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Goa Stone in Gold Case. Source: Metropolitan Museum of Art / Public Domain.

Why is This Gallstone in Such an Extravagant Case? (Video)


This ornate casing, currently held by the New York Met, holds a mysterious secret, a captivating enigma in the world of art. Crafted from solid 22-karat gold, it exudes opulence with its intricate lace pattern and the presence of mythical creatures like griffins, unicorns, and winged monkeys. An overlaying Mughal trellis pattern adds to its allure, and it is even supported by a tripod stand held up by winged monkeys, crowned by a regal bird. But what truly intrigues is the paradox it conceals within. Opening the lavish case reveals an unexpected sight—a simple brown stone, covered in gold, designed to imitate the gallstone of an animal, such as a goat or antelope, mixed with hair and organic materials.

These curious objects, known as bezoar stones, held medicinal properties and were considered talismanic. They were believed to cure ailments and were prized possessions, collected even by Portuguese Jesuit priests in Goa. The contrast between the extravagant exterior and the unassuming interior is the essence of this artwork. It challenges perceptions, reminding us that art often conceals deeper complexities. This object, with its beguiling duality, leaves us pondering the enigmatic world it represents, a world where beauty and intrigue intertwine.

Top image: Goa Stone in Gold Case. Source: Metropolitan Museum of Art / Public Domain.

By Robbie Mitchell

Robbie Mitchell's picture


I’m a graduate of History and Literature from The University of Manchester in England and a total history geek. Since a young age, I’ve been obsessed with history. The weirder the better. I spend my days working as a freelance... Read More

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