Medieval Pottery

A medieval kitchen can't do without it…

Number one in the hitparade of medieval cooking utensils is pottery. Pottery comes in many shapes and sizes and was produced locally or imported from our neighbouring countries. The raw material for pottery is always clay. Pottery is mainly used for storing liquids and other ingredients, but also serves as cooking and serving utensils. Various pans and pots are designed to be placed in the hot ashes and can easily be used for cooking.

Grape in grey earthenware
A grape in grey earthenware.

Anyone into medieval living history can't do without a basic set of pottery. Here are our tips for selecting and using pottery:

  • Any object should be functional. A large jar with a tiny opening is rather difficult to use. Such a container should have a sufficiently large dawdler. Always check whether your object would be practical to use and whether your ancestor's would have considered using it.
  • Look at the shape of your container. not just once, but at least a dozen times. Verify if the shape would have fitted in the period you've selected and compare this against illustrations you'll find in books and archaeological reports. Do try and visit a museum that has contemporary pottery in its collection. Especially look at the underside of your containers. Most medieval jars and jugs do not have a smooth underside made on the turntable, in contrast to modern pottery.
  • Glazing was used sparingly and is mostly found on the inside only. Do avoid brightly and exotically glazes, modern decoration and glazing patterns.
  • Pottery was within reach of even the poor common households.
  • Avoid modern publicity prints, special foots and other signs of the 20th century

Grey and Red Earthenware

Grey and red pottery is made of the very same brown clay. The grey variant is obtained by baking it using a reducing process. This can be done by carefully sealing the oven and thus cutting off the oxygen supply. If oxygen is allowed into the oven, the clay oxidises and turns red. In both cases, the oven temperature is relatively low and does not exceed 1200 degrees Celsius. Grey earthenware can't be glazed. The red variant usually has a thin layer of lead glaze which gives the objects a deep red colour. It also seals the surface and helps to preserve the contents. In most cases only the inside of the container would be glazed. Glazing served a functional purpose and was a costly process since the earthware had to be baked a second time. Red and grey earthenware was used for almost all utensils: mugs, jars, sieves, pans, bowls, etc...

A few drinking vessels
Some drinking vessels in red earthenware.

Andenne earthenware

This type of earthenware is typical for the Low Countries, but was sold throughout all of Northern Europe. It is named after the town of Andenne which is situated on the banks of the river Meuse in the Southern half of modern Belgium. An important production centre of earthenware already existed in 1075 and the entire region produced the same high-quality earthenware. Andenne is made of a very fine white and produces white or pale yellow earthenware. Most Andenne has an overhanging top edge which is glazed on both sides of the container. The glazing is always transparent.

Popular Earthenware

Most towns and villages had a number of potters who produced cheap pottery using locally found clay. This type of pottery was bought by all social classes and was found in each and every medieval kitchen. Its colour is determined by the type of clay that is used. The Meuse valley yielded white and yellow earthenware, while most other regions of Brabant and Flanders had to do with the standard red and grey variants. If the pots are glazed, they usually have a white, yellow or green glazing.

A jar from Bruges
A decorated jar from Bruges.

Stoneware

Stoneware becomes popular in the 13th century and will occupy an important place in all households throughout the high Middle Ages. Stoneware still is made of clay but is baked at such a high temperature that the clay approaches its melting point and becomes extremely hard and completely waterproof. Stoneware produces high-quality objects and is mostly used for serving drinks and meals. Suitable clay is found in the Rhine valley and the Westerwald in Germany. During the second half of the 14th century potters started to glaze stoneware with a transparent coat of salt glaze. This glazing is rather uncommon during the 13th and early 14th centuries, but contemporary stoneware is sometimes found with a purple or brownish layer of glaze containing iron.

Stoneware is called after the town or region where it is produced. Langerwehe, Raeren en Sieburg are but a few examples. It is a luxury product that is mostly used for jugs, mugs and bowls. Stoneware is used on the table and is rarely found in the kitchen. It would be a shame indeed to use your best pottery for cooking purposes. Nah, you'd want to show it off to your guests!

Imported Earthenware

Lots of objects were imported from our neighbouring countries. These containers are usually of a very high quality and are considered to have been luxurious goods belonging to the better off. Elmpt and Brüggen in the Holy-Roman Empire are two important production regions and sold a typical blue-grey type of pottery throughout entire Europe.

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Copyright on text, images and photos by Joris de Sutter, unless noted otherwise.
This information is provided by De Liebaart and was last updated on May 3rd 2001.