Pottery Jar with Ankh Sign

Pottery Jar with Ankh Sign

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Egyptian Ankh

The ancient Egyptians used symbols to represent many words and ideas. Their writing, known as hieroglyphs, have a lot of symbols that represent their gods and their lives. One of the most cherished symbols of ancient Egypt is the “Ankh’. This is their symbol for the key of life.

Egyptologists still are not sure where the idea of the Ankh came from. There are some that think it is the combination of male and female. They believe that the symbol was first used as a kind of belt buckle for the goddess Isis.

The ankh is one of the favorite symbols and shows up in a lot of the ancient Egyptian art. It appears on the walls of burial tombs and is used in many paintings and sculptures. It is often at the very end of the fingers of a picture of a god or goddess and it’s believed that it represents the gods offering the gift of life. It is thought that the ankh was in burial tombs as a symbol of life after death.

The ankh was used as an amulet and was carried either by itself or combined with other hieroglyph symbols to mean health and strength. Many mirrors were discovered with metal that had been shaped into the form of the ankh. Some think that it was to give the person the ability to see into another world.

Archeologists have discovered pictures in ancient Egypt that show the gods pouring water on the pharaoh’s head as part of a cleansing or ritual for purification. The water is shown as chains of ankhs and is thought to represent dominion and power. The images confirm the connection and bond between the gods and the pharaoh.

Throughout ancient Egypt the ankh was shown as a staff or ‘djed’ column. The djed column represented strength and stability and was thought to be a symbol for Osiris. Osiris was the god of the underworld and brought fertility. The two symbols placed together were success, long life, longevity and strength.

Ankhs were made out of just about everything that the ancient Egyptians could craft. From metals such as bronze and gold to glazed ceramics, stone and wood. In many cases they would add inscriptions on them for amulets. The symbol was included as decoration for the furniture of the wealthy as well as the pharaoh. Since it meant the key of life, it was thought to bring good luck to the owner. Jewelry has been found that contain the image of the ankh.

The ankh was used in so many of the religious rituals and combined in so many ways that some archeologists believe it might have grown to be a kind of general symbol to add life and power to another symbol.

As trade and wars continued throughout the lands, the ankh began to appear on coins found in ancient Cypress. Later the ankh was used as a symbol of the planet Venus as well as the goddess Venus also known as Aphrodite. The islands that produced copper would use the copper to create ankhs.

The symbol of the ankh was rediscovered and its popularity as an amulet or talisman can be seen in a lot of the jewelry and art today. In the last number of years there has been an increased interest in ancient Egypt and their religions. It is believed that this started with the popularity of the world tour of the contents of King Tut’s tomb. Many people are buying and making items that have the ankh symbol on them.

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Nicholas Mosse


Welcome to the Nicholas Mosse Pottery website! And if you’re ever in Ireland, we’d love to see you and show you around our beautiful old mill. Our pottery is 44 years old now, but it sits on the shoulders of my family who have been millers here in Bennettsbridge since 1840.

The artisans who work at the pottery are all local and trained in-house to make, or ‘throw’, the pottery shapes and to decorate them. Many have been with us since the very beginning and now even some of their children work with us, so it’s a real family affair and a testament to the richness of rural life in Ireland.

- Nicholas Mosse


‘Hello’ if you’re a newbie and ‘Great to meet you again’ if you’re an oldie. I’m Susan Mosse who arrived from the USA in 1973 and loved Ireland so much I never left. I’ve been with the pottery even before I married Nick (he was testing me out) and now have loads of fun designing all the patterns on our pottery, as well as helping out with retail and even this website.

It’s been a great path to follow, working and watching our little business grow and grow. Our love of earlier Irish folk life-with pottery, furniture, textiles, has been a great inspiration through the years and is something we love to share with others. If you’re around, please stop by!

Pottery Jar with Ankh Sign - History

Tutankhamun’s mirror box

The Ankh is one of the most famous and widely used symbols of Ancient Egypt. It appeared in hieroglyphic text and iconography all over ancient Egypt. Yet, there is much debate over the origin of the symbol. Gardiner (who composed the standard sign list) suggested that it was a sandal strap. This part of the sandal was called ‘nkh but it is not clear whether this name was applied retrospectively because of the similarity in shape.

Ankh and Was (Life and Power)

Others have suggested that it was a totem representing male and female reproductive parts, a sun on the horizon with the path of the sun before it, and a ceremonial girdle. It may also have been associated with the “Sa” (the hieroglyphic symbol that represented magical protection) and has also been linked to the Tjet (also known as the “knot of Isis”) which has also been described as a ceremonial girdle.

Isis and Nepythys with the Ankh from the Papyrus of Ani

The symbol is also an Ancient Egyptian hieroglyph which represents the hieroglyph ´nh (ankh) meaning “life” or “breath of life”. The glyph appears in an incredible number of inscriptions and was often used as a decorative device. Many of the gods of Egypt are depicted bearing an Ankh to represent their vivacity and immortality. Occasionally, the god (or goddess) extends the Ankh to the Pharaoh, indicating both the gift of life and the purification of the subject.

Akhenaten and Nefertiti

During the Amarna period the sun disc, The Aten, was often depicted with small ankhs at the end of its rays which extended down to the royal family. The Ankh could also symbolise the purifying power of water. Various scenes in the temples of Upper Egypt depict the king flanked by two gods (one of whom is often Thoth) who pour a stream of little Ankhs over his head to cleanse him.

Ankh, Djed and Was Life, stability and power

The Ankh was also associated with life after death. The dead were sometimes referred to as “ankhu”, and sarcophagi were also known as “neb-ankh” (possessor of life). From the Middle Kingdom, the word ‘nkh (ankh) also meant “mirror” and many mirrors took the form of the hieroglyph. After the demise of the Egyptian polytheistic religion, the Christian Coptic church adopted the Ankh as a form of the cross, known as the Crux Ansata (“cross with handle”).

The Ankh was often linked with the Djed (representing stability) or the Was (representing strength) to form a powerful amulet thought to invoke the gods protection over the bearer.


In ancient Egyptian hieroglyphic writing, the ankh was a triliteral sign: one that represented a sequence of three consonant sounds. The ankh stood for the sequence Ꜥ-n-ḫ, where n is pronounced like the English letter n, is a voiced pharyngeal fricative, and is a voiceless or voiced velar fricative (sounds not found in English). [2] In the Egyptian language, these consonants were found in the verb meaning "live", the noun meaning "life", and words derived from them, such as sꜤnḫ, which means "cause to live" or "nourish". [1] The sign is known in English as the "ankh", based on the hypothetical pronunciation of the Egyptian word, or as the "key of life", based on its meaning. [3]

One of the common uses of the word Ꜥnḫ was to express a wish that a particular person live. For example, a phrase meaning something like "may you be healthy and alive" was used in polite contexts, similar to the English phrase "if you please", and the phrase Ꜥnḫ wḏꜣ snb, meaning "alive, sound, and healthy", was used as an honorific for the pharaoh when he was mentioned in writing. The Egyptian word for "oath" was also Ꜥnḫ, because oaths in ancient Egypt began with a form of the word "live". [4]

The same consonants were found in the word for "mirror" and the word for a floral bouquet, so the sign was also used in writing these words. [5] The three consonants also compose the word for a looped rope-like object found in illustrations on many coffins from the Middle Kingdom [3] (c. 2050–1650 BC). [6] The Egyptologists Battiscombe Gunn and Alan Gardiner, in the early 20th century, believed these objects to be sandal straps, given that they appear in pairs at the foot of the coffin and the accompanying texts say the objects are "on the ground under his feet". [3]

Early examples of the ankh sign date to the First Dynasty [8] (c. 30th to 29th century BC). [6] There is little agreement on what physical object the sign originally represented. [9]

Many scholars believe the sign is a knot formed of a flexible material such as cloth or reeds, [9] as early versions of the sign show the lower bar of the ankh as two separate lengths of flexible material that seem to correspond to the two ends of the knot. [5] These early versions bear a resemblance to the tyet symbol, a sign that represented the concept of "protection". For these reasons, the Egyptologists Heinrich Schäfer and Henry Fischer thought the two signs had a common origin, [10] and they regarded the ankh as a knot that was used as an amulet rather than for any practical purpose. [9] [11]

Hieroglyphic writing used pictorial signs to represent sounds, so that, for example, the hieroglyph for a house could represent the sounds p-r, which were found in the Egyptian word for "house". This practice, known as the rebus principle, allowed the Egyptians to write the words for things that could not be pictured, such as abstract concepts. [12] Gardiner believed the ankh originated in this way. He pointed out that the sandal-strap illustrations on Middle Kingdom coffins resemble the hieroglyph, and he argued that the sign originally represented knots like these and came to be used in writing all other words that contained the consonants Ꜥ-n-ḫ. [3] Gardiner's list of hieroglyphic signs labels the ankh as S34, placing it within the category for items of clothing and just after S33, the hieroglyph for a sandal. [13] Gardiner's hypothesis is still current James P. Allen, in an introductory book on the Egyptian language published in 2014, assumes that the sign originally meant "sandal strap" and uses it as an example of the rebus principle in hieroglyphic writing. [1]

Various authors have argued that the sign originally represented something other than a knot. Some have suggested that it had a sexual meaning. [14] For instance, Thomas Inman, an amateur mythologist in the nineteenth century, thought the sign represented the male and female reproductive organs, joined into a single sign. [15] Victor Loret, a nineteenth-century Egyptologist, argued that "mirror" was the sign's original meaning. A problem with this argument, which Loret acknowledged, is that deities are frequently shown holding the ankh by its loop, and their hands pass through it where the solid reflecting surface of an ankh-shaped mirror would be. Andrew Gordon, an Egyptologist, and Calvin Schwabe, a veterinarian, argue that the origin of the ankh is related to two other signs of uncertain origin that often appear alongside it: the was-sceptre, representing "power" or "dominion", and the djed pillar, representing "stability". According to this hypothesis, the form of each sign is drawn from a part of the anatomy of a bull, like some other hieroglyphic signs that are known to be based on body parts of animals. In Egyptian belief semen was connected with life and, to some extent, with "power" or "dominion", and some texts indicate the Egyptians believed semen originated in the bones. Therefore, Gordon and Schwabe suggest the signs are based on parts of the bull's anatomy through which semen was thought to pass: the ankh is a thoracic vertebra, the djed is the sacrum and lumbar vertebrae, and the was is the dried penis of the bull. [16]

In Egyptian belief, life was a force that circulated throughout the world. Individual living things, including humans, were manifestations of this force and fundamentally tied to it. [17] Life came into existence at the creation of the world, and cyclical events like the rising and setting of the sun were thought of as reenactments of the original events of creation that maintained and renewed life in the cosmos. Sustaining life was thus the central function of the deities who governed these natural cycles. Therefore, the ankh was frequently depicted being held in gods' hands, representing their life-giving power. The Egyptians also believed that when they died, their individual lives could be renewed in the same manner as life in general. For this reason, the gods were often depicted in tombs giving ankh signs to humans, usually the pharaoh. [18] As the sign represented the power to bestow life, humans other than the pharaoh were rarely shown receiving or holding the ankh before the end of the Middle Kingdom, although this convention weakened thereafter. The pharaoh to some extent represented Egypt as a whole, so by giving the sign to him, the gods granted life to the entire nation. [19]

By extension of the concept of "life", the ankh could signify air or water. In artwork, gods hold the ankh up to the nose of the king: offering him the breath of life. Hand fans were another symbol of air in Egyptian iconography, and the human servants who normally carried fans behind the king were sometimes replaced in artwork by personified ankh signs with arms. In scenes of ritual purification, in which water was poured over the king or a deceased commoner, the zigzag lines that normally represented water could be replaced by chains of ankh signs. [20]

The ankh may have been used decoratively more than any other hieroglyphic sign. Mirrors, mirror cases, and floral bouquets were made in its shape, given that the sign was used in writing the name of each of these objects. Some other objects, such as libation vessels and sistra, were also shaped like the sign. The sign appeared very commonly in the decoration of architectural forms such as the walls and shrines within temples. [5] In contexts such as these, the sign often appeared together with the was and djed signs, which together signified "life, dominion, and stability". In some decorative friezes in temples, all three signs, or the ankh and was alone, were positioned above the hieroglyph for a basket that represented the word "all": "all life and power" or "all life, power, and stability". Some deities, such as Ptah and Osiris, could be depicted holding a was scepter that incorporated elements of the ankh and djed. [21]

Amulets made in the shape of hieroglyphic signs were meant to impart to the wearer the qualities represented by the sign. The Egyptians wore amulets in daily life as well as placing them in tombs to ensure the well-being of the deceased in the afterlife. Ankh-shaped amulets first appeared late in the Old Kingdom (c. 2700 to 2200 BC) and continued to be used into the late first millennium BC, yet they were rare, despite the importance of the symbol. Amulets shaped like a composite sign that incorporated the ankh, was, and djed were more widespread. [22]

Ankh signs in two-dimensional art were typically painted blue or black. [23] The earliest ankh amulets were often made of gold or electrum, a gold and silver alloy. Egyptian faience, a ceramic that was usually blue or green, was the most common material for ankh amulets in later times, perhaps because its color represented life and regeneration. [24]


The precise origins and early innovations of Satsuma ware are somewhat obscure [1] however most scholars date its appearance to the late sixteenth [2] or early seventeenth century. [3] The Satsuma region was ripe for the development of kilns due to its access to local clay and proximity to the Korean peninsula. [4] In 1597–1598, at the conclusion of Toyotomi Hideyoshi's incursions into Korea, Korean potters were forcefully brought to Japan to kick-start Kyūshū's non-existent ceramic industry. [5] These potters eventually mainly settled in Naeshirogawa and Tateno, which were to become the hub of the local pottery industry. [6]

Satsuma ware dating up to the first years of the Genroku era (1688–1704) is often referred to as Early Satsuma or ko-satsuma. [7] The oldest remaining examples of Satsuma are stoneware made from iron-rich dark clay covered in dark glaze. [8] Prior to 1790, pieces were not ornately decorated, but rather humble articles of folk-ware intended for practical everyday use in largely rustic environments or the tea ceremony. Given that they were "largely destined for use in gloomy farmhouse kitchens", potters often relied on tactile techniques such as raised relief, stamp impressions and clay carving to give pieces interest. [9]

The intense popularity of Satsuma ware outside Japan in the late nineteenth century resulted in an increase in production coupled with a decrease in quality. Collectors sought older, more refined pieces of what they erroneously referred to as early Satsuma. These were in fact simply better-quality pre-Meiji nineteenth-century pieces, works from other potteries such as Kyoto's Awata ware ( 粟田焼 , Awata-yaki ) , [10] or counterfeits. [11]

From around 1800, brocade ( 錦手 , nishikide) painted decoration began to flourish, including a palette of "delicate iron-red, a glossy blue, a bluish green, a soft purple black, and a yellow very sparingly used". [12] A slightly later innovation added painted gilding to the brocade ( 金錦手 , kin nishikide) . [13] The multi-coloured enamel overglaze and gold were painted on delicate, ivory-bodied pieces with a finely crackled transparent glaze. [14] The designs—often light, simple floral patterns—were highly influenced by both Kyoto pottery and the Kanō school of painting, resulting in an emphasis on negative space. [15] Many believe this came from Satsuma potters visiting Kyoto in the late seventeenth century to learn overglaze painting techniques. [16]

The first major presentation of Japanese arts and culture to the West was at Paris' Exposition Universelle in 1867, and Satsuma ware figured prominently among the items displayed. [17] The region's governor, the daimyō, understood early the economic, prestige and political advantages of a trade relationship with the West. [18] In order to maintain its connection with Satsuma, for example, Britain offered support to the Daimyō in the 1868 rebellion against the shogunate. [19] The Paris Exposition showcased Satsuma's ceramics, lacquerware, wood, tea ceremony implements, bamboo wicker and textiles under Satsuma's regional banner—rather than Japan's—as a sign of the Daimyō's antipathy to the national shogunate. [20]

Following the popularity of Satsuma ware at the 1867 exhibition [21] and its mention in Audsley and Bowes' Keramic Art of Japan in 1875, the two major workshops producing these pieces, those headed by Boku Seikan and Chin Jukan, were joined by a number of others across Japan. [22] "Satsuma" ceased to be a geographical marker and began to convey an aesthetic. [23] By 1873, etsuke ( 絵付け ) workshops specializing in painting blank-glazed stoneware items from Satsuma had sprung up in Kobe and Yokohama. [24] In places such as Kutani, Kyoto and Tokyo, workshops made their own blanks, eliminating any actual connection with Satsuma. [25] From the early 1890s through the early 1920s there were more than twenty etsuke factories producing Satsuma ware, as well as a number of small, independent studios producing high-quality pieces. [26]

Eager to tap into the burgeoning foreign market, producers adapted the nishikide Satsuma model. The resulting export style demonstrated an aesthetic thought to reflect foreign tastes. Items were covered with the millefleur-like 'flower-packed' ( 花詰 , hanazume) pattern or 'filled-in painting' ( 塗りつぶし , nuritsubushi ) [27] to the point of horror vacui. They were typically decorated with "'quaint' . symbols such as pagodas, folding fans, or kimono-clad [females]". [28] Pieces continued to feature floral and bird designs, but religious, mythological, landscape and genre scenes also increased. There was new interest in producing decorative pieces (okimono), such as figurines of beautiful women (bijin), animals, children and religious subjects. [29] The palette darkened, and there was generous application of moriage ( 盛り上げ ) raised gold. [30]

The mid-1880s saw the beginning of an export slump for many Japanese goods, including Satsuma ware, linked in part to a depreciation of quality and novelty through mass production. By the 1890s, contemporary Satsuma ware had become generally denigrated by critics and collectors. It was negatively received at Chicago's Columbian Exposition of 1893, but remained a popular export commodity into the twentieth century, becoming "virtually synonymous with Japanese ceramics" throughout the Meiji period. [31] Satsuma ware continued to be mass-produced through the modern period, though quality declined to the point where it eventually lost interest for consumers.

The response of critics and collectors to mass-produced Satsuma ware was and is overwhelmingly negative. According to art historian Gisela Jahn, "in no other style of ceramics did the Japanese go to such extremes in attempting to appeal to Western tastes, and nowhere else were the detrimental effects of mass production more clearly evident". [32] In an effort to produce inexpensive, popular items, Satsuma ware designs became "over-crowded", "garish", and "glitzy". [33] There was never a domestic demand for these pieces, which were generally viewed as the "betrayal of Japanese tradition". [34] Serious foreign collectors also turned their backs on export works as "crude, chalky pâte, covered with coarsely fissured glaze, in which more often than otherwise an excess of feldspar has produced discoloured deposits that suggest the reverse of technical skill." [35]

In addition to the nishikide and export ware types, there are various categories of Satsuma ware, each with their own distinct aesthetic.

  • Shiro Satsuma: white-glazed originally only for use within daimyō's household [36]
  • Kuro Satsuma: black-bodied with dark overglaze
  • Jakatsu: blue, yellow and black glazes run together with white overglaze [37]
  • Sunkoroku Satsuma: older pieces modeled on the Sawankhalok ceramics of thirteenth-century Thailand, decorated with brown geometrical designs [38]
  • Mishima Satsuma: clay with light bluish-grey glaze, with inlaid or impressed geometric patterning filled with white slip overglaze [39] Satsuma: produced in the first decade of the nineteenth century large pieces with Chinese-inspired designs, often landscapes [40]
  • Gosu blue Satsuma: produced in limited quantity in Kyoto in the mid-nineteenth century pieces with over- or under-glaze containing minerals such as cobalt or asbolite, which gives a bluish hue and a more vivid quality to painted images [41]

Not all producers of late nineteenth and early twentieth century Satsuma ware sacrificed quality to pander to the export boom. Some prominent artists of the Meiji and Taishō periods include:

  • Taizan Yohei IX [帯山与兵衛 (9代)] (1856–1922)
  • Itō Tōzan [伊東陶山] (1846–1920)
  • Kinkōzan Sōbei VI [錦光山宗兵衛 (6代)] (1824–1884), Kinkōzan Sōbei VII [錦光山宗兵衛 (7代)] (1867–1927) [藪明山] (1853–1934)
  • Chin Jukan XII [沈寿官] (1835–1906) (Makuzu) [宮川香山] (1842–1916)
  • Seikozan [精巧山]
  • Ryozan [亮山]

Most of these artists set up etsuke workshops around 1880, coinciding with the export slump. Although they did export, stylistically their pieces demonstrated a wish to return to tradition. Their works are recognized for a "restrained style" and "sparing distribution of motifs." [42] Painted themes were often taken from literary classics, heroic legends, or represented nostalgic renderings of life in pre-Meiji Kyoto. Early in the twentieth century these artists also began to incorporate western techniques and styles, including perspective and muted colours, [43] as well as the use of liquid gold ( 水金 , suikin) , which was originally developed by Germany's Meissen. [44]

While older Japanese ceramics often do not feature any stamps or signatures, items made after 1870 in particular, can bear a variety of marks in addition to that of the artist. [45]

Shimazu crest Edit

Many pieces of Satsuma ware—regardless of age or authenticity—feature the kamon (family crest) of Satsuma's ruling Shimazu clan: a red cross within a red circle. [46] It is placed above any signatures or stamps. While it was originally an indication of a link to the Satsuma domain and the Shimazu clan's direct involvement in the items' production, in the age of mass production and export, the crest simply became a marketing convention. All genuine examples are hand-painted rather than stamped or machine-printed, though hand-painting is not a guarantee of legitimacy. [47]

Satsuma Edit

"Satsuma" or "satsuma yaki" is sometimes painted or stamped on pieces below the Shimazu crest. It can be written in kanji characters, hiragana, or with the Latin alphabet. [48]

Dai Nippon Edit

The "Dai Nippon" (大日本 'Great Japan') mark was applied to items during the Meiji period (1868–1912) as an indication of their place of origin during a period of fomenting nationalism. These characters often appear immediately to the right of the maker's mark. [49]

Workshops/studios Edit

  • Chōshūzan: Kyoto workshop active in late Meiji period specializing in dragon ware
  • Fuzan: workshop active in Meiji period
  • Gyozan: Kyoto studio active in Meiji period
  • Kinkōzan: pottery active 1645–1927, headed by Kinkōzan Sōbei exported heavily from 1875, especially to America largest overall producer of Satsuma export ware
  • Koshida: factory active c. 1880–1927 resumed production after 1945
  • Maruni: Kobe manufacturer active until 1938
  • Taizan/Obi-ya: family-run Kyoto kiln active c. 1673–1922 began exporting in 1872, especially to America
  • Yasuda: Kyoto-based company formally known as Yasuda Kyoto Tokiji Goshigaisha, active in Meiji period [50]

Plate, Chōshūzan workshop, earthenware with overglaze, gold, and white enamel, decorated by Jissei after a design by Yoshisada, undated

Octagonal covered jar, Hotoda workshop, undated

Ribbed lidded incense jar, earthenware with overglaze and gold, Seikozan workshop, undated

Teapot, earthenware with overglaze and gold, Shutsuzan workshop, undated

Bowl with monkeys, Shinozuka Kozan, Meiji era

Modern Satsuma ware pictorial button

The incredible popularity of Satsuma ware and the eagerness of collectors to find pre-Meiji pieces led some manufacturers and dealers to deliberately misrepresent items' age and origins. Some sold other types of ceramics such as Awata or Seto ware as Satsuma. [51] Some falsely used the names of famous artists or studios to mark pieces. [52] Early Japanese ceramics rarely had stamps or signatures, which can make dating some Satsuma ware difficult. [53] One characteristic of earlier pieces, however, is a high-quality glaze and finish, as later mass production led to dramatically inferior works. [54] Another telling feature of genuine pieces is that their bodies do not ring when tapped, since they are made from stoneware clay and not porcelain. [55]


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Albarello, pottery jar for apothecaries’ ointments and dry drugs made in the Near East and in Spain and produced in Italy from the 15th through the 18th century in the form known as majolica (q.v.), or tin-glazed earthenware. Since the jar had to be easy to hold, use, and shelve, its basic form was cylindrical but incurved for grasping and wide-mouthed for access. All albarellos are about 7 inches (18 centimetres) high. A few have close-set handles, but, because they were not designed to hold liquids, they are generally free of spouts, lips, handles, and outcurved forms. A piece of paper or parchment tied around the rim served as a cover for the jar.

Drug jars from Persia, Syria, and Egypt were introduced into Italy sometime before the 15th century, and lustre-decorated pots of Hispano-Moresque origin (influenced by the Moors in Spain) entered the country by way of Sicily. Spanish and Islāmic influence is apparent in the colours used in the decoration of early 15th-century Italian albarellos, which are often blue on white. A conventional oakleaf and floral design frequently occurs, combining handsomely with heraldic shields or with scrollwork and an inscribed label, usually an abbreviation of the name of the jar’s contents. Geometric patterns are also common. Renaissance craftsmen showed their ingenuity in the sophisticated polychrome albarellos of the 16th century, in which the early decorative motifs gave way to figurative elements: classical grotesques, portraits, historical scenes, allegories, animals, and other themes. By the end of the 18th century, albarellos had yielded to other containers.

This article was most recently revised and updated by Amy Tikkanen, Corrections Manager.

Shawnee's Corn Lines

Shawnee Pottery designed and marketed many useful dinnerware items whimsically shaped like corn. These popular lines known as Corn King and Corn Queen were originally Proctor & Gamble premium giveaways, according to pottery collector Evelyn McHugh. The first Shawnee corn line was known as White Corn. Although there are some collectors seeking only sets of White Corn, the line's yellow successors seem to be a bit more popular and easy to locate.

The company changed the line from white to yellow in 1946, as noted in Schroeder's Antiques Price Guide (now out of print). The pieces received coloration more akin to the natural plant, and the name was changed to Corn King. The company continued producing Corn King until 1954 when the colors changed again. With lighter yellow kernels and darker green shucks, Corn Queen was born.

According to Schroeder's, Corn Queen items are slightly less valuable, but it's wise to consult a reference guide on the topic or more knowledgeable collectors to make sure you're getting real Shawnee Pottery when you first start out buying or trying to identify pieces you own. The lookalikes remain attractive and can certainly be considered collectible in their own right, but it is better to know what you think is Shawnee is actually the genuine article.

Knowing the difference in colors helps collectors date their pieces to the appropriate decade and line, but there can still be some confusion in identifying genuine Shawnee pieces.

A Glirarium?

As for the function of the jar, the best guess at the moment is that it was a glirarium, a special vessel used for storing edible dormice which were considered to be a delicacy by the Romans. The specific features of a glirarium are provided by the Roman writer Varro in his Res Rusticae . In Book III of his work, Varro states that “The potters make these jars in different shapes but with paths for the dormice to use contrived on the sides and a hollow to hold their food, which consists of mast, walnuts, and chestnuts. Covers are placed on the jars and there in the dark the dormice are fattened”. Additionally, the wall of the vessel “must be coated on the inside with smooth stone or stucco to prevent their escape”. An example of a glirarium can be seen at the National Archaeological Museum in Chiusi, Italy.

A glirarium exhibited at the National Archaeological Museum in Chiusi. ( Marco Daniele / CC BY-SA 3.0 )

The problem with this interpretation, however, is that the museum’s jar has neither the paths nor the food holders within it as described by Varro. It may be possible, though, that these features were made not with clay but with material that has since disintegrated. Incidentally, it is unclear if such paths were found within the glirarium displayed by the museum in Chiusi, as the interior of the jar is not visible in images of the artifact. Alternatively, it has been suggested that the jar was used to hold snakes, as these creatures were a popular religious symbol in the ancient world. In any case the exact function of this jar remains a mystery till this day.

Top image: The Holey Jar restored. Source: Katie Urban / Museum of Ontario Archaeology

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