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Ewer

  • Place of origin:

    Germany (possibly, made)

  • Date:

    14th century - 19th century (made)

  • Artist/Maker:

    Unknown

  • Materials and Techniques:

    Silver, parcel-gilt; raised, cast, stamped and chased.

  • Museum number:

    7914-1862

  • Gallery location:

    Medieval and Renaissance, Room 50c, case 1

Secular objects, such as precious items of tableware, were presented to churches as tokens of devotion and dynastic pride. They not only enriched church coffers, but could also be used in church ceremonies. This particular ewer is almost certainly an example of this process, although little specific is known about its history. Its form is paralleled in other, early fourteenth-century, ewers of German origin; its shape recalls Middle Eastern models.

Physical description

Ewer, silver, partially gilded, the lid topped with a crown and the spout emerging from the mouth of a dragon.

Place of Origin

Germany (possibly, made)

Date

14th century - 19th century (made)

Artist/maker

Unknown

Materials and Techniques

Silver, parcel-gilt; raised, cast, stamped and chased.

Marks and inscriptions

Unmarked

Dimensions

Height: 28.7 cm, Width: 10 cm, Depth: 15 cm, Weight: 0.3 kg

Object history note

A comparison between an 1836 watercolour of the ewer and its present condition reveals that the object underwent alterations at an unspecified date in the second half of the nineteenth century. After 1836, the foot and lid were reshaped, and the crown-like fleur-de-lys cresting was added to the knop on the lid and around the top of the foot [see Brigitte Meles, Der Basler Münsterschatz, cat. 41 (p.139) and Timothy Husband, The Treasury of Basel Cathedral, cat.56 (p.135).]
There is no record of the ewer in the records and accounts of Basel cathedral before the nineteenth century. It is listed in the 1827 inventory of Basel cathedral plate and was sold at auction in 1836 to the Basel goldsmith Johann Friedrich II. Husband, The Treasure of Basel Cathedral, p.135, provides a detailed account of the ewer's subsequent owners. It was acquired by the South Kensington Museum in 1862 at the Paris auction of Prince Peter Soltykoff's collection.

New York Exhibition RF.96/1812

Historical significance: Secular objects, such as precious items of tableware, were presented to churches as tokens of devotion and dynastic pride. They not only enriched church coffers, but could also be used in church ceremonies. This particular ewer is almost certainly an example of this process, although little specific is known about its history. Its form is paralleled in other, early fourteenth-century, ewers of German origin; its shape recalls Middle Eastern models.

Historical context note

Although the earliest provenance for this ewer is a Cathedral treasury, it is likely it was originally made as a vessel to hold wine or scented water at a dining table. The form is not unknown in tableware: fifteenth-century Netherlandish paintings of inn scenes show similar examples. A ewer made specifically for church use would usually be labelled with an indication of the contents ('a' or 'acqua' for water, 'v' or 'vinum' for wine). This ewer bears no such indication (or traces of one).
Secular vessels could equally be used in ecclesiastical contexts, however. Meles, Der Basler Münsterschatz, p.141, refers to a silver ewer used at high mass on Christmas day, as well as an 'amphora cum vino' displayed with other gifts of tableware during the footwashing ceremonies of Maundy Thursday. This particular example was probably a gift to Basel cathedral. Its use in church ceremonies there is, however, unknown. Four ewers are listed in the cathedral inventory, but their use is not specified.

Descriptive line

Ewer, silver, parcel-gilt; raised, cast, stamped and chased; German, ca. 1350 with 15th- and 19th-century alterations.

Bibliographic References (Citation, Note/Abstract, NAL no)

Brigitte Meles. Pontifikalkanne. In : Der Basler Münsterschatz. Basel: Christoph Merian Verlag, 2001. Cat. no.41, pp. 139-141, ill. Catalogue of the exhibition held Historisches Museum Basel, 13 July - 21 Oktober 2001 and at the Bayerisches Nationalmuseum, Munich, 1 December 2001 - 24 February 2002. ISBN 3856161422.
Husband, Timothy, with contributions by Julien Chapuis, The Treasury of Basel Cathedral. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art and Yale University Press, 2001. cat. no. 56, p.135, ill. Catalogue of the exhibition held Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, 28 February - 27 May 2001. ISBN 0300088493.
Fritz, Johann Michael. Goldschmiedekunst der Gotik in Mitteleuropa. Munich: Beck, 1982. p.277 and ill. 648.

Labels and date

EWER
Silver parcel-gilt
South German; 15th century
(The cresting restored)
From the Soltikoff collection; formerly in the Treasury of Basle. []

Production Note

Brigitte Meles, Der Basler Münsterschatz, cat. 41, argues for a Flemish (Burgundy) origin on the basis of similar examples in paintings, and dates it to the first half of the fifteenth century. Timothy Husband, The Treasury of Basel Cathedral, cat.56, finds it similar to other vessels of the first half of the fourteenth century. He proposes a German provenance on the grounds that the dragon-headed spout is 'nearly identical to that found on a number of other vessels that appear to be of northern German origin and date slightly later'.

Materials

Silver; Gilt

Techniques

Parcel gilding

Subjects depicted

Fleur de lys; Crown; Dragon

Categories

Christianity; Food vessels & Tableware; Metalwork

Collection

Metalwork Collection

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