Bellarmine (Bartmann) Sherd (Archaeological Find)
Bellarmine (Bartmann) Sherd
Water flies from a potter’s wheel as a pear-shaped vessel takes shape outside Frechen, Germany. Business has never been better—hundreds of similar vessels stare out from quiet racks, waiting to be fired to their signature mottled, golden-brown salt-glaze and shipped throughout the civilized world. It is late in the 17th century, and Rhenish salt-glazed stoneware is at its height. The characteristic bearded faces carved into the necks of vessels are their signature of high quality, durable stoneware, well-known throughout the New World and Europe. Today, we call that same motif the “Bellarmine Man,” and seeing its face appear in the soil of Harvard Yard represents the extraordinary material and cultural diffusion between Europe and the Colonies. Finding just this single, fragmentary piece belies the incredible journey this vessel survived to make it to the Yard—from the potter’s wheel, it endured the fires of the kiln, miles of travel by crate and cart to the sea, weeks of lurching travel across the waves, and finally unloading—maybe in Boston, maybe another port along the coast—before it could be brought to market, purchased, and ultimately brought to the Old College. This grey sherd of baked earth embodies the relationship between Europe and the Colonies two hundred years before the industrial revolution, as the great wheels of England’s mercantilist machine began to gain momentum and the trappings of a global trade network and economy began to emerge. As global demand for Rhennish stoneware waxed, potters kept pace by producing more and spending less time on each piece. The quickness of those potters' skillful hands shows in this Bellarmine's grotesque, not-quite-human features.
The eye stamped into this sherd makes it easily recognizable as a shard of Bellarmine, a name which alludes the Roberto Bellarmino (1542-1621), a Cardinal allegedly hated by protestant potters. Bellarmine-style stoneware has been dated as far back as 1550, however, when the Cardinal was only eight (Hume 1969, 55), so the face motif was more likely inspired by the Green Man of the woods originating in English folk myths. For this reason, Bellarmine vessels are more properly known as a “Bartmann” vessels, but Bellarmine’s catchy name is still in common use. As decades passed, the stamped faces on Bellarmine vessels became less human and defined (Museum of London), and comparing H939’s Bellarmine fragment to photos, its facial features most closely resemble the “grotesque” bellarmines of 1650-70 (Hume 1969, 56). The bottle this particular sherd was once part of was likely used by residents of The Yard to store wine, ale, oil, vinegar, or water, since Rhennish stoneware was fired at a high enough temperature (up to 1300 degrees) that much of the clay would vitrify, making it completely waterproof (Maine.gov).
"Bellarmine Jugs." : Colonial Pemaquid: History: Discover History & Explore Nature: State Parks and Public Lands: Maine ACF. N.p., n.d. Web. 27 Oct. 2016. <http://www.maine.gov/dacf/parks/discover_history_explore_nature/history/colonialpemaquid/bellarmine.shtml>.
Hume, Ivor Noël. A Guide to Artifacts of Colonial America. New York: Knopf, 1970. Print.
By the Second Half of the 16th Century Frechen Wares Had Supplanted Raeren Products as the Main German Stoneware Imported into Britain. The Trade Peaked in the Early 17th Century, by Which Time Products Had Become Very Standardised, But, as with Other Ger. "Frechen." Ceramics and Glass Glass. N.p., n.d. Web. 27 Oct. 2016. <http://archive.museumoflondon.org.uk/ceramics/pages/subsubcategory.asp?subsubcat_id=837&subsubcat_name=Frechen&cat_id=714>.
Bellarmine (Bartmann) Sherd
Fragment is from the neck of the bottle
Late 17th century
H939, Level 3
Given the grotesque features of the bellarmine man's face, likely a later 18th century piece