The glorious Sardinian
vanity

text
Kyre Chenven

photography
Ivano Atzori

THE NUPTIAL VASE

Up until recently, each Sardinian bride brought with her into marriage a sort of dowry. In contrast to most of Europe, this dowry was considered property of the woman herself. With that right to own it, however, came an equally important implied responsibility. The dowry was expected to be prepared and created directly by her, and it was considered her contribution to the creation of her new home. In this way, a woman’s dowry was a direct expression of her skills and preparation. And, importantly, it was less of an offering to her future husband than proof of her obligation to help provide for her future family.

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The difference, then, lay in that most of a woman’s dowry was handmade by her for herself - not for her husband - and only what she wasn’t able to make on her own (the ornately carved wooden chest to hold her linens, for example) would be bought as a gift for her from small local artisans. This sort of self-pampering, the glorious Sardinian vanity of attaching true significance (and therefore time and effort) to decoration and beauty, is still at the heart of each of the island’s crafts. The same exuberance of detail that graces the festival bread also graces the minutely embellished sweets which in turn graces the Nuptial Vase.

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It appears that the original pitcher given to new brides was much a simpler affair. The State Archives (of Cagliari & Sassari) contain detailed lists of newlyweds’ dowries from Medieval times through the 1900’s. And while there is no decorative vase ever listed in these archives, there was mention of a bedside pitcher that would sit on the nightstand with drinking water inside. This pitcher was surely only one piece of a long list of terracotta pots that were used in everyday Sardinian life.
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Up until the 60’s and 70’s, every family had a collection of large ceramic urns with which they would gather the water from the town fountain or a nearby stream. But as plumbing slowly became more common in the cities and towns, these graceful, heavy vases became superfluous. Surely the local potters would have gladly abandoned the hard labor of making the oversized vases but, luckily, Sardinian crafts had a quick burst of recognition from Italy right at the same time. In this way, in a short time, the “work” of creating dish-ware transformed into the “art” of ceramics. And the newly appreciated Brocca della Sposa (Nuptial Vase) was born.
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Bearing the same grandeur of form as the humbler water urns, the Nuptial Vase was transformed with an abundance of embellishments and trimmings. It combines an elegantly rounded urn with meticulous decorations that come from the tradition of Sardinian baking. Miniature roses, engraved leaves and stylized birds are intertwined with dots, ruffles and flourishes to create an extravagant and uniquely Sardinian vase. Undoubtedly because of its beauty, the Nuptial Vase has begun to live up to its name once again and is now a common gift for newly-wedded couples.
See more of The Nuptial Vase by Walter Usai in our shop.
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