Monday, 23 January 2017

Ceramic 53 - Montjoye jug

I acquired a bisque jug a while back and have been stuck for an appropriate design to place upon it. I trolled the internet for reference images of extant items that had the right shape. Originally I was thinking of converting the central image on the jug (Figure 1) into a household of fighting badgers but in every trial sketch they ended up looking like teddy bears.

Figure 1: Jug, Montelupo, 1480, Tin glazed earthenware painted with metal based colours. V&A, no. 1568-1855

So I decided to go looking for more inspiration. I found it. A friend of mine, Montjoye, who I admire quite a bit, posted a flurry of things on her blog. One post caught my eye because it was regarding the recent acquisition of some blue and white ceramic item for her kitchen. Given my enjoyment of blue and white, I decided to make her a blue and white jug because she brews some very tasty stuff.

So, many museum collections later I amassed a number of pinterest images I found inspiring, nothing was a 100% match for the jug shape that I had, but there were quite a few jugs, drug jars and miscellaneous items that were in the ball park. I also had a time frame restriction as Montjoye camps with a group that try to be mid-medieval in every way.

There are a number of drug bottles, jugs and vases that do feature blue and white, but the designs just didn't appeal to me. The key inspiration (figure 2) was chosen due to it's simple 2 colour motif which would convert well to blue, black and white.
Figure 2: Drug bottle, Italy, Tin glazed earthenware, date unknown. V&A no. 629-1902

The inspiration jug has no date, but appears to date between late 14th century and early 16th century. That is a rather large time frame but I believe it's closer to the 14th century for the following reasons: The late 14th century examples have a similar pallet of colours and a similar consistancy for application (layers can be seen in the green leaves above). The early 16th century example, is much more ornate in it's design with multiple shades of blue, yellows and oranges (i really like the wyvyrn in this one). It also features a neat little twisted spout holder which gives it a cute flare. One final reason I believe it's closer to the 14th century than the 16th is shown in Figure 3. This jug has the right shape however it seems to be one of the earlier examples of the high firing colour pallet. The yellow, blue, green and manganese brown/purple suggest  this jug is the mid point between the early 16th century highly crafted majolica and the reference jug. So I give the jug in Figure 2 a date range of 1400-1450 ish.
Figure 3: Drug jar, Italy. Tin glazed earthenware with high-firing oxides. 1450. V&A no. 1222-1901

Many of jugs I examined feature writing around them. The text usually designates what the contents of the drug jar is, for example - SYo DI PAPAVARI = syrup of poppies, SYo DE FARFARE = syrup of coltsfoot (tussilago). I considered translating alcoholic beverage, or spirit of grain or some such into Italian but that would sort of lock down the use of the jar. This was the intention of the original jars as a measure to prevent residue of one drug mixed with another but not required for this project. I could have removed the text, but that would have done away with the key feature of the jar. Instead, I decided upon labeling the jug with her name, Montjoye, as she does with her alcohol bottles..

The next challenge was getting the characters in the text right. I downloaded image after image and copied all the writing forms as Master Piers taught me years ago. I wasn't able to amass an entire alphabet and there was a huge variation in character forms between the jugs I was able to find. So I could either use a mishmash alphabet which spanned about 100 years (badbad), pick one and try and fit the missing letters in, find an extant alphabet from the right time and use that, or come up with something else.
I decided to copy the text form that Montjoye uses on her bottles (and had on her website at the time). I was able to download a copy of a picture of one of her successful brews and figure out the lettering from the computer screen. I'm pretty happy with how the kerning turned out.

I also placed three trefoils on the jug, as they are a key feature of her device. I think the motif came out less crowded than the Italian-ware and strikes me as more of a spanish take on an Italian jug.

All in all, I'm happy with this project and I hope Montjoye gets much use out of it as a jug or a vase or whatever. The best thing about gifting ceramics is if the recipient doesn't like it, they can accidentally smash it and I'd be none the wiser. My general dislike of repetition means they're unlikely to get an exact replacement anyway and I'm always open to suggestions!

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