Daphne Ewer

Daphne Ewer

The Daphne ewer (^^55.1.86^^) was found about 1895. The evidence for its early history consists of a letter from Sch. Hochmann to R. W. Smith (September 1, 1952, copy on file at The Corning Museum of Glass). According to Hochmann, the ewer was found in a niche in a tomb at Kerch (ancient Panticapaeum) in the Crimea. It was acquired immediately by a Dr. Terletzky, who on the same day sold it to Hochmann. Hochmann then sold the ewer to his friend and mentor, Prof. I. K. Surutschen of Kischenoff, near Odessa. It then passed to Pierre Mavrogordato, the controller of the Odessa Museum, who moved to Berlin sometime before 1908, taking the ewer with him.

In a memorandum dictated in 1956 (also on file at The Corning Museum of Glass), Smith recorded additional information about the early history of the ewer. According to the memorandum, Mavrogordato attempted to sell the ewer to Robert Zahn, the director of the Berlin Antiquarium, who was unable to raise sufficient funds for the purchase. Zahn then introduced Mavrogordato to Wilhelm Froehner, who failed to raise the money to purchase the ewer for the Louvre. Mavrogordato was no more successful when he attempted to sell the ewer to the British Museum.

Daphne Ewer

On July 13, 1908, the director, Charles Hercules Read, wrote to J. Pierpont Morgan: "I have here a very rare and beautiful glass jug that I think may interest you if you are buying anything. It is of milk white glass with the story of Apollo and Daphne in gilding—very pretty indeed—and I have never heard of such a piece hitherto. I am sending by this same post a %%drawing%% left with me by the owner. He asks £2,500 for it. He at first asked nearly twice as much—but I told him I thought the price mad" (letter on file at the Morgan Library, New York). Ten days later, Morgan acquired the ewer for £2,500 (bill of sale dated July 23, 1908, also at the Morgan Library).

On October 18, 1949, the Daphne Ewer was offered for sale, unidentified, by Paget’s executrix at Sotheby’s in London. Unrecognized by almost everyone present, it was acquired by Smith for £420! At an unknown date, the ewer left Morgan’s collection and was acquired by E. L. Paget, an Australian businessman who collected antiquities. In effect, however, its whereabouts were unknown to students of Roman glass from the time that Morgan disposed of it.

There is an irresistible tailpiece to the story. Smith returned to the United States by an overnight flight. In his own words:

I arrived at a very uncomfortable hour at International Airport [New York]. In any %%case%%, my first act . . . was to go to the telephone at six o’clock in the morning and call a very good friend of mine, Jerome Strauss in New York City, and another one, Jack Cooney [the director of The Brooklyn Museum]. . . . I simply had to show my gain to Jerome and Jack. Well, in sleepy tones . . . Jerome told me to come on in and he would be up, and we could go out; he would be glad to see what I had to show him.

I arrived at West 54th Street in due course . . . and stopped merely long enough to get a provisional reservation on an early airline connection out of New York into Washington. . . . Jerome acted as if he thought very highly of Daphne, and I am sure that he did, and after a few minutes of that, I headed for Brooklyn and Jack Cooney. . . . All this, however, took so much time that it was necessary to cancel my air connection.

Now, I do recall a horrible taxi ride from The Brooklyn Museum to the airport. If I had known what I was to know a little later, I wouldn’t have felt so upset about this, but in any %%case%%, I was able to get a later air connection, slept with Daphne on my lap all the way from New York to Washington, came in after an uneventful flight. I had, in the meanwhile, called Bonnie [Mrs. Smith], who had agreed to meet me at the National Airport. Bonnie wasn’t there, which at the moment didn’t seem particularly unusual. I thought she had just been delayed a %%bit%%, but after she didn’t appear in a minute or two, I went and called her. She said, ‘Ray, you know, of course, why I couldn’t meet you.’ I said, ‘No, I don’t at all. Why aren’t you here?’ She said, ‘If you ask around there, you’ll hear about it.

There’s been a horrible air accident; all traffic has been closed off. I did start for National Airport, but I couldn’t get there.’ That, as you may have guessed, was the tragic morning when a South American pilot put his plane into an American transport carrying 55 people, sending the big plane into the Potomac in what was then the gravest accident in air history. But for Jack Cooney’s and Jerome Strauss’ willingness to see me and look at the Daphne Vase at an unheard-of hour in the morning, I and Daphne would also have been in the plane at the bottom of the Potomac.

Subject and Object Description

The subject is the story of the mountain nymph Daphne (Sweet Bay), who in Greek mythology was usually said to be the daughter either of Ladon or of Peneus. Daphne was a priestess of the goddess Earth. Apollo courted her, and when she would have none of him, he attempted to rape her. Fleeing from Apollo, Daphne prayed to Earth for help and was turned into the tree that bears her name. The identification of Daphne’s father as Ladon belongs to an eastern version of the story, for Ladon is the name of the river that flowed through the suburb of Antioch known as Daphne. According to Libanius, this is where the metamorphosis of Daphne took place. Apollo, frustrated by the change, shot his arrows into the ground. The discovery of one of these divine arrows caused Seleucus to mark the spot by creating a sanctuary dedicated to Apollo.

Ewer: roughly egg-shaped. Rim everted; neck cylindrical, splaying at bottom and merging with body; small base-ring made by folding. Ribbed handle, pinched at upper extremity to form thumb-rest, attached to shoulder and rim. Decorated on lower part of neck, body, and base. Decoration on neck and body divided into two registers with identical borders above, between, and below; each border consists of continuous row of gray volutes on gilded band enclosed by gray lines with outer dark red bands; upper (narrow) register contains inscription in Greek capitals, "HXAPIC" (Grace), first and last letters separated by wheellike rosette with gray fillers to right and left, all other letters separated by red quatrefoil with gray centers; lower register depicts four gilded figures with gray outlines and details, with quatrefoil in field; Cupid incites Apollo, who is naked except for cloak and sandals, and with quiver of arrows on shoulder. Apollo runs toward right, in pursuit of Daphne; Daphne is shown in the act of changing into a bay tree; her father, Ladon, sitting on a rock and supporting horn of plenty with extended left hand, looks on.

Almost complete. Body broken and mended, with minor restoration. Dull, with accretion; paint and gilding flaking from some small areas; many letters of names unreadable.

Published on September 29, 2011

About the Author

David Whitehouse, Senior Scholar
David Whitehouse (1941-2013) joined The Corning Museum of Glass in 1984 as chief curator. He was named deputy director of collections in 1987, was promoted to deputy director of the Museum in 1988, and became director in 1992. He was appointed to...
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