Unknown maker, Italianabout 1550

The J. Paul Getty Museum

The J. Paul Getty Museum

Pre-industrial homemakers, artisans, and healers used mortars for grinding foodstuffs, dyes, and drugs. The rich friezes on this bronze mortar and its large size suggest that it had a ceremonial, rather than merely functional, purpose. Around the mortar's projecting rim runs a frieze of putto heads connected by garlands. Wrapping around the body of the mortar are the two deities, husband and wife, who ruled over the sea: on one side Neptune dominates a battle between sea centaurs while sea nymphs are being brought to Amphitrite on the other side. This maritime theme would have been particularly resonant in the port city of Venice. Lush acanthus leaves fill the space beneath a wide rim.

The mortar's frieze demonstrates the Renaissance interest in classical culture. Not only are the narrative subjects drawn from Greek and Roman mythology, but the composition's balance and elegance and the decorative framing motifs betray the influence of classical Roman friezes.

Foundries that produced utensils such as bells, basins, candlesticks, and cannons also cast mortars, even elaborately decorated ones. As was common for bell-metal, the alloy used for this mortar contains a high tin content.

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  • Title: Mortar
  • Creator: Unknown maker, Italian
  • Date: about 1550
  • Location Created: Venice (probably), Italy
  • Physical Dimensions: 48.9 x 59.7 cm (19 1/4 x 23 1/2 in.)
  • External Link: Find out more about this object on the Museum website.
  • Medium: Bronze
  • Source Credit Line: The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles
  • Object Type: Sculpture
  • Object Status: Permanent Collection
  • Number: 85.SB.179
  • Display Location: Currently on view at: Getty Center, Museum North Pavilion, Gallery N101
  • Department: Sculpture & Decorative Arts
  • Culture: Italian
  • Classification: Sculpture