Middle Age Utensils

With the church as the centre of cultural life in the late Middle Ages, many costly liturgical objects were made for Catholic worship.

Religious objects, such as communion cups, fonts, pyxides (small containers to carry the Host) and incense burners influenced the tastes of the well-to-do. Small devotional items, such as diptychs, small figures, writing tablets and draughtsmen with religious representations were made from exotic materials such as ivory and gold. Lead-tin pilgrim badges were produced as mementos of visits to places of pilgrimage.

Household Effects made of Pewter and Brass

In the late Middle Ages luxury objects made of brass and bronze were produced mainly in the Meuse valley (Dinant) and Germany (Hildesheim and Nuremburg) and exported to several European countries. Pewter objects for everyday use, such as dishes, salts, drinking vessels, flagons and religious accessories, such as fonts, pyxides and pilgrim flasks, were chiefly made in the Low Countries.

See also: Long Live Crafts: Base Metals

Did you know

that in the Middle Ages people ate with a knife and a spoon? Forks had not yet been introduced to the Low Countries? In working-class households it was normal to eat directly from the table, without a plate. Guests were expected to bring their own knife with them. Only important guests were given a knife.

Alexandra Gaba van Dongen about table manners in the 16th Century

In the museum a table is laid with objects from the 2nd half of the 16th century. Alexandra Gaba van Dongen, curator of pre-industrial design, dwells on the dinner set of plates, forks, and tazza’s (wineglasses). Furthermore she quotes Erasmus, who taught the students from Latin schools the etiquette.

Decorative glass

In the Low Countries there were early attempts to imitate Venetian glassware. The first ‘à la façon de Venise’ blown glassware was made in Antwerp and Liège. The tall, slender flutes are typical examples of Dutch ‘façon’ glassware. Glass production in Germany went its own way and the green rummer remained extremely popular as a wine glass. The rummer was also produced in the Low Countries.

See also: Long Live Crafts: Glass

Anonymous, winged glass, 1580-1625, soda glass, Venetian-style, bequest: Dr. E. van Rijckevorsel 1928
Anonymous, winged glass, 1580-1625, soda glass, Venetian-style, bequest: Dr. E. van Rijckevorsel 1928
Johann Simon Rothaer, Display rummer with panorama of the city and harbour of Hamburg, 1704-1709, glass, wheel engraving, silver-gilt, donation: Dr. E. van Rijckevorsel 1916
Johann Simon Rothaer, Display rummer with panorama of the city and harbour of Hamburg, 1704-1709, glass, wheel engraving, silver-gilt, donation: Dr. E. van Rijckevorsel 1916

Sgrafitto earthenware

Sgraffito is the term for terracotta ware with designs incised into a layer of white slip. This centuries-old decorative technique was introduced into Western Europe by way of Persia and the Byzantine Empire. In the 15th and 16th centuries Dutch potters also used these ‘drawings in clay’ on simple, everyday earthenware. In 2008, Boijmans Van Beuningen Museum organised the exhibition ‘Sgrafitto in 3D’.

Anonymous, dish, 1575-1650, redware, green lead glaze, sgraffito, purchase 2004
Anonymous, dish, 1575-1650, redware, green lead glaze, sgraffito, purchase 2004
Anonymous, Syrup pitcher, 1625-1675, earthenware, sgraffito, purchase 1959
Anonymous, Syrup pitcher, 1625-1675, earthenware, sgraffito, purchase 1959

The collector Van Beuningen-de Vriese

The collector Hendrik J. E. Beuningen, a nephew of D.G. van Beuningen - one of the two name givers of the museum, was fascinated by archaeology from an early age. Unfortunately his prehistoric collection was destroyed in the bombardment of Rotterdam, but the dramatic historical event also laid the basis for a new collection: pre-industrial domestic objects. As the rubble was cleared away, large numbers of objects from earlier centuries came to the surface.

Van Beuningen found his first buried treasure in the years immediately after the bombardment. Over the next few decades he and his first wife Miem de Vriese assembled a collection of more than ten thousand objects dating from the 11th to the 19th centuries: kitchenware, tableware and glassware, lighting and other everyday objects that are essential in any household. After many years of faithful service they are being discarded, to be sometimes resurfaced centuries later.

In 1990 H.J.E. van Beuningen donated his extensive collection to the museum. It is displayed in the basement of the pavilion that bears the couple’s name – the Van Beuningen-de Vriese Pavilion.