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‘Cask hood’ of an alembic

In 2018, the Flemish Government recognised the 17th-century 'helmet of a ceramic alabaster' from the MAS collection as a masterpiece. This is not a helmet intended to be worn on the head, but an object that served to distil liquids in the 16th and 17th centuries in the Low Countries.


‘Helmet’ of an alembic (distilling device)
Maker unknown
Presumably Netherlands, 17th century
Glazed earthenware
MAS, VM.2004.0992.001

Distilling 'helmet'

This 17th-century 'helmet' was not intended to be worn on the head, but for distilling liquids.

In Belgium, we know of no other such example. This makes the ‘helmet’ indispensable in illustrating the history of distillation in the Low Countries. In various 16th and 17th-century engravings and paintings, such as The alchemist by Pieter Bruegel from 1558, you can see how vapours were cooled down and converted into liquids in a helmet like this. These then ran into a jar or bottle.

The alchemist
Pieter Bruegel (designer, 1526/1530-1569), Philips Galle (engraver, 1537-1612) and Hieronymus Cock (publisher, 1518-1570)
Antwerp, 1556-1560
Museum Plantin-Moretus | Prints Room, Antwerp, PK.OP.18564

See also

Masterpieces from the Governement of Flanders

Flanders possesses a magnificent collection of movable cultural heritage. With the 'Masterpieces Decree', the Flemish government wants to protect these unique cultural objects. Based on the decree, a list of rare and indispensable objects was compiled. Some of them are part of the MAS collection.

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