Mate cup

Spanish Colonial

Object Place: Argentina


18.2 x 8.3 x 2.6 cm (7 3/16 x 3 1/4 x 1 in.)

Accession Number


Medium or Technique


On View

William J. Fitzgerald Gallery (Gallery 135)


Americas, Europe


Silver hollowware

Made entirely of silver, the bowl has an egg-shaped form that was fashioned in two parts; a geometric band hides the solder marks. A small baluster stem is supported by three grotesqueries held together by a small ring, to which they are soldered.

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.






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