Mazer bowl

England, probably London
Late 16th century
Field maple wood; silver mounting
9.5 x Ø 10.5 cm

Made from turned field maple wood (Acer campestre), this bowl, raised on a pedestal foot set with a broad silver band around the lip, is a mazer, or wooden drinking bowl. Mazers - from the Old High German word masar (from the Proto-Germanic *masuraz), or “spot, especially on wood” - get their name from the spotted or bird’s-eye markings on the wood, normally root or burr (knot) wood they are made from. Mazers belong to a north European medieval tradition of wooden drinking vessels, preferred over precious metal or glass, as fine wine was considered to lose its bouquet when drunk from these materials. Mostly made from the eleventh into the late sixteenth centuries, earlier mazers are shaped as shallow bowls with everted rims and an interior boss, not unlike the medieval hanap or drinking bowl. Following this earlier shape, mention should be made of the so-called “Epworth mazer” (7.7 x Ø 23 cm) from about 1525 and acquired by the British Museum, London (inv. no. 1947,0504.1) in 1947 from the Church of St Andrew in Epworth, Lincolnshire.

The few surviving mazers of the sixteenth century, mostly mounted in plain silver, have deeper round walls and, not unlike the present ex- ample, rest on a small pedestal foot - one such example (7.5 x Ø 16.5 cm), dated to around 1530 also belongs to the British Museum, inv. no. AF.3118.The present example, decorated with incised lines on the exterior lower part, is set with a silver band around the lip (marked with the incised letters “WF”, probably an owners’ initials) decorated with a Renaissance-style running frieze with stylised roses (reminiscent of the Tudor rose) and ovals made with punches. Not unlike our example, yet shaped more as a goblet and deprived of any precious mounting, an Elizabethan mazer raised on a high foot (11 x Ø 10 cm) and once in the Levi collection, was sold (lot 186) at Sotheby’s London, 8 November 2006. Richly mounted with silver, the so-called “Craigievar mazer” (21 x Ø 23 cm) now at the National Museum of Scotland, Edinburgh (inv. no. Q.L.1987.12), was made in 1591 by James Craufurd of Edinburgh and, raised on a pedestal foot, features an inverted pear-shaped knob and a plain band over the lip with the arms of Forbes of Craigievar.


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