A beautiful agate salt cellar in the shape of a goblet and a lid was recently purchased by the Cracow Saltworks Museum in Wieliczka. This unique salt vessel dates back to the late 15th century and is the oldest item in the collection of salt cellars in Wieliczka – this collection is regarded as one of the most valuable in the world. Currently, the salt cellar is presented at the "70/70" jubilee exhibition in the Saltworks Castle in Wieliczka.
The salt cellar is made of polished agate and has the shape of a goblet with a lid. The item is set in the silver and gold-plated setting, which impresses with its elaborate ornaments of twisted, as if "dried", leaves. The lid is topped with a handle covered with delicate trefoil decorations. This object is an example of outstanding world-class art and one of the most beautiful spice vessels in the Wieliczka collection.
Salt cellar as an indicator of social status and prestige
The agate salt cellar is a very rare example of late Gothic goldsmithing, which helps to imagine what luxury items on the tables of the wealthiest people looked like. Salt cellars were not only used to serve spice and decorate the table – they were placed in front of the most important person at the feast, indicating their significant character. In the Middle Ages, such valuable objects, which testified to the power and wealth of the owner, were shown to guests during court events along with other precious vessels from the treasuries.
Salt cellar and the king's sleepless nights!
Could this small item have been the cause of the sleepless nights of the ruler? As it turns out, it could. If a salt cellar was placed only in front of the most important person, how to behave in a situation when there are three rulers present at one table? This was the dilemma of King Charles V of France in 1378, when he hosted a feast for the Roman Emperor Charles IV and Wenceslaus IV, the King of Bohemia and Germany. Should he place the salt in front of himself, the Roman Emperor, or perhaps the third ruler? What now appears to be a mundane detail could have had serious diplomatic repercussions in the past. How did Charles V resolve this difficult situation? He decided to put three salt cellars on the table, one in front of each ruler. He did, in fact, have a lot of choices, as there were 46 salt cellars in his treasury, including as many as 19 gold ones.
Salt cellar as a protection against poison?
Can a salt cellar protect against poison? Yes, closed vessels, such as an agate salt cellar, have proved to be effective in such cases. They made it more difficult to add the poison and mix it with salt. In addition, the salt cellar was placed in front of the most important person at the table, which facilitated observing if someone unauthorised was approaching.
Until 22 August 2021, the agate salt cellar will be presented at the "70/70" jubilee exhibition in the Saltworks Castle in Wieliczka. After the end of the exhibition, the agate salt cellar will be displayed at the permanent exhibition "Salt cellars – small masterpieces" at the Saltworks Castle in Wieliczka.