Stoneware from its inception to the Renaissance
Kilns which for the first time allow temperatures to go up to 1200° can be established for the Rhineland from the 13th century onward. The oldest documentary evidence for pottery kilns in Höhr dates to 1402. Artefacts from Höhr from the 14th century are stylistically indistinguishable from finds from the Rhineland or Mayen. This suggests at least two old production sites which influenced the Westerwald. Certain positive aspects then led to a new pottery production centre being developed: rich clay deposits of magnificent quality, extensive woodland and long distance trade routes.
With the invention of the printing and the Fall of Constantinople, the knowledge of the Greeks and the Romans came back to Central Europe middle of the 15th century. Antiquity was rediscovered and thus the French word “Renaissance” means “re-birth”. Replication of the harmony, unity and calm of the ancient examples were attempted in the arts. On Rhenish stoneware we can find Greek portraits or Classical decorative elements such as Acanthus leaves, rosettes and arcades. Salt glazes can be attested from the middle of the 15th century onward. With the discovery of America, humanism and the Reformation Europe was now in a period of total upheaval.
Bad working conditions as well as wars and hardships led pottery masters from the Rhineland, Raeren in Belgium and Lothringia to migrate to the so-called Kannenbäckerland (jug baking land) and bringing new impulses. Descendants of these migrants named Knütgen, Kalb, Mennicken or Remy are still producing here today. They brought new shapes and decorations, but also glazing and firing techniques. The pottery trade experienced a boost and self-confident masters sometimes signed their work with their initials.
Characteristic for the Kannenbäckerland was the salt-glazed grey stoneware with cobalt blue colour. The shapes often seem angular due to fluting, indents and bulges and the body is often strongly articulated. Decorative elements were stamped or put on in appliqué style. On regular friezes prince-electors, bishops, Biblical stories or secular depictions of peasant dances or mercenaries were applied by using plaster models. As well as everyday pottery commissioned works were made which were sold on a global scale. Westerwald stoneware now became a global trade product!
The baroque period
In West Germany the new Italian style period called baroque mainly developed after the deprivations of the Thirty Years’ War (1618 – 1648). This obviously also influenced the pottery craft. The art and architecture of the baroque wanted to astound, to be fabulous, theatrical and mainly ostentatious. The bad times needed to be forgotten.
In the Westerwald there was economic recovery. Everywhere new potteries were founded. In 1771 the guild in the Kannenbäckerland reached its zenith with 600 masters in 23 settlements. Aside from these there were so-called Schnatzer, people who for a variety of reasons could not or should not be named master. There were now too many competing potters and the quality suffered, which in turn caused the prices to fall. The governing entities saw themselves forced to regulate.
Apart from the everyday pottery especially the drinking pots, cans and jugs were overly decorated. Decorative objects and figures also appear more often. Popular were applications such as lozenges, medallions, rosettes or blossoms, which were individually and elaborately made and placed. Furthermore, there were new decorative patterns such as Red (hatching lines), Knibis (impressions by using a wooden stick) and stamped decorations. Next to blue cobalt the purple mangan was now implemented.
Products from the Kannenbäckerland were known for their high quality across all borders. Quite often customers up to the highest nobles ordered custom wares. These can be established by personal crests or emblems such as „GR“ for George Rex (King George of England). More and more one has to see an artisanal craftsmanship, because a few self-confident pottery masters started to place their initials, for example „P.R.“ for Peter Remy.
At the end of the 18th century the elaborate stoneware pots slowly fell out of fashion. They also had to compete more and more with porcelain, faience / majolica and earthenware and lost many paying customers. In consequence the more modest hatched decorations and painting dominate with cobalt smalt applied by so-called Blauerinnen (women painting with cobalt blue). The artistic aspects take a back seat and the more traditional crockery comes to the foreground.