While on the hunt for wild men for another article I came across this wild man and dragon ewer and had to share it with you.
This remarkable ewer is topped with a finial in the shape of a wild man and is one of a pair.
The wildman or woodwose was a mythical woodland creature intended to symbolize the fortitude and might of its owner. Possibly in this instance Hartmann von Stockheim, German master of the Order of Teutonic Knights from 1499 to 1510 or 1513.
Originally regarded as brutish and irrational in the Christian world, by the time of his portrayal on this ewer in the 1500s 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 armourial shield (originally bearing a coat of arms), the wild man at once announced and protected this ewer's ownership. In most cases, the kneeling wild man's defence is only symbolic. Here a sharp toothed and long clawed dragon forming the ewer's handle however represents a tangible threat. He looks like he could turn and bite the hand of any would-be pourer.
While the wild man is kneeling over the castle keeping watch, it is the dragon who permits access to the sweet wine, or mead, inside. It seems fitting that the dragon, who is guardian of the earths treasure and symbolic representative of its power, should be guardian of the wine produced as the fruit of the earth. In fact you can see what appear to be vines entwined under the base of the main container where it joins the foot.
The wild man who we saw on the Wartburg tapestry putting a castle under siege dated about 1440, now some years later appears to be fully in service to this castle dated 1499-1513. He has picked up not just his own club but is now also bearing the arms of his master. This is further emphasised by what appears to be a chain around his waist rather than living vines or branches.
The dragon meanwhile still maintains his ferocity. Perhaps he is yet a symbol of an earth not yet fully tamed. HIs tail curls like the vines beneath. In Christian terms he represents evil. So maybe he serves as both protector of the precious contents but also as a warning against over indulgence! Maybe that is when he bites the hand of the pourer.
This is my ethical gift shop, it funds tree planting with Ancient and Sacred Trees, a Not For Profit funding tree planting and rewilding.
The images are courtesy of the Met Museum https://www.metmuseum.org/