Research

Stoneware in David Teniers the Younger’s 'The Lute Player'

By Megan Lynn Donnelly, 10 February 2011.


Genre painting, paintings depicting people in their everyday lives, enjoyed great popularity in the Low Countries during the sixteenth  and seventeenth century.  Many painters depicted interiors full of people taking part in many daily activities.  Some, such as the Flemish painter David Teniers the Younger (Antwerp 1610- Brussels1690), took particularly great care in realistically rendering household objects, both common utilitarian objects and luxury goods.  The extreme detail of Teniers rendering of stoneware utensils is so accurate that many of the jugs and pots in his paintings can be matched nearly perfectly to existing objects, down to their decorative motifs.   While frequently these definite matches provide straightforward information regarding the material culture of the painters, in some cases investigations into a painting and its real life objects can prove to raise more questions than answers.  A painting by David Teniers the Younger in the collection of the Boijmans of 'The Lute Player  contains two striking stoneware jugs. Both are interesting for their own reasons; one because of the information that it provides, and the other because of the puzzles surrounding the origin of the object.

Stoneware played an important role in the material culture of the early modern Low Countries and was imported in large volume from Germany.  German potters developed stoneware, a type of ceramic produced by firing specific clays at extreme temperatures, as early as the end of the thirteenth century.54 Due to the high temperature of the firing, the clay became fused and impervious to liquids.  The impervious nature of the stoneware made it functionally superior to locally produced ceramics in storage of liquids.55 Over time, decorative innovations were introduced by potters, unique to each production location, which resulted in a great variety of designs. Though potters borrowed shapes and decorative motifs from other regions, by and large it is possible to identify the origin of stoneware found in the Low Countries as originating in a specific area in Germany.

'The Lute Player', a painting typical of Teniers Antwerp period,  contains two types of stoneware jugs, both of which he painted with great attention to detail. First we have a large, round, cream-colored jug in the left foreground. Its decorations are blue medallions and blue scalloping around the shoulder of the jug, where the handle connects to the body. Because Teniers has provided so much visual information, this jug can be easily identified as a jug produced in Westerwald, similar to one in the Boijmans’ collection.

Westerwald jugs, with their distinctive grey clay and cobalt blue decorations were a new item in the seventeenth century. Production in the region began at this late date only after potters from other regions, particularly Raeren, relocated there due to various economic and political factors.56 Jugs such as the one seen in The Lute Player only appeared on the market around the 1620’s, but quickly became popular enough that they began appearing frequently in paintings.

Stoneware was popular due to its practicality and functional qualities, but it also had modest luxury connotations in comparison to locally produced red wares due to the higher cost of production and their increasingly elaborate decoration.57 Westerwald jugs, with their striking and unique colors held this luxury status and quickly became one of the most popular types of stoneware in the Low Countries. Their popularity has been recorded in works of art of the senevteenth century as well.  The distinctive shape and decorative motif are so recognizable that they are not only identifiable in paintings, but also in black and white prints.  Painters throughout both the Southern and Northern Netherlands frequently used the jug as a decorative element. In the Boijmans’ collection alone there are at least 10 examples of this jug appearing in painting and prints.  Frequently the Westerwald jug is the most decorative object in the peasant and middle class scenes that they appear in, for example in 'Marry Company' by Richard Brakenburgh  or the anonymous painting 'Interior with a man and a pipe'.

In 'The Lute Player', like in many paintings of David Teniers the Younger, this is not the case. Instead he favors another stoneware object. The small rust colored jug appears regularly in the painter’s works, and is seen here sitting on the table. It attracts far more attention than the other objects by way of its bold orange color against the predominantly earth-toned scene. The jug at first glance is not as impressive as the Westerwald one. It is small, oval shaped, and with little decoration except for the thumb-pressed foot and grey neck that contrasts the orange body. There is a similar example surviving in the collection of the Stichting Het Nederlandse Gebruiksvoorwerp, which is on loan at the Boijmans Van Beuningen Museum, found in Alkmaar. Though visually inconspicuous compared to Westerwald jugs, it raises some interesting research questions.

Teniers is not the only artist who uses this specific type of stoneware jug in compositions.  A number of Antwerp still life painters, such as Joannes Fijt (1611-1661), Alexander Adriaenssen (1587-1661), and Jacob Foppens van Es (1596-1666), also used it to add a touch of bold color to their otherwise monochromatic compositions.  It has been suggested that Teniers use of this jug is evidence of the influence of still life painters and links his genre scenes to their school.58 However, it is impossible to know if Teniers was indeed attempting to pay tribute to or borrow motifs from these still life painters, because it is also possible that he was simply just utilizing a jug that was frequently found in Antwerp during the late sixteenth and the earlyseventeenth century. Some painters in Amsterdam, for example Abraham van Beijeren (1620-1690), also occasionally included this jug in compositions.  It was not as popular among artists in Amsterdam as with Antwerp painters and not nearly as popular overall as Westerwald stoneware, but its appearance in Amsterdam paintings does prove that it was not exclusive to Antwerp still life painters.

From both painted examples and surviving artifacts, it is evident that at least two variations of this type of jug were common, the one seen in 'The Luteplayer' with a pinched foot.  The other is very similar, but with a turned foot. Teniers painting 'Dorpsfeest'  dated 1651 includes the second variation and there is also a second jug in the collection of the Stichting Het Nederlandse Gebruiksvoorwerp, on loan at the Boijmans Van Beuningen Museum of this type. Unlike Westerwald stoneware, despite being easily identifiable and extremely distinctive, very little is known about the exact origin of these small orange jugs.

While this group of jugs likely represents objects produced in one production center, their physical appearance does not correspond precisely enough to any known center that would allow for a concrete point of origin to be identified.  Instead, many of the physical features of the jug imply contradictory locations of production.  For example the light color of the clay and the orange ash color are similar to stoneware objects produced in Siegburg. However, the shape would be unusual for Siegburg. Also the glazing method used there usually produces irregular areas of orange color that are nothing like the solid orange body of the jug in Teniers’ paintings.  Many stoneware jugs produced in Raeren on the other hand, are shaped very similarly to the orange jugs.  This time, the inconsistency is in the color and glaze.  Raeren stoneware is usually glazed with a dark brown or purple-brown lead 'slurry'.59 No known objects from Raeren have a red color.  Additionally, Siegburg and Raeren were large stoneware production centers where much is now known about their wares, distribution, and history.  It seems unlikely that such an obscure object could come from either of these major centers.

Raeren and Siegburg are just two examples of centers that have produced objects that look somewhat like the orange jug in 'The Lute Player', but similar arguments could be made for many centers.  It is not unusual for stoneware potters to borrow elements from other regions,60 therefore it’s difficult to say if a type of stoneware should be attributed to a location based on just one or two physical elements that are similar to the centers traditional objects. No known production center is a perfect fit for these groups of jugs making it impossible to identify any one of them as a point of origin.  The most ideal manner to match an object to a center is through production wasters. These are pits where potters discarded their defective objects and imperfections.  If a waster is found with examples of a specific object, it can be said with absolute certainty that the object was produced at that center.61 Unfortunately there is not yet evidence of this pot in wasters.

The small orange jug so frequently visible in the paintings of David Teniers the Younger for now remains rather enigmatic.  It simply doesn’t fit any know production center, although some Dutch and German ceramic experts suggested to look for their possible origins in Bruhl62 or Waldenburg (Saxony) specifically Westsachsen/Ostthüringen.63 However, with continuing research and excavations of production sites, one-day evidence of its origin may finally be revealed.   Whereas Westerwald jugs and their frequent appearance in paintings is able to provide information about the material culture of the period, the orange jug reminds us of what we still don’t know and can hopefully discover. David Teniers the Younger’s high fidelity to rendering objects realistically is a wonderful display of his artistic skill, but the detailed objects and their uses in everyday life in Teniers’ paintings also present the opportunity to take a closer look at material culture of his time.  The two jugs in 'The Lute Player' demonstrate that as similar as objects maybe in material and function, each provides unique perspectives to painting and seventeenth century material culture.

Bibliography

Bartels, Michiel, Steden in Scherven 1: Vondsten uit de beerputten in Deventer, Dordrecht, Nijmegen, en Tiel (1250-1900). Zwolle: Stichting Promotie Archeologie, 1999.

Gaimster, David, German Stoneware 1200-1900: Archaeology and Cultural History. London: British Museum Press, 1997.

Janssen, Hans L., “Later medieval pottery production in the Netherlands”, in: Ceramics and Trade: The production and distribution of later medieval pottery in north-west Europe. Ed. Peter Davey and Richard Hodges, 121-185. Sheffield: University of Sheffield, 1993.

David R.M. Gaimster, Mark Redknap, & Hans-Helmut Wegner “The dating and typology of the earliest Siegburg Stoneware in the Netherlands”, in:  Zur Keramik des Mittelalters und der beginnenden Neuzeit im Rheinland: Medieval and later pottery from the Rhineland and its markets. Ed.. Bar International Series, 1988.

Klinge, Margret et al. exhib. cat. David Tenier der Jünere 1620-1690: Alltag und Vernügen in Flandern. Karlsruhe (Staatliche Kunsthalle Karlsruhe) & Baden-Württemberg (Sonderausstellung des Landes Baden-Württemberg) 2005/6.

Scheidemantel, Dirk, “Waldenburger Steinzeug: Interdisziplinäre Forschungen zur Typologie, Chronologie und Technologie des spätmittelalterlichen und früneuzeitlichen Steinzeugs in Mitteleuropa am beispiel der keramischen Production van Waldenburg in Sachsen.” Archäologisches Nachrichtenblatt,

Notes

54 Michiel Bartels, Steden in Scherven1: Vondsten uit beerputten in Deventer, Dordrecht, Nijmegen en Tiel (1250-1900) (Zwolle: Stichting Promotie Archeologie, 1999), 43.

55 Hans L. Janssen, “Later medieval pottery production in the Netherlands” in Ceramics and Trade: The production and distribution of later medieval pottery in north-west Europe, ed. Peter Davey and Richard Hodges (Sheffield: University of Sheffield, 1983), 135.

56 David Gaimster, German Stoneware 1200-1900: Archaeology and Cultural History (London: British Museum Press,  1997), 251.

57 Louis Marc Emanuel Solon, The ancient art of stoneware of the Low Countries and Germany: or “Grès de Flandres” & “Steinzeug”. Its principal varieties and places where it was manufactured during the XVIth and XVIIthe centuries, Volumes 1-2 (London: The Chiswick Press, 1892), 27.

58 Margret Klinge et al. exhib. cat. David Teniers der Jüngere 1610-1690: Alltag und Vergnügen in Flandern, Karlsruhe (Staatliche Kunsthalle Karlsruhe), & Baden-Württemberg ( Sonderausstellung des Landes Baden-Württemberg) 2005/6, p. 67.

59 Gaimster, 40.

60 Hans L. Janssen, “ The dating and typology of the earliest Siegburg Stoneware in the Netherlands” in Zur Keramik des Mittelalters und der beginnenden Neuzeit im Rheinland: Medieval and later pottery from the Rhineland and its markets, ed. David R.M. Gaimster, Mark Redknap, & Hans-Helmut Wegner, (Bar International Series, 1988), 329.

61 Dirk Scheidemantel, “ Waldenburger Steinzeug: Interdisziplinäre Forschungen zur Typologie, Chronologie und Technologie des spätmittelalterlichen und früneuzeitlichen Steinzeugs in Mitteleuropa am beispiel der keramischen Production van Waldenburg in Sachsen,” Archäologisches Nachrichtenblatt vol 10 no. 3 (2005): 307.

62 Dr. Michiel H. Bartels has suggested that they possibly originate in Bruhl.  This conclusion is based on the shape of the jugs, the yellow and white color of the clay associated with this center, and the fact that the jugs in Bruhl have a much stronger and allover red blush than any other white clay stoneware. He also remarked that Waldenburg could also be a possible production center for these jugs. - Personal email communication with Dr. Michiel H. Bartels, Gemeentelijk Archeoloog, Archeologie Hoorn.

63 Dr. Dirk Scheidelmantel has stated that based on the color of the clay and the glaze, these jugs could be from Waldenburg.  However, he remarks that only the pottery production of the earlier 14ththrought the 16th centuries in Waldenburg has been well researched so far. –Personal email communication with Dr. Dirk Scheidemantel, Landesamt für Archäologie Sachsen.

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