The Miska jug

18/Jul/2014 - 21/Sep/2014

The Miska jug is the most Hungarian type of pottery; throughout the world it is linked to Hungarians, obviously because of our once deservedly famous hussars. The Miska jug is a wine vessel in the shape of a stylised human figure wearing the braided jacket of a Hungarian hussar. The jugs often have a writhing snake on the belly or the handle, a symbol of long life, suggesting eternal life.

The Miska jug was created by potters on the Great Plain: the first known piece is dated 1824 and was made in Hódmezővásárhely. Up to the first half of the 20th century most of the pieces were made in a few places: Mezőcsát, Tiszafüred and Mezőtúr. It was only later that it spread to other areas. The Miska jug was a wine vessel for festive occasions; it was brought out for weddings and funerals, and there is also a record of its use at Easter.

In Mezőcsát the Miska jug was called pintes (pint pot), a name that is used on almost all inscriptions from 1838. The name most often used in Tiszafüred was miska (Mike, the familiar form of Mihály/Michael). It occurs on a number of pieces as "Wine Miska", "Drunkard Miska", "Thirsty Miska", "Drink Wine Miska", or simply as "Miska".

It was only in the early 20th century that researchers discovered the Miska jug. The first piece entered the museum with material collected in 1909 on the Great Plain by István Györffy. Anthropomorphic vessels have been made in many places in the world, but in different forms. In Western Europe mainly in the 16th century the Bartmann jugs were famous. These stoneware vessels made along the Rhine also reached England where vessels portraying the face of a bearded man became known as Bellarmine jugs. This type of jug underwent change in England, becoming popular in the second half of the 18th century as the Toby jug. The English Toby jug is a drinking vessel portraying an elderly men in naturalistic but slightly caricatured form, in 18th century dress with a tricorn hat, and a jug in his hand. It is difficult to compare them to Miska jugs that portray a hussar in a simple, stylised manner.

The glorious campaign by András Hadik's hussars against the Prussians in 1757 when they even held Berlin to ransom, also played a part in the spread and popularity of the Miska jug. It was not by chance that the hussar as a concept was identified with the Hungarian character, courage and Hungarian bravado and portrayed as a figure with a moustache, shako and hussar's uniform.

Besides the braided hussar's jacket, the jugs also often have a snake, a creature that was popularly believed to live forever. Already in the ancient world the sight of snakes shedding their skins led to the belief that the snake was capable of rebirth and eternal life, and so they tried to win its favour. The snake as a symbol thus survived from pre-Christian times and it is not by chance that it appears on countless wine vessels. Village people used to say that a person lives as long as others are speaking about him; the Miska jug wanted to keep memory alive.

According to the present state of knowledge, around 150 Miska jugs are preserved in various collections, dating from the 1820s to 1940. The Museum of Ethnography has the best collection of this object type, both in number and range of representation; almost half of the known pieces are found in our museum. It is not by chance that our collection catalogue presents all the pieces preserved here, but also gives information on the other Miska jugs. That enabled a much more precise identification of the material shown here; we now also know the makers of close to three-quarters of the pieces. Our exhibition aims above all to draw attention to the connections between the individual masters, workshops and motifs.

Curator: István Csupor