Fidelity, Meekness, Humility... Animal Symbolism on Ceramic Ware

Ceramics are a significant and often the most numerous group of small finds recovered in the course of archaeological excavation. The rich and diverse repertoire of decorative motifs on post-medieval ware often points to the current fashion, way of life, systems of belief and the culture of this period. The paintings, illuminated manuscripts, woodcuts and copper engravings of the time largely influenced the selection of themes and motifs used in the decoration. The human fascination with faunal motifs is evident throughout the whole of the history of the visual arts, and appears in all its forms of expression – from painting, frescoes and printmaking to sculpture – and likewise appears in the work of artisans, including the decoration of ceramic ware. The earliest appearance is in Palaeolithic parietal art in the caves of Altamira and Lascaux. Animals have always been used by humans as a source of nourishment, for the fabrication of clothing and in labour and, as such, assumed an important role in mythologies and religions. Spiritual significance was attributed to them and was the source of their symbolism. The material presented here is a group of glazed ceramic ware with faunal motifs dated to the period from the late 14th to 18th century. The group is comprised of tableware with transparent or opaque glaze and decoration executed as engraving and/or painting. On some specimens we see the residual imprint of the three-pronged pad used during firing. 

Vincent of Kastav, a detail of the fresco of the Adoration of the Magi, 1474, St Mary at Škrilinah, Beram

AMATORIA CERAMICS

The repertoire of motifs on ceramic ware was expanded from the second half of the 15th century on. A novelty in this period are amatoria vessels featuring themes of love that were given as a gift at a betrothal or wedding and exchanged by lovers as a symbol of affection. The name comes from the Latin ămātōrĭus, meaning amatory or in love. Much of the ware exhibited here is of this type.

The motifs featured on amatoria ceramics are symbolic and allude to love and the virtues. There are frequent figural scenes – human and animal, images of angels and of the heart motif as a common allusion to love. Female and male busts, without individual attributes, are at times accompanied by a flying band with a name, an amorous inscription or the word "amore". The most frequent, however, are images of persons or animals in an enclosed garden (hortus conclusus) that represents a place of love and pleasure.

The animals on these vessels symbolise human virtues and the most often depicted are the deer or roe (noble birth, prudence), the fawn (meekness, docility), the hare or rabbit (fertility), the dog (fidelity, benevolence), the snail (fertility, patience), the ram (fertility), the horse (fertility, youth, passion) and fantastic animals like the unicorn (purity, virginity).

Raphael, Woman with Unicorn, 1505-1507, Galleria Borghese, Rome Source: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/ Category:Dama_con_Liocorno?uselang=it#/media/ File:Lady_with_unicorn_by_Rafael_Santi.jpg (8.11.2017.)

ANIMAL SYMBOLISM

THE BIRD is the link between heaven and earth on account of its ability to fly. It represents the celestial/spiritual world. It was considered to be a symbol of the spirit in Egypt and among the religions of the ancient Middle East and was an intermediary between heaven and earth, a symbolism adopted in Christian art. Among the Celts the bird is the herald or assistant of the gods, while African art often has it appearing as a symbol of fertility.

THE DEER / ROE symbolises meekness and docility. It is likened to the Tree of Life on account of the branching horns and their intermittent regeneration, and as a symbol of fertility and renewal. In Christianity they represent eternal salvation and are associated with worshippers faithful to the Christ. The attributes are loyalty, forgivingness, purity and piety. The roe is associated with speed, and in Christian tradition its piercing glance represents acuity.

THE HARE and RABBIT are lunar animals. In mythology, religion and folk tradition they are the faithful companions of the goddess of love and are most often associated with concupiscence and fertility. In the Christian tradition they also symbolise rebirth, associating the hare with spring and Easter.

THE DOG as man’s best friend symbolises fidelity, loyalty, sacrifice and nobility. The dog’s initial mythical function was to serve as the psychopompos, i.e. a guide of souls in life after death. Antiquity tradition associates the dog with fidelity, wisdom and vigilance, while in the medieval period dogs are associated with negative moral attributes such as avarice, anger, gluttony and parsimony.

THE SNAIL is a lunar symbol. The revealing and concealment of its tentacles (“horns”) is associated with the appearance and disappearance of the moon, in turn associated with death and rebirth. The spiral, as the sign of the snail, is associated with the phases of the moon, and thereby with the symbolism of perpetual movement. In the Christian tradition the snail is associated with indolence and a sinful nature. Universal symbolism associates snails with fertility, patience, steadfastness, caution and tenacity.

THE FISH symbolises water, life and fertility associated with birth and cyclical renewal. In the Christian tradition it represents the Christ, with the five letters of the Greek word for fish, ikhthýs, forming an acronym of the first letters of the Greek phrase Iēsoûs Khristós Theoû Hyiòs Sōtḗr (Jesus Christ, Son of God, Saviour). It represents the Eucharist and is often depicted with bread. It is an early symbol of baptism.

THE LION symbolises strength, pride and courage and represents power and authority, justice and immortality. The superstitious medieval belief that the lion slept with its eyes open associated it with vigilance. In the Christian tradition the lion is associated with resurrection and with the Christ as the lord of life.

The winged lion represents St Mark the Evangelist, the patron saint of Venice and a symbol of the Venetian Republic. It is most often depicted in profile, with a book bearing the legend Pax tibi Marce, evangelista meus (Peace be unto you, Mark my evangelist). 

The Lion of St Mark, unknown site, late 15th century, Archaeological Museum of Istria, Pula

CATALOGUE

 

1. Several fragments of a plate with an annular leg. Orange pottery; engobe (layer of white clay) and transparent glaze on both surfaces. Engraved and painted decoration. Image of a bird on a branch and a stylised vegetal motif encircling. Colours: buff, green, blue. Reconstructed. Inv. no: AMI-S-10584 Site: Pula, Uspon sv. Franje Dimensions: height: 5.4 cm, rim diameter: 21.6 cm, leg diameter: 8 cm Date: last quarter of the 16th, early 17th century

2. Several fragments of a jug. Ochre pottery; white opaque glaze on both surfaces. Painted decoration with image of a bird and vegetal motif encircling. Colours: blue, yellow, orange, brown, green. Reconstructed. Inv. no: AMI-S-10515 Site: Pula, Uspon sv. Franje Dimensions: height: 21.2 cm, base diameter: 8.6 cm, handle width: 3 cm Date: 17th to 18th century

3. Fragment of a large plate with an annular leg. Orange pottery; engobe and transparent glaze on interior surface. Engraved and painted decoration. A recumbent roe in an enclosed garden with tree, crown in bloom, in the central medallion. Dotted background, with two flowers. Colours: buff, green, blue, purple. Inv. no: AMI-S-11585 Site: Pula, Uspon sv. Franje Dimensions: height: 4.2 cm, leg diameter: 9.8 cm Date: first half of the 16th century 

4. Fragments of a small bowl with an annular leg. Orange pottery; engobe and transparent glaze on both surfaces. Engraved and painted decoration. Image of a fawn or hare on a dotted background. Colours: buff, green. Inv. no: AMI-S-11245 Site: Pula, Uspon sv. Franje Dimensions: height: 3.5 cm, leg diameter: 5.5 cm Date: early 16th century

5. Fragment of a small bowl with an annular leg. Orange pottery; engobe and transparent glaze on both surfaces. Engraved and painted decoration. Image of a hare in the central medallion, a flower motif can be discerned in the background. Traces of decoration on the exterior surface. Colours: buff, green. Inv. no: AMI-S-11187 Site: Pula, Uspon sv. Franje Dimensions: height: 2.9 cm, leg diameter: 4.7 cm Date: first half of the 16th century

 

6. Several fragments of a plate with an annular leg. Ochre pottery; blue opaque glaze on both surfaces. Painted decoration. Image of an animal with collar with body contours indicating a dog, the rest of the surface filled with a vegetal decoration. A series of tapered interwoven arches on the exterior surface. Colours: brown, green, yellow, blue. Reconstructed. Inv. no: AMI-S-4947 Site: Dvigrad near Kanfanar Dimensions: height: 4.9 cm, rim diameter: 28.6 cm, leg diameter: 11 cm Date: late 16th century

7. Fragment of a small bowl with an annular leg. Ochre pottery; engobe and transparent glaze on both surfaces. Engraved and painted decoration. Image of a snail in a stylised landscape. Colours: green, buff. Inv. no: AMI-S-11031 Site: Valbandon Dimensions: height: 2.1 cm, leg diameter: 5.1 cm Date: last quarter of the 16th, early 17th century

 

8. Several fragments of a bowl with an annular leg. Orange pottery; engobe on interior surface and transparent glaze on both surfaces. Engraved and painted decoration. Stylised image of a fish in the centre. Wavy line motif along the rim. Colours: buff, green. Reconstructed. Inv. no: AMI-S-10587 Site: Pula, Uspon sv. Franje Dimensions: height: 8 cm, rim diameter: 24 cm, leg diameter: 7 cm Date: late 14th, 15th century 

 

9. Fragment of the body of a jug. Ochre pottery; white opaque glaze on both surfaces. Painted decoration. Image of the Lion of St Mark with preserved head with aureole, right wing and part of the body with tail. Colours: orange, yellow, blue, green. Inv. no: AMI-S-13849 Site: Pula, Uspon sv. Franje Dimensions: height: 6.5 cm, width: 8.2 cm Date: second half of the 16th century

10. Fragments of the body of a jug. Ochre pottery; white opaque glaze on both surfaces. Painted decoration. Image of the Lion of St Mark with aureole around the head and partly preserved right wing in a medallion encircled by a ladder motif. Colours: blue, green. Inv. no: AMI-S-12582 Site: Pula, Uspon sv. Franje Dimensions: height: 5.5 cm, width: 6.9 cm Date: late 15th, early 16th century

 BIBLIOGRAPHY

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BRADARA, T. 2016. Blagovanje / A tavola e in cucina / Dining, U: Temporis Signa. Arheološka svjedočanstva istarskog novovjekovlja / Testimonianze archeologiche dell’età moderna in Istria / Archaeological evidence of the Istrian modern era. Monografije i katalozi 26, Pula. 103-188.

CHEVALIER, J., GHEERBRANT, A. 1983. Rječnik simbola. Mitovi, sni, običaji, geste, oblici, likovi, boje, brojevi. Nakladni zavod MH, Zagreb.

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RAVANELLI GUIDOTTI, C. 2000. Delle gentili donne di Faenza. Studio del „ritratto“ sulla ceramica faentina del Rinascimento. Casa Editrice Belriguardo, Ferrara.

SACCARDO, F. 2002. Il pavimento della cappella Lando Storia, attribuzione, iconografia, U: Maiolica a Venezia. Un pavimento rinascimentale nella chiesa di San Sebastiano. Marsilio Editori, Venezia. 17-36.

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Fidelity, Meekness, Humility... Animal Symbolism on Ceramic Ware

 Exhibition Carrarina 4, Pula

 Window to the Past   26.1. -  26.3.2018.

 Exhibition and text author by : Aleksandra Mahić

Organizer and publisher: Arheološki muzej Istre 

For the organizer and publisher: Darko Komšo

 Editorial Board: Darko Komšo, Adriana Gri Štorga, Katarina Zenzerović

 Set up & graphic design: Vjeran Juhas

 Photographers: Aleksandra Mahić, Alfio Klarić

 Drawings: Ivo Juričić

 Technical set up of the exhibition: Monika Petrović

 Translation in Italian: Elis Barbalich-Geromella

 English translation: Neven Ferenčić

 Proofs: Adriana Gri Štorga, Milena Špigić, Katarina Zenzerović, Irena Buršić

 Print: MPS Pula

 No. of copies: 700

Pula, 2018.

© Arheološki muzej Istre 2010. Proizvodnja Ulisys d.o.o. Bazirano na Typo3 CMS sustavu.