Faces on pots were all the rage in the medieval period and at Lakeside Arts in Nottingham they are celebrating their fascinating local collection of them
Depictions of men and women from throughout the medieval period are found on coins, manuscripts, paintings, sculpture and metalwork, and from the mid-12th century faces are also found on ceramics.
At the University of Nottingham Museum they are displaying different human images found on pottery during the medieval period and examining what these finds can tell us about the period and the people making and using the pots.
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During the 1150s and 1250s, Nottingham was one of the most important cities for the early Plantagenet kings (Henry II, Richard, John and Henry III). It was also a large and important centre of ceramic production and trade, and archaeological excavations in Nottingham have discovered many different styles of face pots.
“Images of people really help to bring the past alive and it is always interesting to see how people have wanted to portray themselves,” says Clare Pickersgill, Keeper of the University of Nottingham Museum. “These wonderful images, found on pottery, are not as stylised as on other objects such as coins and wall paintings and tapestries. They are less formal and more humorous.”
The faces range from morose to moon-like happiness and the exhibition brings together the most well-known and iconic examples from the collections of Nottingham City Museums and Galleries from everyday ware to the famous ‘Knights Jug’.
Found in fragments in 1995 in an undisturbed medieval midden, or rubbish pit, beneath Moot Hall on Friar Lane in Nottingham, the Knight’s Jug has been carefully reconstructed and is one of only a few examples known in Europe.
Experts believe the extraordinary jug, with its tubular spout in the shape of a bearded man and representations of horses and knights decorating the body, was made from green glazed earthenware in Scarborough.
It would have been used to serve drinks or as a means of carrying water for washing hands at ceremonial settings.
Medieval jugs often feature bearded men – although when the fashion for beards waned in the early medieval period – so did their depiction on examples of pottery of the period. And although many of the jugs with faces were intended for everyday use the more elaborate pieces like the wheel thrown earthenware Knight’s Jug were made by highly skilled potters.
But whatever the style or status of medieval anthropomorphic jug pottery – they were most often humorous with attractive green glazes and were popular right across Europe during the medieval period.
“The face pots are amongst the most iconic pieces we have from Medieval Nottingham, providing an interesting and, on occasions, comical window on the past,” adds Ann Inscker, Curator of Archaeology and Industry at Nottingham City Museums and Galleries. “It is wonderful to be able to share these remarkable pieces with visitors whilst the Castle is closed for redevelopment.”
The exhibition is part of Archaeology and Collections in the East Midlands, an exhibition programme that introduces and examines some of the incredible work currently being undertaken throughout the East Midlands by archaeologists, community groups and museums. It also introduces unseen regional collections not usually on display.
Faces from the Past: Images on Medieval Pottery is at The University of Nottingham Museum, Lakeside Arts until January 5 2020.
Nottingham Lakeside Arts
Nottingham Lakeside Arts is the University of Nottingham’s exciting public arts programme presenting exhibitions, music, drama and dance, special collections and archaeology, participatory and family events all year round.