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The Early German PotteryBy Vernon Varick
( Orginally published March 1947 )
The early pottery of Germany and Central Europe dates from the Stone Age down to the Roman invasion, when the types change and the evidences of more perfect mechanical appliances become apparent. The Lake Dwellers, who built their huts on piles in the lakes of Switzerland, have commemorated themselves by handwrought vessels, to the embellishment of which decoration of the rudest kind was brought.
Pottery remains have been found throughout Germany, of which some are hand-made, while othcrs were evidently fabricated on the wheel. These remains are both pre-Roman and contemporaneous with the Roman occupation. The paste varies froxn a friable clay to a hard, ringing stoneware. Vases in a great variety of shapes have been found along with cups, plates, saucers, and jars. Some of the vases are divided into compartments like boxes. The ornamentation consists of paintings, mouldings, and incised lines. The painted decoration consists of parallel lines of red, yellow, and black. Some of the smaller pieces seem to have served as toys.
Vases and bowls of a sepulchral character have also been discovered which are thought to resemble the huts of the lacustrine dwellers. A specimen found at Achersleben has a tall conical cover, like a high-thatched roof, and the crifice in front is covered with a plate having a ring in the centre, through which a pin being passed fastened it on the outside. The opening was in this way closed after the ashes of the dead had been introduced. These and similar remains have been found in various parts of Germany, and have given rise to many superstitious stories among the peasant class. By some they are said to be the natural produce of the soil. Others ascribe them to the all-powerful fairies.
Relics of the Roman occupation show imported as well as domestic types of pottery in use in Germany. Possibly it was the Romans who taught the Germans the art of glazing for they seem to have been ahead of many nations in recovering from the Dark Ages decline. In the 13th century we find Germany in possession of processes for the presence of which their is no explanation except that they may have come from, Asia via the Balkans.
In any event, Germany was making enamelled faience at least two centuries before Luca della Robbia had perfected his process in Italy. A potter of Schelestadt in Alsace, is said by the Germans to have discovered tin enamel. Even his name is now forgotten, although his death is said to have occurred in 1283. There is a glazed frieze dated 1207 at Leipsic. Architectural reliefs of great excellence were produced at Breslau in 1230. In 1441, Veit Hirschvogel was using stanniferous enamel. At Strehla, 1565, the potters were so skilled in the working of terra-cotta, that they had made a pulpit of that material.
One is almost led bv these facts to question if Germany did not lead both Italy and France, and to regret that the history of German ceramics has not been more fully investigated. Leipsic is credited with being the place where enamelled ware was produced in Germany on any large scale.