Date: mid-13th century

Geography: Made in Paris, France

Culture: French

Medium: Gold, rock crystal, emeralds, pearls, spinel or balas rubies

Dimensions: H. 5 1/2 in. (14 cm); Diam. of foot: 3 1/8 in. (7.9 cm)

Classification: Metalwork-Gold

Credit Line: The Cloisters Collection, 1983

Accession Number: 1983.434


A marvel of exquisite craftsmanship, this small, gold-mounted, rock-crystal saltcellar, is a rare example of Early Gothic goldsmith work. The crystal saltcellar is meticulously carved and its rim is decorated with seed pearls and emeralds, and below is a border of tiny ivy leaves. One quarter of the hinged lid can be lifted by means of a small handle in the form of a serpent. The gems and pearls in combination with the serpent probably had an apotropaic meaning, as the serpent's tongue was thought to warn against poison by breaking out into a sweat. The diminutive scale and costly materials suggest that this luxury object served as a receptacle for a precious commodity such as salt or a spice. Early inventories reveal that such objects emanated from royal patronage.