Bellarmine Jug

Cologne, anonymous1520 - 1540

Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen

Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen

This bellarmine is a beautiful example of a popular type of beer jug decorated with the face of a bearded man. These vessels were originally made with a hinged pewter or silver lid attached to the handle. Cologne was an important pottery centre with several stoneware kilns where jugs of this kind were made. In 1536, according to documents at the municipal archive in Cologne, there were at least eleven potteries producing stoneware in the city. Excavations around those sites in the early the twentieth century brought to light the remains of bellarmines similar to specimens discovered in the Netherlands.

The bearded-man motif is of Roman origin. In the sixteenth century, it was associated with the medieval ‘wild man’, the archetypal drunken lout. Depicted on a beer jug, it may have been intended to remind the user to drink in moderation and behave with decorum. Some sixteenth-century bellarmines from Cologne are inscribed with moralistic or religious aphorisms. One, for example, bears the words, ‘Drinck vnd est gott niet wergest’ (Drink and eat, but don’t forget God).

Large numbers of bellarmines have been found in several European countries, which suggests that they must have been widely exported. This unusual example comes from an excavation site in Reimerswaal in the Dutch province of Zeeland.

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