warren-cup

The Warren Cup (B-Side)

A silver cup with relief decoration of homoerotic scenes, this object takes its name from its first owner in modern times, the art-lover and collector Edward Perry Warren (1860-1928).

After Warren’s death the cup remained in private hands, largely because of the nature of the subject matter. Only with changing attitudes in the 1980s was the cup exhibited to the public, and in 1999 the British Museum was able to give this important piece a permanent home in the public domain.

The cup was originally made up of five parts - the thin-walled bowl with its high relief scenes, raised by hammering; an inner liner of thicker sheet silver with a solid rim, which would have made both drinking and cleaning easier; a pair of handles (now lost) and a cast foot soldered to the base.

The scenes on each side show two pairs of male lovers. On one side the erastes(older, active lover) is bearded and wears a wreath while the eromenos (younger ‘beloved’, passive) is a beardless youth. A servant tentatively comes through a door. In the background is a draped textile, and a kithara (lyre) resting on a chest.

In the scene on the other side the erastes is beardless, while the eromenos is just a boy. Auloi (pipes) are suspended over the background textile, and folded textiles are lying on a chest. The surroundings suggest a cultured, Hellenized setting with music and entertainment.

Representations of sexual acts are widely found in Roman art, on glass and pottery vessels, terracotta lamps and wall-paintings in both public and private buildings. They were thus commonly seen by both sexes, and all sections of society.

The Romans had no concept of, or word for, homosexuality, while in the Greek world the partnering of older men with youths was an accepted element of education. The Warren Cup reflects the customs and attitudes of this historical context, and provides us with an important insight into the culture that made and used it.

From the British Museum.

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Warren Cup (ca. 5 - 15 AD)

This silverwroght cup is a masterpiece from the Roman Empire. Probably, it was an appointment of wealthy members of a Greek community in the Levant, where it was found. Since 1999 the cup is a property of the British Museum of London.

The reliefs are worked in the technique of repoussé, that means the metal is hammered from the reverse to create a low relief on the front. Silver findings are very rare, because precious metal was often melted down during later times. This one is among the remaining of “virtuosic craftmanship” (Neil MacGregor: Warren Cup. In: A History of the World in 100 Objects). 

Two homoerotic scenes are shown. The Romans had no concept of, or word for, homosexuality, while in the Greek world the partnering of older men with youths was an accepted element of education. The first scene is situated in a luxuriously equipped house, with sofas, rich draperies and musical instruments like a lyra on the walls. The sofa is abundantly fitted up with soft cushions and duvets, supporting an honoured man in his prime (mark the beard and the laurel wreath in his hair). Atop and with his back to him, is a younger man, who lowers himself just down, searching hold on a rope, which is fastened above. Although the elder one is suspected to be the more experienced, it is the younger who leads with his right hand the motion of his lover. They are watched by a servent who peeps through an open door in the far corner of the room on the right.

The second scene is more stereotyped: Two young men, one of them clearly still in his adolescence, are settlled down on cushions and blankets, the older holding the younger in his arms, their legs entwined.

The Warren Cup

This side depicts a man (the active participant or erastes) engaging in anal sex with a young man (the eromenos, or passive participant), who lowers himself onto the erastes using a rope or support from the ceiling in roughly the modern sexual position of reverse cowgirl. Meanwhile a boy, perhaps a slave, watches surreptitiously from behind a door.

The Warren Cup

This side depicts two young men making love. Both scenes also include draped textiles in the background, as well as a kithara (lyre) in the former scene and auloi (pipes) in the latter. These, along with the careful delineation of ages and status and the wreaths worn by the youths, all suggest a cultured, elite, Hellenized setting with music and entertainment.

A Roman silver drinking vessel that depicts two sets of male lovers is one of the most prized jewels in the British Museum, singled out by director Neil MacGregor for his critically acclaimed History of the World in 100 Objects.

But on Wednesday, 15 years after the British Museum bought the Warren Cup for £1.8m, a highly respected German archaeologist suggested it could be a forgery.

Warren Cup

A silver cup with relief decoration of homoerotic scenes, this object takes its name from its first owner in modern times, the art-lover and collector Edward Perry Warren (1860-1928).

The British Museum