Bartmann jugs are named that because of the bearded face on the neck. The first Bartmänner were produced around 1550, and pieces of them appear in many contexts across James Fort. Besides its bearded mask with a curved ladder mouth, a Bartmann jug also can sport ovoid-medallions applied to its belly. Medallions on Bartmänner are often armorial, reflecting the coats-of-arms of affluent patrons, European cities and royal houses, ecclesiastical offices, or even the potter’s own Hausmarke or symbol.
The connection between Jamestown and medieval Europe can seen on one jug with a medallion showing a crowned shield divided into four quarters. In heraldic terms, the first and third quarters each exhibit a single lion passant, which means that he is walking with his right paw raised. The second and fourth quarters each have two lion passants. In the first quarter, which is the upper left-hand corner of the shield, there is a heraldic device known as a fess with a label on chief. This is the band across the upper third of the escutcheon that is carrying three stylized fleurs-de-lis. It is this label that identifies the medallion as Italian and, more specifically, as representing a member of the Tuscan Anjoy party or Guelfs, who from medieval times were staunch supporters of the Pope.
The Guelfs’ principal rivals in 13th-century Tuscany were the Ghibellines, who backed the imperial power of the Holy Roman Emperor. These political factions had originated in Germany where they had comprised two feuding powerful families: the Wuelfs and the Hohenstaufen. The latter were the hereditary occupants of the imperial throne and once in Italy they, then known as the Ghibellines, had the support of the aristocracy. Artisans and lesser nobles characterized the Guelf party. It was a political struggle that was to divide Tuscany until 1282 when, with the support of the Pope who resented the threat of imperial authority in Italy, the Guelfs finally prevailed. They continued to be fiercely loyal to the papacy into the 17th century.
Guelf coats-of-arms have never before been recorded on German stoneware. Further, there is no documented trade of the ware in Italy, so this Bartmann jug from the First Well is extrememly rare. It must have been commissioned by an individual, perhaps an Italian merchant, who had trade or other contacts with northwest Europe. But what is the jug doing at Jamestown? While potters produced armorial stoneware with an eye to where it would be marketed, the places where heraldic medallions are found should not be strictly used to identify locations of individuals. Marketing practices of the international stoneware trade resulted in much random geographical distribution of armorial stoneware. Was its deposit at Jamestown the result of random distribution to a consumer oblivious to the jug’s symbolism? Or was it a purposeful statement by one of the colonists with papist leanings?