Height: 14.5 cm
Length: 25.2 cm
Width: 18.5 cm
Museum number: 1891,0317.2
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Siena, or Siena district, Italy, 1565
This box is a rare survivor of a type that must once have been common at the entrance to a chapel or near an altar or devotional image. It is a collecting-box, probably used by a congregation to make small donations in exchange for a votive offering of a candle.
On one side it has a cylindrical opening that would once probably have held the candles. On the other is a slit with a hollow compartment beneath, which probably held a small drawer for collecting coins. Worshippers could put coins through the slot in the lid, and take a candle, and images of the gold and silver coins that they should give are helpfully shown next to the slit.
An inscription written, one word, on each of the four sides reads ‘AVE MARIA MATER DEI’ (hail Mary, mother of God), which suggests that it may have been set up in front of a devotional image or altar dedicated to the Virgin Mary, in front of which the Ave Maria would have been said.
The box was given to the British Museum in 1891 by HJ Pfungst and is said to have been bought originally from the parish priest of an old church in Tuscany, probably in the town of Siena.
Maiolica of this type and style is known to have been made in the area during the second half of the sixteenth century, and the box also carries the Medici coat of arms – Siena was under the control of the Medici Grand Dukes of Tuscany from 1555.
D. Thornton, T. Wilson, Italian Renaissance Ceramics: a catalogue of the British Museum collection (London, The British Museum Press, 2009)
T. Wilson, Ceramic Art of the Italian Renaissance (London, The British Museum Press, 1987)