09 February 2013

A vinaigrette/memento mori

From the Science Museum's History of Medicine website:
Like pomanders, vinaigrettes could be used as a vessel to hold strong smelling substances to be sniffed should the user be passing through a particularly smelly area. At a time when miasma theories of disease – the idea that disease was carried by foul air – were dominant, carrying a vinaigrette was considered a protective measure. Vapours from a vinegar-soaked sponge in the bottom were inhaled through the small holes in the top of the ‘acorn’. If a person felt faint they could also sniff their vinaigrette and the sharp vinegar smell might shock their body into action. The other side of the vinaigrette shows a face and could act as a memento mori – a reminder of death. The skull was probably hung from a piece of cord or necklace and carried at all times. It is shown here with another skull-shaped example (A642133).
Via Sutured Infection.  (Image cropped from the original).

1 comment:

  1. What really surprises me is how such notions still haven't completely deserted us, despite scientific advances. Viz. peoples' use of pomanders and little cloth bags filled with aromatic compounds and substances like asafoetida to ward off the 'Spanish' Influenza during the epidemic that followed WW1. Robertson Davies mentions this in his book "World of Wonders", and I have seen photos in the (I believe it was) Nat'l Archives of Canada showing people doing this.


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