Italian Renaissance pharmacies were much more eclectic than modern ones. For one thing, although drugs were a major part of sales, apothecaries sold plenty of other items as well. Since many Renaissance medicines were herbal, pharmacies often expanded their herbs to include seasonings and spices for cooking, along with beauty products for men and women. On top of that, pharmacies operated as a social space for locals, similar in some ways to a modern hair salon. The shopfronts often featured communal seating areas and displays of extra goods available for purchase. The paintings on apothecary pots made good advertisements for local artists, too. Apothecaries would choose the finest paintings for their stores, as it implied prestige and reliability on their part.
Renaissance medical care was generally poor. This was not a matter of wealth, but a matter of science- doctors knew very little about the human body, and therefore couldn’t treat most diseases. Smaller issues like upset stomachs or head colds could be treated with herbal remedies, but in case of more severe diseases, physicians often resorted to random or unsafe practices. The most common of these was bloodletting using leeches, but there were a variety of other equally ineffective ideas. This was the era immediately following the Black Death plague. Although that crisis was over, science had not progressed much since then. As a result, having a good quality pharmacy – a vendor known for having their customers survive – mattered a great deal. Window displays and social spaces in the apothecary helped to foster ideas of health and safety for Renaissance civilians. In a time when science was very unreliable, well-painted pharmacy pots were a symbol of high-quality medical care to the Italian populace.
Pharmacy Pot Activity Guide