Before the late 1500s when forks came into common use, people ate with their fingers and therefore had to be able to wash their hands at the dining table. Between courses, guests were offered scented water from ewers such as this one to wash their hands, which they held out over shallow basins.
Ewers and basins in precious metal were produced mainly for use on important occasions and would at other times be displayed on a buffet at the side of the room. This set was commissioned to commemorate a wedding between the Fuggers, the most illustrious of all German banking families, and the Palffy von Erdöds, a famous Hungarian family. Documents in the court archive in Vienna show that the silversmith Abraham Pfleger, one of the most gifted German silversmiths of the late 1500s, produced two sets of ewers and basins on the occasion of the marriage of Maria Fugger to Duke Nikolaus Palffy von Erdöd in 1583. This set, dated 1583 on the enameled plaques, is one of those two sets.