by
John McGregor

~~~~~~~~~~

During the late 18th and early 19th centuries, Western Europe experienced a mini-renaissance and things Egyptian, Greek and Roman were much revered. There were even a number of so-called secret societies that attempted to revive interest in certain forms of classical worship. All of this interest in "things ancient" was to have its effect on the visual arts and would eventually lead to the Pre-Raphaelite movement which in turn would lead to Art Nouveau and Jugenstil. But we've moved too far into the future and must return to the first quarter of the 19th century when this stein was made (at least the body appears to be from that time period).

 

The glass is blown with some small imperfections such as bubbles and a hair-thin streak of green in the handle. The handle is two-thirds the length of the body and is flat on the inside and slightly rounded on the outside for about two-thirds of its length, at which point it flattens out before its lower attachment point. It is then folded back on itself before being pulled off. There is no capacity mark of any kind, but the stein holds slightly more than a half liter. The bottom of the stein contains three concentric circles of controlled bubbles as a decorative appointment. See figure 1.


Figure 1

 


Figure 2

The stein is engraved with a classical scene of a woman, down on one knee, sacrificing at an altar with a fire laid atop it. An evergreen tree grows behind her and on the other side of the altar a plant is growing that might be a wild rose. Above the altar is a round object that appears to be giving off two different types of beams or rays. See figure 2.

 

The woman is dressed in an Empire style dress that was popular from about 1805 to 1830, which coincidentally agrees with the apparent age of the stein. The woman holds a small ewer in her left hand and in her right, a patera, a small shallow bowl from which she pours the sacrifice over the flames. What she pours over the flames depends on whether she is a supplicant, or is giving thanks, but more on that later. The altar is typically Roman in style and is called an Arae Ignitae. It stands about two feet high and is usually made of either copper or iron. It can be either round or square and has a shallow, dish-shaped, indent in the top where the fire is laid and the sacrifice is poured. These altars were decorated in varying ways, but most often with garlands, as this one is (figure 3), and sometimes with the name of the deity to which the altar was dedicated.


Figure 3

So, does all this have any meaning? What follows is my rather loose interpretation of what this stein represents. The round object over the altar, as I mentioned above, has two types of rays emanating from it, the sharp, hot rays of the Sun, and lines of ovals, the soft, cool rays of the Moon. As seen from the earth, the sun and moon are the same size (as any eclipse of the sun will prove: the disk of the moon exactly covers the sun, blocking it completely from view except for the corona which glows around the edge). Does this scene represent an eclipse and a woman praying for it to end? It might, but I don't think so. If we can agree that the woman is sacrificing in the Roman manner, then she is sacrificing to a Roman god, or godess and we simply must determine which one. In the Roman pantheon, the sun and the moon represent Apollo, who replaced the Greek sun god Helios, and his twin sister Diana, who replaced the Greek goddess Artemis whose signs included the moon.

 


Figure 4

Figure 5

Other than a possible reference to the sun, there is nothing on this stein that points to Apollo. On the other hand there are several things that might point to a connection with Diana. The reference to the moon is of course one. As Diana Lucifera, Diana Bringer of Light, the moon is her symbol. As Diana Nemorensis, Diana of the Wood, the seed of the conifer, the cone, (Pine, Spruce, Fir, etc.) is her symbol, and behind the woman is an evergreen tree, a conifer. See figure 4. As Diana Venatrix or Felix, she is the Goddess of the Hunt, and is shown with her favorite attribute, the stag, and there he is, mounted proudly above the hinge. See figure 5.

While most of the Roman deities had both priests and priestesses in their temples, Roman men and women usually prayed to gods of their own gender, so the fact that a woman is doing the sacrificing here is another good indicator that a goddess is being petitioned.

So in keeping with the spirit of the times, I think what we have here is a hunting stein. Diana, as goddess of the hunt, is being invoked, rather than St. Hubertus. The woman is either praying for a successful hunt or being thankful for one The scene can represent either. As a supplicant, she is pouring either wine or oil over the flames as a bribe for Diana's help. If she is giving thanks, she is probably pouring blood from the kill as Diana's share. In either case, the liquid being poured on the fire is turned to either steam or smoke and is thus carried to the heavens for the pleasure of the invoked deity.

While the style of the stein is 1800-1830, the style of the pewter would suggest a time period of post 1875 and that would mean that the stein isn't as old as it seems, or the pewter has been replaced, or is a later addition. It also appears that the pewter work was possibly done by a Scot living in Austria, as the lid is marked on the inside with "Gordon-Gmunden."

However, it really doesn't matter whether this stein is a product of the 1830s or the 1870s, or even a combination of the two. What does matter, is that this is a product of three skilled artisans, the glass blower, the engraver, and the pewterer, who perhaps were not even acquainted with one another and yet together produced a work of art.

Bibliography

Bulfinch, Thomas, Bulfinch's Mythology, Avenel Books, New York, 1978 edition. Originally printed in three volumes between 1860 and 1863.

Frazer, James G., The Golden Bough, Avenel Books, New York, 1981 edition. Original printing, Macmillan, London, 1890.

Stevenson, Seth W., Dictionary of Roman Coins, B.A. Seaby Ltd., London, 1964. Original printing by George Bell and Sons, 1889.