Chocolate pot (chocolatera)
Object Place: Bolivia (probably)
Overall: 27 x 33 x 12 cm (10 5/8 x 13 x 4 3/4 in.)
Medium or Technique
William J. Fitzgerald Gallery (Gallery 135)
The large, raised, pear-shaped form has a handle socket attached at a slight angle to the body by an applied elliptical drop. A thick chonta-wood handle, circular in section and rounded at its thickened tip, is probably original. The domed friction-fitted lid with flange has a cast finial in the shape of a cacao pod. The finial is soldered to a small disk that pivots to reveal a hole on the lid. The chain and bead that connect the lid to the body are probably old replacements. The concave foot ring is seamed. A double band of applied reeded decoration appears at the rim and on the lid.
Like mate, chocolate became a beverage embraced by many settlers. Thomas Gage (1603 – 1656), an English-born Dominican friar, traveled in Mexico and Guatemala from 1625 to 1637 and recalled with pleasure his daily enjoyment of the beverage:
A cup of chocolate well confectioned comforts and strengthens the stomach. For myself I must say I used it twelve years constantly, drinking one cup in the morning, another yet before dinner between nine or ten of the clock, another within a hour after dinner, and another between four and five in the afternoon, and when I was purposed to sit up late to study, I would take another cup about seven or eight at night, which would keep me waking till about midnight.
The large size, lack of adornment, and thick handle of this chocolate pot are similar to those on pots made in the Peruvian highlands during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. The cacao-pod finial is an unusual addition. Typical of a Bolivian chocolate pot, the vessel has a thick chonta wood handle, set at an angle, and a pivoting section on top of the lid, which slid aside to accommodate a molinillo (or molinet), the utensil used to stir the liquid. The vessel’s late date is also indicated by its lack of cast cabriole legs, a feature of earlier works.
This chocolate pot, like many produced in the region, was designed without the spout generally found in American and English versions. Thus, the entire lid was removed before serving.
As with the jícara, the cup that holds the chocolate beverage (see cat. no. 400), the origin of the term molinillo may also be traced to the Nahuatl language. A molinillo was a utensil, usually a wooden stick with vertical grooves near its base. Inserted through a concealed hole in the lid, as in this example, it was used to whisk the liquid and dissolve the chocolate. The word was thought to originate with the Spanish word molino, meaning “mill,” yet the tool does not work in a grinding fashion. The etymology may instead be derived from moliniani, a creolized Nahuatl word meaning something that moves, shakes, or waggles.
This text has been adapted from “Silver of the Americas, 1600-2000,” edited by Jeannine Falino and Gerald W.R. Ward, published in 2008 by the MFA. Complete references can be found in that publication.
April 14, 1975, sold by Alphonse Jax (dealer), New York, to Landon T. Clay, Boston [see note]; 2001, year-end gift of Landon T. Clay to the MFA. (Accession Date: January 23, 2002)
NOTE: According to Alphonse Jax at the time of the sale, this entered the United States from Argentina and was cleared by U.S. Customs on April 7, 1975 (first lent to the MFA on August 5, 1975). The donor, however, later recalled that he purchased it from the Edward Merrin Gallery, New York.
Gift of Landon T. Clay