The J. Paul Getty Museum

Drug Jar for Mithridate

Currently on view at: Getty Center, Museum North Pavilion, Gallery N101

Object Details

Title:

Drug Jar for Mithridate

Artist/Maker:

Attributed to Annibale Fontana (Italian, about 1540 - 1587)

Culture:

Italian

Place:

Milan (possibly), Northern Italy, Italy (Place Created)

Date:

about 1580

Medium:

Terracotta with white paint and gilt exterior and glazed interior

Object Number:

90.SC.42.1

Dimensions:

59.9 cm (23 5/8 in.)

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Object Description

This terracotta drug jar, one of a pair, was made to contain a specific preparation: antidotum methridaticum, named for King Mithridates VI, who invented the medicine and whose life is shown in scenes that decorate the jar. Mithridates ascended to the throne of Pontos in 111 B.C. An amateur pharmacist fearful of being poisoned by his enemies, Mithridates developed his own antidote, which he ingested regularly "just in case." After his defeat in a battle against the Romans, he attempted to commit suicide by taking poison, but because of his daily dose of the prophylactic preparation, he was unsuccessful. In desperation, Mithridates forced one of his own guards to slay him. A relief on one side of the jar shows Mithridates being given either his daily antidote or the ineffectual-suicide poison. On the front of the vessel, a relief illustrates the death of Mithridates at the hand of his guard.