Pepper Boxes and Salt Cellars

The Ximenez-Da Vega inventory lists several condiment sets, including a most unusual table piece in which pepper and salt were positioned not side by side but one on top of the other. There is historical evidence for similar objects in use, particularly in England (one extant example, dated 1599, is from London) and in exceptional cases from the northern Netherlands (such as a rare item from Vlissingen/Flushing, dated 1629). Cylindrical stand-alone pepperboxes feature in the painting The Fable of the Drunken Deer by Paul and Cornelis de Vos in the Musée de la Chasse et de la Nature in Paris.

Salt cellars were a good deal commoner than pepper boxes and played a crucial role at table. Their popularity was frequently reflected in their size, too, with some of them taking on truly monumental proportions. As the second half of the sixteenth century progressed, however, salt cellars used in the Southern Netherlands became smaller, thus the three named in the Ximenez-da Vega inventory are 'medium-weight' at around 265 and 425 grams. Though the entry in the inventory tells us nothing at all about the shape of these pieces, extant contemporary pieces suggest they were square or cylindrical.

Lorenz Seelig, Bayerisches Nationalmuseum (retired), Munich


Baatsen, Inneke, and Bruno Blondé. "Zilver in Antwerpen. Drie eeuwen particulier zilverbezit in context." Zilver in Antwerpen. De handel, het ambacht en de klant. Ed. Leo de Ren. Leuven: Peters, 2011. 106, 116, graphs 4, 5.

Claessens-Peré, Anne-Marie, ed. Zilver voor Sir Anthony. Exh. cat., Provinciaal Museum Sterckshof/Zilvercentrum, Antwerp. Gent: Snoeck, Ducaju & Zoon, 1999. 16-17.

Saltcellar/Pepperbox, silver, Dutch, 1629, with poem referring to the capture of 's Hertogenbosch by Frederick Hendrick, Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam. Image: © Rijksmuseum.