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Rare pots and tiles of the middle ages on show in London

— April 2014

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Tiles from St Ethedreda's church

Thursday 3 April to Friday 16 May 2014.

Dealer in mediaeval art, Sam Fogg, is holding the first exhibition of the ceramics of the middle ages held anywhere for more than 50 years. It is made up of a private collection assembled over 20years, comprising 25 vessels and more than 100 tiles from all over northern Europe, dating from the early 13th to the early 16th century. Prices of items in this neglected area will start at £200.

Among the highlights are three magnificent English jugs. The great historian of ceramics W.B. Honey wrote in 1948 that these wares were ‘quite simply the most beautiful pottery ever made in England. Formerly despised for their roughness and lack of superficial refinement, they are now recognised for their nobility of form, worthy of comparison to early Chinese wares, the finest of all pottery’. Mediaeval jugs of this size remain intact in very small numbers – not deliberately buried and rarely valued; they survive only when retrieved as wasters from the excavated ruins of kilns or if they fell down wells onto water.

The Dartford Knight Jug is one of a small group of ewers known for their elaborate decoration of knights in horseback in very high relief. They are the most celebrated examples of all mediaeval English pottery, dating to the late 13th century and made in Scarborough in Yorkshire. Scarborough was an important centre of pottery production in the middle ages, creating wares of exceptional quality that were widely exported throughout England and Europe. This Knight Jug was discovered in Dartford in Kent in 1959. Found in a fragmentary state, it has been skilfully restored and is over 40 cm high. It is second only in preservation, quality and complexity of decoration to the Nottingham Knight Jug, now in Nottingham Castle Museum.

The Rye ‘Royal Presentation’ Jug was excavated from a kiln site in Rye in the 1930s, having laid there since its creation in the 14th century after being discarded owing to a split in its body. It is a remarkable survival decorated in a curious scene of finely scratched sgraffito figures, depicting an enthroned figure being presented an object by another standing figure. This jug has been in the possession of the family of the archaeologist who discovered it, Leopold A. Vidler, until this exhibition. Of all the pottery he unearthed at Rye, he considered the fragments decorated in sgrafitto such as this one most interesting, and seemingly the work of one hand. To this day, we know of no other mediaeval pottery workshop that has adopted this style of illustration. This jug is thus one of the few surviving examples of mediaeval pottery to so emphatically evoke the idiosyncratic temperament and creativity of an individual mediaeval craftsman.

Also uncovered from the waste of a potter’s kiln is amassive shouldered jug from Kedleston Hall.Itwas discovered in January 1862 by workers excavating on the Kedleston Estate in Derbyshire and was described at the time as ‘probably the most important and interesting early mediaeval relic of Norman pottery which has ever been exhumed’. At 40 cm high and nearly 30 cm diameter, this is one of the largest vessels of mediaeval pottery to survive the centuries, and is completely unrestored and intact save for a crack that occurred when it was fired in the kiln. Decorated with horseshoes, which have been interpreted as the arms of the de Ferrers family, Earls of Derby until 1278, this jug can be dated to the 13th century. Though never actually in use, it would have been difficult to transport any distance once full of liquid and was intended for a specific function, perhaps for the making and storing of ale for the de Ferrers family.

Medieval tiles have survived in much greater numbers and were a vehicle for brilliant graphic designs that convey the spirit of the middle ages. Included in the exhibition are knights, huntsmen, horses and dogs, lions and birds. One of the most impressive depicts a galloping knight in full armour.

A group of 25 tiles from the Church of St Etheldreda in West Quantoxhead in Somerset displays six different designs of heraldic birds and beasts (see image above). Displayed as a panel, they give an idea of the splendour of mediaeval tiled pavements.

An authoritative catalogue written by the specialist scholar Maureen Mellor FSA will accompany the exhibition.

Sam Fogg
15D Clifford Street

Monday to Friday, 9.30a.m. to 5.30p.m.

The accompanying catalogue, Pots and Tiles of the Middle Ages is published by Paul Holberton Publishing, pages; 245 x 315 mm; £20 + p&p ISBN 978-0-9553393-7-0104

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