Sugar & Spice

Sugar and Spice, Photo by Daria-Yakovleva, Pixabay
Photo by Daria-Yakovleva, Pixabay

Happy Friday! Today on Museum Bites we’re shaking things up and taking a look at antique sugar and spice containers. From salt cellars to muffineers this delightful collection will tantalize your senses. Join me as we shake, sift, sniff, and savor our way through the Mughal Empire to the American Colonies. We begin in India…

Salty Cellar:  Our first piece is on display at the Detroit Institute of Arts (DIA) and is a tribute to salt. Handcrafted from copper and tin during the Mughal Empire (1526-1857) this gorgeous salt cellar (1664-1665) is etched with flowers, vines, and as a bonus, a salty poem. Inscribed in Persian, this ode sings the praises of salt and also offers some salty advice.

Indian Salt Cellar Inscribed with Poem about Salt (1664-1665), DIA, Photo by cjverb (2020)
Indian Salt Cellar (1664-1665), DIA, Photo by cjverb (2020)

A salt cellar as tight as an ant’s heart.
As long as salt comes into the world it is salty.
I sucked its lip and immediately was beside myself.
Wine that gives intoxication has salt.
A host should first bring a salt cellar to the table.
Owned by the sinful slave Muhammad-Husayn, year 1075 (1664/1665 BCE).
~ Translated by Massumeh Farhad and Wheeler M. Thackston

During the 16th century, Turk-Mongols from central Asia invaded northern India and established the Mughal Empire. Wealthy and well-organized, art and architecture flourished during this era of India’s history and was influenced by Persian, European, and local Hindu culture. If you’d like to sample more art from the Mughal Empire, click on this Mughal Empire link, courtesy of Google Arts & Culture.

Fun Arty Fact: The Taj Mahal and Jama Masjid (Great Mosque) of Delhi were built during the Mughal Dynasty.

Sugar Shaker:  This charming trio of muffineers was created by silversmith, Bartholomew LeRoux II (1717-1763) and is also on display at the DIA. Filled with sugar, these pieces were crafted for the sole purpose of sprinkling the sweet stuff onto pastries. An elegant addition to any table, these exquisite muffineers look more like chess pieces than sugar shakers.

Muffineers (c1745) by Bartholomew LeRoux II, DIA, Photo by cjverb (2020)
Muffineers (c1745) by Bartholomew LeRoux II, DIA, Photo by cjverb (2020)

Bartholomew LeRoux II comes from a long line of silversmiths. His grandfather and namesake, was a French Huguenot who emigrated to the Netherlands to escape religious persecution. Le Roux the elder, eventually moved his family to the American Colonies where silver was in good supply and domestic demand for silver ware (i.e., bowls, cups, teapots, etc.) provided a profitable business. LeRoux II learned the trade from his father and uncle. He eventually took over the family business and went on to produce a stunning assortment of table art, like our trio of muffineers. Click on this 18th century silver link to view more brilliant examples from the DIA’s collection.

Fun Silvery Fact:  Silversmith, Paul Revere (1734-1818) of American Revolution fame was also the child of French Huguenot who emigrated to the American Colonies.

Spice Container (Poland, c1889), Minneapolis Institute of Art, Photo by cjverb (2018)
Spice Container (Poland, c1889), Minneapolis Institute of Art, Photo by cjverb (2018)

Perfumed Prayer:   Our final piece is a silver spice container on display at the Minneapolis Institute of Art (MIA). Sporting a jaunty flag and festive bells, this tiny turret (c1889) was once stuffed with a mixture of spices (e.g., cloves, cinnamon) and used to celebrate Havdalah, a Jewish ceremony performed at the end of Shabbat. A braided candle is lit, wine is sipped, and participants take turns inhaling the besamim (spices) to bid adieu to Shabbat’s sweetness. Click on this Havdalah link courtesy of Moishe House, to learn more about this ritual. Remember to look for the three stars!

That wraps up our look at antique table art. Next week, I’ll be back with more Museum Bites. Until then, have a fun and festive week!

Sugar and Spice, Photo by Ulrike Leone, Pixabay-100px Cover photo by Ulrike Leone, courtesy of Pixabay.


Britannica: Havdala

Britannica: Mughal Dynasty

Britannica: Mughal Empire

Chabad: Havdalah

Detroit Institute of Arts (DIA)

Detroit Institute of Arts: Indian Salt Cellar

Detroit Institute of Arts: Muffineer-52254

Detroit Institute of Arts: Muffineer-52255

Detroit Institute of Arts: Muffineer-52256

Jewish Museum

Judaism 101: Havdalah

Merriam-Webster: Muffineer

Metropolitan Museum of Art: Spice Container

Minneapolis Institute of Art (MIA)

Minneapolis Institute of Art: Spice Container

Moishe House Rocks: Havdalah

Paul Revere Heritage: Huguenot Silversmiths

Paul Revere House


The New York Genealogical and Biographical Record, Vol. 50 (1919) edited by RH Greene, et. al.

Useful Beauty: Early American Decorative Arts from St. Louis Art Museum, (1999) by DH. Conradsen & PE Kane

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