Ewer with Wild Man Finial

Date: ca. 1500

Geography: Made in probably Nuremberg, Franconia, Germany

Culture: German

Medium: Silver gilt, enamel, and paint

Dimensions: Overall: 25 x 8 1/4 in. (63.5 x 21 cm)

Classification: Metalwork-Silver

Credit Line: The Cloisters Collection, 1953

Accession Number: 53.20.2


This splendid ewer, topped with a finial in the form of a wild man, is one of a pair in The Cloisters collection. The wild man was a mythical woodland creature intended to symbolize the fortitude and might of its owner, possibly Hartmann von Stockheim, German master of the Order of Teutonic Knights from 1499 to 1510 or 1513. Originally regarded as brutish and irrational, by the time of his portrayal on this ewer the wild man was perceived as the embodiment of legendary Germanic strength and endurance. Such a standard would have been an appropriate choice for an order of knights that took vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience and was a powerful military force in Germany at the turn of the sixteenth century. Holding the traditional attributes of club and armorial shield (originally bearing a coat of arms), the wild man at once announced and protected the ewer's ownership. In most cases, the kneeling wild man's defense is only symbolic, but here a toothed and clawed dragon—forming the ewer's handle—represents a tangible threat.