I think it’s time to admit that, notwithstanding my passion for the arts and crafts, I clearly have a thing for silver panther handled askos jugs. This is the second in the Collection and another remarkable piece of design and silversmithing.
This askos is slightly smaller than the one already in the Collection at A59 – see link. It too is an exceptional gauge of silver, with cast solid panther handle. Its design is based on ancient Roman bronze jugs that were in turn adaptations of even more ancient Greek goat stomach water holders – hence the unusual shape. The decorative curved silver lines towards the front of the jug would originally have been stitched raised leather.
The Romans produced various forms of these jugs in bronze and pottery, and a panther handled pottery variant like this one is held within the British Museum (ref 1873,0820.397), having originally been purchased from Alessandro Castellani in 1873. Castellani himself being the key figure in archaelogical or etruscan revival design in the Victorian era and a huge collector of ancient artefacts on which his designs were based. The British Museum panther handled askos has a bull depicted to the body and I suspect this silver askos (like A59) is based on an example found in Naples Museum, most likely uncovered at Pompei – see images for an ancient bronze example with acanthus leaves to the body held by a US museum.
The maker of this askos in not known. Despite its apparent similarities to the askos in A59 I do not believe this one is made by Giacinto Melillo. That is principally for three reasons. Firstly the quality, whilst exceptional, is not quite as remarkable as “the master” Melillo (reflected in the price of this piece). Secondly it is marked “Roma” and Melillo worked from Naples. Thirdly it is made differently. The Melillo askos is made in two parts soldered together. This askos, more impressively, is hand raised. However, the silversmith could clearly not quite complete the jug fully in that way so, detectable from the interior only, you can feel two additional plates of silver soldered to the upper parts. Both askos are similarly decorated with fine repousse and chased laurel leaves. This askos additionally has light gilding to the leaves, panther handle and rim.
This piece carries a number of “marks”. Firstly it is inscribed “Roma” and “900”. Roma undoubtedly indicates its place of manufacture and 900 the silver standard. Additionally the jug carries a small, rarely seen, Italian assay mark of a sun with rays. This mark is from 1934 and was introduced by the new fascist government to allow silver items made before 1934 to be sold without the newly introduced Italian assay marks. So we know this piece was retailed in c. 1934 and made before that date. Given the style of the inscribed marks and overall design, I would confidently date this jug to 1880-1914.
Condition is excellent.
Date: c 1900
Marks: See description
Material: 900 silver standard
Size: 21.5 cm high
Weight: 1263 grams, 44.6 oz
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A large panther handled Italian silver askos jug
See G Munn, Castellani and Giuliano. The British Museum holds a gold Etruscan revival bracelet by Giacinto Melillo ref M&ME Hull Grundy Catalogue 959. The Metropolitan Museum, New York holds a classically inspired silver jug by Melillo ref 2006.381