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Featured Museum Piece

Nineteenth Century Satyr Wine Ewer

This month we feature from our museum a very rare find indeed, a hand-decorated wine ewer. Ewers are highly ornate pouring vessels that typically feature a stylized base, an elaborate body, and flared spout. The piece that we feature this month stands 15 1/2" tall with a four-sided square base decorated with a laurel leaf. The body of the vessel is rich cobalt blue and is accented with horizontal bands of green.  An embossed grape vine hangs from the bottom on the spout and dances playfully on the vessel’s body.  The most interesting aspect of this ewer is the satyr’s body and ram’s head that flank each side of the spout. Both the satyr and the ram were very carefully crafted and are extraordinary in their detail.

A satyr in classic mythology was considered one of the woodland deities, generally depicted as part human and part horse (in some depictions part goat). These mythological creatures symbolized the Greco-Roman ideal of masculinity and virility and were associated with Bacchus, the Roman god of wine. We can see why the satyr was chosen to decorate a wine ewer! While this piece was painstakingly crafted during the mid-19th century, our research staff has been unable to determine the company that produced this particular ewer.

Satyrs originated in early Greek literature. Like Hermes (Greek god of travelers and boundaries) and Priapus (Greek god of fertility and protector of livestock), satyrs were forest dwellers, depicted as part human and part horse. The goat-like rendering of the satyr was done later by the Romans. Romans borrowed the satyrs from Greek mythology and associated them with one of their oldest deities, Faunus. Faunus was a good natured and free-spirited deity who roamed the woods. Like Faunus, Roman satyrs are described as having a masculine human upper body, a laurel wreath on their heads, but with goat-like legs and tail. In Greco-Roman art and literature, the satyrs wander the forest in pursuit of every earthly and physical pleasure, especially wine and nymphs. They were sometimes depicted with Bacchus, the Roman god of wine. Stubborn and subversive, satyrs stood in opposition to proper society and were considered riotous and somewhat dangerous.

As the polytheistic religions of Greece and Rome passed into mythology and legend, satyrs continued to inspire painters, sculptors, potters, and writers. In 1611, the word “satyr” was used by translators of the King James Version of The Bible to describe “hairy devils.” These passages are found in the book of Isaiah. Today, satyrs still inspire various images, including the faun in Guillermo del Toro's film “Pan’s Labyrinth.”

The satyr wine ewer from our museum is really amazing, so if you can make it to our facilities in person to see this exquisite piece, by all means do so! While the beautiful ewer that we feature here, like all of our museum pieces, is not for sale, we do offer a great array of beautiful wine ewers in china and silver available for purchase. We invite you to come to our facility in person to see these wonderful pieces, and more. Our Showroom and Museum are open from 9:00am to 7:00pm ET, 7 days a week (except holidays). The Showroom and Museum are conveniently located between Greensboro and Burlington, NC, at exit 132 off Interstate 85/40. We look forward to seeing you!

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