This Bartmann jug is one of more than a million artifacts that have been excavated at the 1607 fort site at Jamestown. Want to learn more? Sign up for one of our Behind the Scenes tours.
Bartmann jugs (or "bearded man" for the bewhiskered face that adorns the neck) are also identified in the literature as "Bellarmines," a term popularly believed to be a satiric reference to the much despised Cardinal Robert Bellarmino (1542-1621). In 1606 Bellarmino, who was "a zealous opponent of Protestantism in the Low Countries and northern Germany," publicly rebuked King James I for his treatment of English Catholics.1 While the association between the bulbous grimacing jug and the Catholic prelate may have been made by the English and Dutch during the tempestuous religious climate of the early 17th century, it is unlikely that the form originated as a caricature. The first Bartmänner were produced around 1550 when Bellarmino was only eight years old!
The Bartmann jug was excavated from Pit 1, a ca. 1610 context within the palisaded walls of James Fort. Besides its bearded mask with a curved ladder mouth, it exhibits parts of what would have been three ovoid-medallions applied to its belly. Medallions on Bartmänner are often armorial reflecting the coats-of-arms of affluent patrons, European cities and royal houses, ecclesiastical offices, or even the potter's own Hausmarke or symbol.
The medallion on the Pit 1 jug consists of a crowned shield that has been divided into four quarters. In heraldic terms, the first and third quarters each exhibit a single lion passant, which means that he is walking with his right paw raised. The second and fourth quarters each have two lions passants. In the first quarter, which is the upper left-hand corner of the shield, there is a heraldic device known as a fess with a label on chief This is the band across the upper third of the escutcheon that is carrying three stylized fleurs-de-lis. It is this label that identifies the medallion as Italian and, more specifically, as representing a member of the Tuscan Anjoy party or Guelfs who from medieval times were staunch supporters of the Pope.2
The Guelfs' principal rivals in 13th-century Tuscany were the Ghibellines who backed the imperial power of the Holy Roman Emperor. These political factions had originated in Germany where they had comprised two feuding powerful families: the Wuelfs and the Hohenstaufen. The latter were the hereditary occupants of the imperial throne and once in Italy they, then known as the Ghibellines, had the support of the aristocracy. Artisans and lesser nobles characterized the Guelf party. It was a political struggle that was to divide Tuscany until 1282 when, with the support of the Pope who resented the threat of imperial authority in Italy, the Guelfs finally prevailed. They continued to be fiercely loyal to the papacy into the 17th-century.
Guelf coats-of-arms have never before been recorded on German stoneware. Further, there is no documented trade of the ware in Italy so the Bartmann jug from Pit 1 is extrememly rare. It must have been commissioned by an individual, perhaps an Italian merchant, who had trade or other contacts with northwest Europe. But what is the jug doing at Jamestown? While potters produced armorial stoneware with an eye to where it would be marketed, the places where heraldic medallions are found should not be strictly used to identify locations of individuals. Marketing practices of the international stoneware trade resulted in much random geographical distribution of armorial stoneware. Early 17th-century Frechen jugs found in England were, for the most part, purchased in bulk by Dutch merchants who then shipped them to London where they were redistributed to English markets.3 The jugs changed hands many times as they were bought and resold thus resulting in widespread dispersal of motifs.
It may never be determined why this rare coat of arms with medieval connotations, showing Italian connections with the Rhineland and deference to papal authority, ended up at Jamestown. Was it the result of random distribution to a consumer oblivious to the jug's symbolism or was it a purposeful statement by one of the conlonists with papist leanings?
This question, as well as many others posed by the ceramic assemblage from the Jamestown Rediscovery excavations, is opening up new areas of historical consideration that have not been posed by the written record. Every bit a primary source, as a letter or account written 400 years ago, each vessel has a story to tell if we only learn to decipher the codes.
1 David Gaimster, German Stoneware 1200-1900 (London: British Museum Press, 1997), 209.
2 John Hurst, personal communication, 1997.
3 Gaimster, 82.
An Excerpt From Jamestown Rediscovery V by William M. Kelso, Nicholas M. Luccketti, and Beverly A. Straube.