Mate cup

1850–1900


Object Place: probably Buenos Aires, Argentina

Dimensions

21 x 9.4 x 3.4 cm (8 1/4 x 3 11/16 x 1 5/16 in.)

Accession Number

41.399

Medium or Technique

Silver

On View

William J. Fitzgerald Gallery (Gallery 135)

Collections

Americas

Classifications

Silver hollowware

The egg-shaped vessel has a large faceted pattern at the neck and broad foliate band across the center. Three volutes spring from a short baluster and support the bowl. The domed, splayed, circular base supports the whole.


This mate cup and the following (cat. no. 388) exemplify the trend toward creating the vessel entirely of silver while maintaining the traditional gourd form. Silver mate cups were particularly unusual emblems of conspicuous consumption, for the metal’s thermal conductivity created challenges for the user. Artists devised various methods, however, to distance the hot bowl from the rest of the form.
A floating tripodal support may have served the practical need of cooling the metal bowl so that it could be easily handled. Two design solutions are visible in these two examples. Here, the figures form a three-legged base and appear to support the baluster with their hands. In the other, three volutes spring from the baluster stem to support the bowl. Both vessels make only the smallest points of contact with the supporting framework, effectively minimizing heat transfer.
This example sports three fantastic androgynous figures, sometimes considered to be mermaids or hombres verdes, “green men,” who spring from foliate buds. They are less easy to classify, however, than the sturdy mermaids bearing bouquets seen on the example in cat. no. 386.

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.

Inscription

None.

Markings

None.

Provenance

Collected in Buenos Aires, Argentina, by Mr. and Mrs. Edmund P. Graves between 1898 and 1913.

Credit Line

Gift of Miss Ellen Graves, Mrs. Samuel Cabot and Mrs. Roger Ernst in memory of their father and mother, Mr. and Mrs. Edmund P. Graves