Rhenish Stoneware

Two examples of Blue on Gray Rhenish

by Kayla  Marciniszyn Assistant Archaeological Laboratory Director

Rhenish is arguably one of the most durable salt-glazed stonewares produced in the colonial period  (1607-1776). As the name suggests, the ware was manufactured in the Rhineland region of Germany and imported into England and the American colonies (Noel Hume 1969). Rhenish’s impermeable body made it a great candidate for tankards, jugs, mugs, chamber pots, and other utilitarian wares. Naturally, the durability of the ceramic made it a popular item among households and taverns alike. Rhenish comes in two different styles: Rhenish Brown and Blue on Gray. While the term “Rhenish” encompasses both style types, each style has its own naming convention. Rhenish Brown, for example, is sometimes referred to as Bellarmine or Raeren and Blue on Gray is sometimes referred to as Westerwald.

Rhenish Brown

Rhenish Brown is similar to English Brown in that it is covered in a speckled brown slip   (appears speckled as a result of the salt glaze) and has a buff to dark gray body (MAC Lab 2015). German stoneware was first developed in the 13th century and began exporting to England in the 14th century. The popularity of Rhenish Brown in England peaked during the 17th century but began to decline toward the end of the century because of the development of English Brown stoneware. Aside from the telltale speckled brown slip, Rhenish Brown can be found with elaborate applied decorations. This can include seals, initials, armorial medallions, and even faces. The faces, commonly known as Bellarmine or “graybeard,” are probably the most common decoration on Rhenish Brown. The cartoonish and often grotesque bearded faces are meant to be a caricature of Saint Robert Bellarmine, an Italian cardinal (Dictionary.com 2017).

Blue on Gray

As a service ware, Blue on Gray Rhenish is more aesthetically pleasing than Rhenish Brown. The paste is usually light gray in color and much more refined than Rhenish Brown. Stylistically, it is similar to the blue and gray stoneware produced in North America. The two, however, can be easily differentiated. North American stoneware usually has a coarser paste/body and has more inclusions in the paste than Rhenish.

Blue on Gray Rhenish vs the coarser North American Stoneware

Despite the decline in Rhenish Brown, Blue on Gray was popular in North America until the 1770s (MAC Lab 2015). Like Rhenish Brown, Blue on Gray was highly decorated. Decorative techniques include applied decorations (such as the medallions or seals found on Rhenish), incising, stamping, and rouletting. The handpainted cobalt blue (how the ware gets its name) under the glaze did not appear until the 16th century. However, nothing compares to the combination of handpainted cobalt blue and manganese purple decorations. Rhenish Blue on Gray jugs are commonly found with incised concentric rings around the neck filled with manganese purple. This stylistic element is found as early as the 1630s but the combination of blue and purple on Rhenish was not common until the later part of the 17th century and continued through the first half of the 18th century (MAC Lab 2017). CART uncovered a beautiful jug neck with the manganese purple incised lines during the current excavation project.

References

Dictionary.com. 2017. “bellarmine.” Collins English Dictionary – Complete & Unabridged 10th Edition. HarperCollins Publishers. Accessed June 21, 2017. http://www.dictionary.com/browse/bellarmine

MAC Lab. 2015. “Rhenish.” Jefferson Patterson Park and Museum Diagnostic Artifacts in Maryland. Accessed June 21, 2017. http://www.jefpat.org/diagnostic/ColonialCeramics/Colonial%20Ware%20Descriptions/Rhenish.html

Noel Hume, I. 1969. “Rhenish Stoneware.” In A Guide to Artifacts of Colonial America, 276. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press.

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About cartarchaeology

We are the County Archaeological Research Team, part of the Archaeology and Collections Branch, Resource Management Division, Fairfax County Park Authority. We are tasked with understanding and managing the cultural resources on Park land throughout Fairfax County.
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