The Wallace Collection

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A Bohemian Welcoming Glass dated 1609
Detail of the inscriptions
Detail of the inscriptions
Treasure of the Month - March 2008

A Bohemian Welcoming Glass dated 1609

This capacious and colourful enamelled and gilt drinking vessel is conveniently inscribed in German with its date, title and a users’ guide!

Produced in Bohemia at the beginning of the 17th century, it is a willkomm humpen, used to provide guests with a warm welcome.

The decoration and inscriptions are symmetrically arranged in several zones. Scenes of outdoor merrymaking encircle the upper and lower registers. They illustrate the carefree amusements and conviviality that await the guest, from the pleasures of a romantic tête à tête to lively discussion and dog teasing. The consequences of over-indulgence are also depicted: in the upper zone, a young man vomits behind a tree. Such scenes could well be compiled from German prints.

The date when the humpen was made, inscribed below the rim border, takes the form ‘ANNO DOMINI 1609’ (year of our Lord 1609). The inscription round the centre, emphatically written in capital letters, welcomes guests. It translates as:

‘I AM CALLED A GOOD WELCOME AND CALLED VERY MERRY’.

Further inscriptions, written in Gothic script by an accomplished hand, repeat guidelines on how the vessel should be used: ‘Lift me up, drink me up, set me down, fill me again and bring me a good brother again’; ‘Drink me quite up and thus a full brother will come of me’; ‘I will be filled full so that one shall bring me a brother who will know me’. This refers to the tradition of welcoming guests by offering them the glass filled with beer or wine. They should drain the contents so that the humpen can be refilled and offered to another guest. The custom was vividly described by a French traveller in 1688:

‘Every Draught must be a Health, and as soon as you have emptied your glass, you must present it full to him whose Health you drank. You must never refuse the Glass, which is presented, but drink it off to the last Drop…to drink in Germany is to drink eternally…’.

For much of the sixteenth century glassmaking had been dominated by the exquisitely delicate, technically innovative and extraordinarily inventive glasses produced in Venice and in the Venetian style, of which there are many examples in this case. While Venetian enamelled and gilt glass had been popular in the early 16th century, it was soon superseded by other decorative techniques, especially those that accentuated the technical virtuosity of the Venetian glassmakers in manipulating the glass itself. In the late 16th century, glassmakers in Bohemia revived the popularity of enamelled and gilt glass, which became a Bohemian speciality. Venetian influence is evident in the gilt rim border, with its scale pattern of enamel dots. The enamelled and gilt humpen, often decorated with a hunting scene or heraldry, was a popular drinking vessel in 17th century Bohemia and Germany. With their bright colours and interesting subject matter they greatly appealed to 19th-century glass collectors.

Further Reading

  • Axel von Saldern, German Enameled Glass, New York 1965