A 16th century Ewer for the Met


Ewer
Portugal, c. 1530-1550
Vermeil - 45.5 x 29 cm. Diam. of foot : 14 cm
New York, the Metropolitan Museum
Photo : Galerie Kugel

6/2/14 - Acquisitions - New York, The Metropolitan Museum - The spout on this unique object presents a fantastic creature with a man’s head and the bust of a winged woman resting on the mask of a mustachioed man with his mouth wide open. The handle is in the shape of a hybrid being with a serpent’s body ending in a predator’s paw, while the head of a bird-dragon grasps a strap in its beak resembling what might be a trunk...
The Metropolitan purchased this early 16th century vermeil ewer from the J. Kugel gallery in Paris. Earlier auctioned at Sotheby’s London on 4 July 2012, it was presented as a Spanish or Italian production. The Kugels suggest rather that it could be a Portuguese work although little is known about the context behind the commission, neither the craftsman nor the patron. However, we do know that it resided for a time at the convent of Sao Vicente in Lisbon where many works were assembled after the dissolution of the country’s religious orders in 1834. The initials with a crown, DF, for Dom Fernando engraved under the foot would indicate that it then belonged to the king of Portugal Ferdinand II (who reigned from 1837-1853) and it is in fact listed in the inventory made after his death at the Palacio das Necesidades in Lisbon.
The Museu Nacional de Arte Antiga holds a vermeil salt shaker (or pill box), stylistically very close to the Metropolitan ewer : it shows the same egg-shaped paunch decorated with women’s profiles inside medallions and, on the foot, the same engraved and appliquéd leaves as well as the motif of the hoof. These two pieces were probably produced in the same studio and perhaps even for the same commission.


Detail of the ewer
New York, the Metropolitan Museum
Photo : Galerie Kugel

Detail of the ewer
New York, the Metropolitan Museum
Photo : Galerie Kugel


This ewer may also be associated with four others, manufactured in Portugal in the first half of the 16th century, on view at the Palacio Nacional de Ajuda ; some of them were also part of Ferdinand II’s study at the Palacio das Necesidades. True, their form varies from the one at the Metropolitan and their décors are more abundant, recalling the exuberance of the Manueline style [1], but they present similar motifs : creatures which are half-men and half-beasts appear alongside dragons blending in with Renaissance elements made up of masks, putti, grotesques... One of them is almost entirely covered in winding plants and thistle leaves on the neck, while hybrid beings cover the top, handle and spout. The décor on the other three is just as plentiful but narrated and organized into three or four levels. The base of the spout on the first shows a woman’s torso, almost like a bow, with a masculine likeness while the rest of her body is animated with mythological figures and a dragon stares out from the handle. The second one bears medallions in the central part, dominated on the spout and handle by a chimera and a serpent. The third and more understated one, essentially in a Renaissance style, presents a mask at the foot of the spout. These ewers are all the more precious as they are very rare, sometimes associated with large ceremonial platters equally sumptuous in appearance.

Version française


Bénédicte Bonnet Saint-Georges, jeudi 6 février 2014


Notes

[1] Corresponding to King Manuel I who reigned from 1495 to 1521.



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