Pair of Large Flagons

33.1160, 33.1161

Pair of Large Flagons

33.1160, 33.1161


The flagons have bluish-grey bodies with decorative elements picked out in cobalt blue. The tall bodies are of slightly tapering cylindrical form and are divided into three panels, each with a male figure in a landscape, modelled in relief, and with impressed quatrefoil motifs above. Each panel is separated by a grotesque winged creature in relief at the base, a horned mask below the lip, and a garland of foliage between. The broad lip is modelled with further motifs and the angular scroll handle with beaded and serrated ornament.

These imposing flagons are revivals of a type of pouring vessel made in Germany during the 16th and early 17th centuries. Stoneware (so-called because it is fired at a higher temperature than most pottery and is much harder) was produced on an industrial scale and plain utilitarian pots were exported all over Europe. More elaborate and costly wares with fine incised and relief decoration were also made, especially at the potteries of Siegburg and Westerwald, southeast of Cologne.
Decorated stoneware of the 16th century enjoyed a revival of interest among 19th century collectors and changed hands for high prices in the later part of the century. At the same time an enthusiasm for a patriotic “alt deutsch” style in German manufactured goods followed the unification of the Reich in 1871. With official government support, production of Westerwald stoneware in traditional styles was revived and promoted at international exhibitions. Highly original historicist wares from the 1870s onwards are particularly associated with the firms of Merkelbach und Wick and Reinhold Hanke.

The Tata flagons are not signed or marked (other than an incised number, see below) but were possibly made by one or other of these firms. They reflect this renewed antiquarian interest and draw extensively on Renaissance ornament. But they are far from exact copies. The standing figures are dressed in the type of costume seen in early 16th-century portraits by Cranach and his contemporaries; the horned masks on the upper bodies recall elaborate helmets in 16th-century parade armours, and the serrated ornament on the outer face of the handles seems to relate to the kind of silver straps sometimes made to mount such vessels.

The two flagons, although very similar, are not an exact pair and there are a number of small differences between them: one has holes on the handle for a mount, the other does not; one is slightly greyer than the other, and one has a band of laurel beneath the lip while the other has egg-and-dart. One of the two is impressed under the base (before firing) with the number 599.
Sir D.J. Tata Collection


European Decorative Art

Object Type









Late 19th century CE




H 41 cm