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Pitcher

  • Place of origin:

    Cologne (made)

  • Date:

    ca. 1525-50 (made)

  • Artist/Maker:

    Unknown

  • Materials and Techniques:

    Grey stoneware with applied relief-moulded decoration, the whole covered with slip, some moulded decoration embellished with brushed on touches of cobalt blue, all under a speckled salt glaze

  • Museum number:

    4610-1858

  • Gallery location:

    Medieval & Renaissance, Room 63, The Edwin and Susan Davies Gallery, case 7

This large bulbous salt-glazed stoneware pitcher is of a type known as a Bartmann because it is decorated with an applied relief-moulded bearded face mask at the neck. In England, it is often wrongly referred to as a Bellarmine. Below the face are out-of-proportion arms in slashed sleeves and a finely-pleated linen shirt, the top band possibly intended to look like smocking. The vessel is decorated all over with an oak-leaf and acorn design which probably derives from a German woodblock engraving. The decoration also includes a rather incongruous half-human branch representing Isaiah's Tree of Jesse prophecy that the Messiah would spring from the family (tree) of Jesse, father of King David.
Robust, durable and non-porous stoneware mugs, jugs and bottles were indispensable to daily life in late medieval Germany. They were equally useful as an export commodity as they could endure transportation by sea. Small plain German Bartmann bottles were used throughout Europe but this larger and more elaborate type were harder to pot so more expensive to buy. As a result, although they were exported, fewer are now found among excavated material. Large pitchers were used to hold beer or wine in readiness beside the table to decant when required into jugs, mugs or glasses.
Although the Cologne stoneware industry began rather later than that of other Rhineland towns, by about 1500 it was already exporting mugs and jugs with botanical decoration, particularly to Britain. Cologne belonged to the Hanseatic League, an alliance of trading guilds that held a trade monopoly over much of northern Europe and the Baltic between the thirteenth and seventeenth centuries. By about 1200, Cologne merchants had established a trading post in London called the Steelyard on the site of what is now Cannon Street railway station. Between the fourteenth and sixteenth centuries, they controlled much of the cross-Channel trade of stoneware from the Rhine.

Physical description

Large bulbous salt-glazed stoneware pitcher of a type known as a Bartmann, with applied relief-moulded decoration consisting of a bearded face mask at the neck below which are out-of-proportion arms in slashed sleeves and a finely-pleated linen shirt, the top edging possibly smocked. The body of the vessel is decorated with applied relief-moulded (sprigged) oak-leaf and acorn decoration, in the centre of which hovers a small bird between a sprig of oak-leaves stemming from a half-human branch representing the Tree of Jesse prophecy. Some of the sprigged details are embellished with touches of cobalt blue.

The Tree (or Stem) of Jesse alludes (rather inappropriately to the rest of the decoration) to the popular theme of the ancestry of Christ. Isaiah (ch.11, v.1-3) prophesied that the Messiah would spring from the family (tree) of Jesse, father of King David. The acorn and oak leaf motif was used on German earthenware too and the design source might be Anton Woensam's woodblock engravings in Peter Quentel's 'Modelbuch' (pattern book) published in Cologne in 1527. It is possible though that this pattern book encorporated existing designs in popular use. The motif was dropped from the 1544 edition of the 'Modelbuch'.

Place of Origin

Cologne (made)

Date

ca. 1525-50 (made)

Artist/maker

Unknown

Materials and Techniques

Grey stoneware with applied relief-moulded decoration, the whole covered with slip, some moulded decoration embellished with brushed on touches of cobalt blue, all under a speckled salt glaze

Dimensions

Height: 36.2 cm, Diameter: 30.9 cm, Weight: 4.78 kg

Object history note

The provenance of this pitcher is not recorded in extant museum records

Historical significance: Despite a long potting tradition from the time of the Roman occupation, the Cologne stoneware industry began rather later than that of other Rhineland towns such as Siegburg and Raeren. By about 1500, however, it had caught up and was already exporting mugs and jugs with botanical decoration, particularly to Britain. Cologne belonged to the Hanseatic League, an alliance of trading guilds that held a trade monopoly over much of northern Europe and the Baltic between the thirteenth and seventeenth centuries. About 1200, Cologne 'Englandfahrer' merchants had established a trading post in London called the Steelyard on the site of what is now Cannon Street railway station. Between the fourteenth and sixteenth centuries, they controlled much of the cross-Channel trade of stoneware from the Rhine. Stoneware sales to England declined rapidly during the second half of the seventeenth century with the invention of the English black glass wine bottle which began to oust the Bartmann and the patent of English amateur scientist John Dwight (1672) to make his independently discovered salt-glazed stoneware.

Historical context note

Stoneware is a robust, non-porous and durable material. German potters found these characteristics ideal for the manufacture of drinking and storage vessels. Stoneware mugs, jugs and bottles became indispensable to daily life in late medieval Germany. They were equally useful as an export commodity as they could endure transportation by sea.
The development of a true stoneware body in the Rhineland was achieved by about 1300-50 by a process of careful experimentation entirely uninfluenced by Far Eastern expertise. The local clays became fully fused at 1200-1300°C, and early wares were unglazed or ash-glazed. During the fifteenth century, potters discovered that salt thrown into the kiln would vaporise and form a pleasing tight-fitting glaze. The colour varies from buff to dark brown but the glaze is easily recognisable from its 'orange-peel' appearance. Salt-glazing demanded vast quantities of salt for every firing. This was imported through Cologne for sale to all the Rhenish potteries. During the sixteenth century, German stoneware achieved huge economic success and attained a peak of technical and decorative refinement.
Small plain German Bartmann bottles were ubiquitous throughout Europe but this larger and more elaborate type were harder to pot and more expensive to buy. Although they were exported, they are found less often in excavations for those reasons. Bellied pots had for centuries lent themselves to human caricature. The German Bartmann (often wrongly called Bellarmine in England) became the universal storage bottle throughout Europe. Large pitchers were used to hold beer or wine in readiness beside the table to decant when required into jugs, mugs or glasses. Some relief details on this pitcher are picked out in blue: cobalt, brushed on in the form of diluted smalt, was mined in the mountains of Saxony from 1520s.

Descriptive line

Salt-glazed stoneware pitcher with applied oak-leaf decoration and partially brushed with cobalt blue. Cologne, about 1525-50.

Bibliographic References (Citation, Note/Abstract, NAL no)

Hildyard, Robin. European Ceramics. London : V&A Publications, 1999
Greenhalgh, Paul Ed., Art Nouveau : 1890 – 1914. London: V&A Publications, 2000. 464 p.,2.14pl, ill. ISBN 1851772774
Otto von Falke, Das rheinische Steinzeug,
M.L. Solon, Ancient art stoneware of the Low Countries and Germany, I, 1892
Hildyard, Robin, Just another false beard, Antique Collector, Dec. 1994
David Gaimster, "German Stoneware", London: British Museum, 1997
"Bildfuehrer: Kunsthandwerk vom Mittelalter bis zum Gegenwart", Katalogue des Kunstgewerbemuseums, Bd.X, Kunstgewerbemuseum, Berlin, 1985
Reineking-von Bock, "Steinzeug", Kataloge des Kunstgewerbemuseums Koeln, IV, Cologne, 3rd ed., 1986

Materials

Stoneware; Salt glaze; Slip; Cobalt oxide

Subjects depicted

Acorns; Oak leaves

Categories

Ceramics; Stoneware

Collection

Ceramics Collection

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