D2092. Blue and White Oval Barber’s Bowl
Delft, circa 1760
Marked with an axe in blue for De Porceleyne Byl (The Porcelain Axe) factory
Painted in the center with peonies and other flowering plants growing around a pierced rock, the fluted rim with meander work reserved with four panels with an exotic bird standing near a pagoda, its lower edge with a neck notch, and its left side with an oval depression for the shaving ball, the foot rim pierced with two holes for suspension.
Length: 28.3 cm. (11.1 in.)
Other than often assumed, the round or oval depression at the side of a barber’s bowl was not intended to house a piece of soap but rather a shaving ball. The barber would have asked his customer to put this small wooden ball in his mouth between his cheek and gum while foaming him up and shaving him, in order to get a closer shave. The oval depression on the side of the bowler also made the bowl fit the throat of the customer, which had as result that no soap fell on his clothes.
From the middle ages onward the barber did not only shave your beard. Since he made both his knives to shave beards, and axes, and sharp surgeon knives and scissors and the pliers to pull teeth, the barber’s field of activity included that of a surgeon, a kind of combination of a dentist and physician. Pulling molars and blood-letting were the most common treatments. Someone who did all of this at the same time is called the ‘barber surgeon’.
From a simple oval or circular utilitarian metal form, barber’s bowls in Delftware developed throughout the eighteenth century into elegant rococo shapes, of which the present bowl is an unusually spirited example.