Ale Bowl thumbnail 1
Ale Bowl thumbnail 2
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Image of Gallery in South Kensington
On display at V&A South Kensington
Europe 1600-1815, Room 1

Ale Bowl

1750-1800 (made)
Artist/Maker
Place Of Origin

The pattern of this ceremonial drinking bowl, which is brightly painted and carved with horse-head handles, has been traditional in Norway since Medieval times. The chip carving was traditional technique and the painted scrolling foliage, which ultimately derived from the baroque style, became part of the Norwegian folk art tradition. The bowl, or kjenge, is carved from a single block of birch, as all such pieces were. This is one of many bowls to survive from the 18th century. The revival of interest in Norwegian folk art in the late 19th century made such bowls highly collectable.


object details
Categories
Object Type
Materials and Techniques
Wood, carved and painted
Brief Description
Carved ceremonial ale bowl of wood, carved and painted, Norway, 18th century.
Physical Description
Ceremonial drinking vessel, carved from a single block of birch, with two horses head-shaped handles, painted in rich colours. The grain of the wood runs transversely between the horses' heads, and a spine of thicker wood in a saddle shape runs down inside the handles and across the bottom to add strength when the bowl was full of liquid. The wood has split at the bottom and is reinforced with a metal plate underneath, pinned on. The bowl is not symmetrical, either as a result of the original hand carving or because the wood has warped.



The bowl is completely painted on the outside. The decoration includes chip carving and painted decoration, both traditional decorative techniques in rural communities in Norway. The horses' heads are two-dimensional profiles, 1.7 cm thick, painted blue, and decorated on each side with incised carving, punch marks, and wheel-like circles divided into eight segments on a red background. The decoration on the bowl is seen to best advantage when lifted in both hands for drinking. The blue upper border has a scalloped edge, partly carved in relief, below which is a red ground with a symmetrical scrolling pattern of formal foliage in yellow and green, almost identical on both sides. It has probably been repainted following an earlier scheme.
Dimensions
  • Height: 240mm
  • Width: 450mm
  • Depth: 282mm
  • Volume capacity: 2.5l (or 3 litres max)
Measured by Conservation, 2012. Volume measured using inert materials. KH
Styles
Gallery Label
  • Ale bowl (kjenge) About 1760–80 This bowl made for drinking ale is carved from a single block of wood, following a traditional Norwegian form that dates back to the late Middle Ages. Typically the two handles were dragon-like animal heads, but by the 18th century they were usually horses’ heads. These drinking bowls were used at weddings and other ceremonial events. Norway (probably Osterøya) Painted birch Given by the Dowager Lady Harvey (09/12/2015)
  • International Arts & Crafts: Ceremonial drinking vessel 18th century Norway Wood, carved and painted V&A:W.36-1911(17/03/2005)
  • TWO-HANDLED ALE BOWL (KJENGE) Carved and painted wood Probably Western Norway. 1700-1800 This type of drinking vessel with horses' head handles developed in western Norway and is a later variant of the medieval two-handles vessels which replaced horns for drinking. This version combines geometric chip carving on the handles with stylised floral painted decoration (rosemaling). Museum Number: W.36-1911(1999)
Credit line
Given by the Dowager Lady Harvey
Object history
This ale bowl was probably made in Norway between 1750 and 1800, probably around 1770. It is very similar to examples from Osterøya just north-east of Bergen.



Drinking vessels have an unbroken tradition in Norway from the late Middle Ages when bowls carved from one block of wood began to replace drinking horns. Carved vessels made most of their impact through their shape rather than surface decoration. The earliest examples, with dragon handles, probably to ward off evil, were primarily found in the Telemark area (southern central Norway), where they were called kane, a term relating to the word for boat. In the 18th century, carved drinking bowls with more vertical orientation and with horses' rather than dragon heads developed in western Norway , known as ‘kjenge’, a local word relating to kane. The heads arched up and turned down to form a better grip when held with both hands.



The organic shape of the bowls were often complemented by incised geometric decoration. This example combines carved decoration with floral painting (rosemaling).



Decorative painting became established in rural districts of Norway in about 1750. It had its greatest development in the inner districts of eastern and southern Norway, Telemark and Hallingdal, but ultimately spread over most of the country. Painting became a subsidiary source of income for poorer tenant farmers. Many were self-taught and developed great freedom of expression. The number of professional decorative painters greatly increased during the 19th century especially in rural eastern Norway. The scrolling style of painting developed from the Baroque acanthus motif which disseminated from the urban centres.

Historical context
Painted drinking bowls were central to Norwegian ceremonial events such as weddings. Symbolism in Norwegian folk art is hard to document since traditions were passed down from generation to generation. This distinctive shape is an ancient style, traditionally with two handles, each with an animals' head. The earliest, dragon-like head were meant to ward off evil, but gave way in the the 1700s to horses' heads. The horse was associated with protection, and with fertility, which may relate to their prominence at weddings. (Marion Nelson, Norwegian Folk Art: the migration of a tradition 1995).
Subject depicted
Summary
The pattern of this ceremonial drinking bowl, which is brightly painted and carved with horse-head handles, has been traditional in Norway since Medieval times. The chip carving was traditional technique and the painted scrolling foliage, which ultimately derived from the baroque style, became part of the Norwegian folk art tradition. The bowl, or kjenge, is carved from a single block of birch, as all such pieces were. This is one of many bowls to survive from the 18th century. The revival of interest in Norwegian folk art in the late 19th century made such bowls highly collectable.
Bibliographic References
  • Greenhalgh, Paul (Ed.), Art Nouveau: 1890-1914 . London: V&A Publications, 2000
  • Nelson, Marion, Norwegian Folk Art: the migration of a tradition, New York; London, 1995
  • Livingstone, Karen & Parry, Linda (eds.), International Arts and Crafts, London : V&A Publications, 2005
Collection
Accession Number
W.36-1911

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record createdNovember 27, 2000
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