Ewer with monstrous figures, acrobats, a sphinx like figure, and the royal arms of Portugal

Manuel I was King of Portugal from 1495 to 1521, a period during which Portugal led Europe in voyages of exploration and colonisation, such as those of Vasco da Gama. The architecture and decorative arts of Manuel’s reign, including works by artists and craftsmen who came to Portugal from elsewhere, are characterised by a style known as Manueline, which is dense in ornamental texture and amazingly eclectic. Manueline architecture and art combine elements from the Gothic and Italian Renaissance styles, Flemish art with elements from Portugal’s Islamic heritage, and influences from the lands – in South America, Africa, India and the Far east – which were being newly explored by Portuguese navigators.

This bizarre and monumental silver-gilt ewer, which would have had an accompanying basin enabling it to be used for hand-washing at the table, has cast and chased decoration on every possible surface. It dates from the end of Manuel’s reign or shortly afterwards. The handle is fantastically formed with monstrous figures, acrobats, and male and female heads, above two scaly legs with claws. The spout, now truncated, is formed as a tree-stump with acrobats, supported by a sphinx-like figure. Around the body and on the lid are bands of hard-to-interpret figures including a queen with attendants apparently watching a joust, musicians, courtiers, horsemen in combat, frolicking fish-tailed centaurs, monstrous figures and naked men flaunting their bottoms. An enamelled roundel of the royal arms of Portugal on the lid and the enamelled band round the neck are recent additions.


  • Title

    Ewer with monstrous figures, acrobats, a sphinx like figure, and the royal arms of Portugal

  • Associated place

    Portugal (place of creation)
    Lisbon (possible) (possible place of creation)
  • Date

    c. 1520 - 1530
  • Material and technique

    silver-gilt with cast, embossed, and chased decoration and with enamel additions

  • Object type

  • Dimensions

    43.5 cm max. (height)
  • No. of items


  • Credit line

    Bequeathed by Michael Wellby, 2012.

  • Museum location

  • Museum department

    Western Art

  • Accession no.


  • Our online collection is being continually updated. Find out more

    Know more about this object? Spotted an error? Contact us

Further reading

J.F. Hayward, Virtuoso Goldsmiths and the triumph of Mannerism, 1540-1620 (London, 1976), 268, 362

Vassallo e Silva, Nuno, Ourivesaria portuguesa de aparato séculos XV e XVI (Lisbon, 2012), pp. 187-209

Wilson, Timothy, ‘The Ashmolean: The Michael Wellby Bequest no. 65, Spring 2013’, (2013), p.1

Wilson, Timothy, ‘The Ashmolean’, 65 (Spring), (2013), p. 1

C. Truman, ‘Oxford's silver gilt bequest: The Art Newspaper’, (2013)

Wilson, Timothy, Winterbottom, Matthew, Treasures of the Goldsmith's Art: The Michael Wellby Bequest to the Ashmolean Museum (Ashmolean Museum University of Oxford, 2015)

Reference URL

q-seffron-icon q-white-icon pluse-seffron-icon pluse-white-icon minus-seffron-icon minus-white-icon close-seffron-icon close-white-icon close-black-icon prv-gry-arrow prv-arrow print-seffron-icon print-black-icon next-arrow next-gry-arrow next-white-arrow up-arrow-black up-arrow black-up-arrow black-down-arrow white-up-arrow white-down-arrow hr-list-gry-icon hr-list-white-icon vr-list-gry-icon vr-list-white-icon eye-icon zoomin-icon zoomout-icon fullview-icon contact-black-icon contact-seffron-icon basket-seffron-icon basket-black-icon share-black-icon share-seffron-icon go-arrow search-white-icon