649), bare headed and with a small beard, King Henry VII (1485-1509), with an orb and sword and King Henry VIII (1509-1547), half length with an orb and sceptre. Schroder suggests the portrait of the woman could be of Anne of Denmark (1574-1619), wife of James I or possible Elizabeth, Queen of Bohemia (1596-1662).
The term pomander is derived from the French pomme d'ambre, for 'apple of amber'. It is used to describe a silver or gold container used to contain scents or for the scents themselves. Fashionable ladies often wore them hung from the girdle belt, alongside other accessories, such as a muff and mirror as shown here in Cornelis van der Voort's portrait of Brechtje Overrijn van Schoterbosch painted in 1614, from the collection of the Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam. They were used to ward off bad odors and, in the mind of the 17th century citizen, to thus protect against infection. In its early form the pomander or musk would have held a single ball, such as that sold Christie's London, 1 December 2005, lot 512. A number of formulae survive for the manufacture of the scented ball. One such recipe is recounted in an 1831 publication taken from a 1586 'receipt to make a pomander' by Frederic Madden in Privy Purse expenses of the Princess Mary, daughter of King Henry VII, afterwards Queen Mary (1553-1558). 'The ingredients were, first benjamin, storax, calamite and labdanum, finely levigated, and dissolved in a little rose-water over the fire. The composition was then taken out, and powder of cinnamon, sweet sanders and cloves added to it, all of which were well mixed and rubbed together. After this, ambergris, musk, and civit, of each three grains, were prepared, the first being dissolved and mingled with the other two... take your pome and by degrees to gather up the last three ingredients, kneading and mixing them well with the ball, till they become perfectly incorporated with it.' By the 17th century the pomander had developed into the distinct form of the present example with segments inside to contain a number of different scents.