Pair of altar cruets (water and wine servers)
Object Place: Alto Peru, Present-day Bolivia
10.7 x 8.8 x 5 cm (4 3/16 x 3 7/16 x 1 15/16 in.)
Medium or Technique
William J. Fitzgerald Gallery (Gallery 135)
Each vessel has a raised gourd-shaped body that tapers toward the rim. A cast circular foot and stem support each bowl. The foliate handles and snake-headed spouts are also cast. The lid is raised; a three-part hinge connects it to the handle.
The letters “A” and “V” that surmount each small cruet stand for agua and vino, the Spanish words for water and wine, and reflect the cruets’ role in the sacrament of Communion. During Mass, the priest pours a small amount of wine and water into the chalice, in accordance with the Roman Catholic belief that these liquids are miraculously transformed into the blood of Christ.
The mixing of water and wine in the communion chalice derived from the practice of the ancient Greeks, who diluted wine in this manner; Christians believed this act occurred during the Last Supper as well. Jewish precedent exists in the chaburah, a meal held once a week that customarily included a vessel containing water and wine. Early Christian converts continued the tradition. Descriptions of vessels for these beverages are mentioned as early as the eighth and ninth centuries, and by the eleventh century, records of these vials first appear. Most ritual goods for Christian worship assumed specific shapes that varied little; cruets, however, were fashioned in a variety of forms. Each was usually distinguished by a jewel or letter symbol to easily discern the contents within.
This pair, with plain bodies and simply cut letters, is a fine provincial example of the Baroque style from the turn of the eighteenth century in viceregal Peru.
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.
Encircled letters “A” on one cruet and “V” on the other were cut from a sheet using a jeweler’s saw and mounted on each lid.
Collected in Buenos Aires, Argentina, by Mr. and Mrs. Edmund P. Graves between 1898 and 1913; 1941, gift to the museum from Miss Ellen Graves, Mrs. Samuel Cabot, and Mrs. Roger Ernst in memory of their father and mother, Mr. and Mrs. Edmund P. Graves.
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