Pipe clay figurines from west Netherlands
Pijpaarden beeldjes uit de Randstad
General introduction to the pipe clay figurines from the sixteenth and especially seventeenth/eighteenth centuries illustrating objects from the Pijpenkabinet museum in Amsterdam.
Figurines of white backing clay, later called pipe clay, occur in many cultures and a large stretch of time. Roman votive figurines are an early example of this. In Dutch archaeology the first association is with figures from the late Middle Ages. The pipe clay sculptures of saints from Utrecht are the best known and frequently published (note 1). Yet such objects are also made in other places with a peak in its production between 1450 and 1550. It was a popular kind of home devotion, with statues for the Maria worship being the most common. The industry of late-medieval pipe figures of Saints disappears with the Reformation. It was not until the mid seventeenth and eighteenth centuries that new pipe figurines were created mostly with profane subjects. This article intents to bring these later objects into the limelight.
This article presents not more than an introduction to the subject, since so little is known about these post-medieval pipe clay figurines. The first Dutch inventory on the subject was published by the amateur archaeologists Friederich and Conijn in 1967 in the magazine Westerheem (Fig. 1) (note 2). This article was followed by a number of other publications, mainly sticking to the late medieval tradition of the Saints' figures. In those publications the pipe clay figurine from the later period was mostly ignored, if even known. This is surprising because during excavations and earthmoving fragments of such statuettes are regularly found. Yet it is not easy to write a consistent story about it. The reason is that most of the material is so fragmentary that it is difficult to sketch the development and give a sharp dating. Based on a number of representative examples from the collection of the Pijpenkabinet in Amsterdam this article gives an introduction on the manufacturing technique, the makers, the subjects and the target group.
Fine white baking clay is used as raw material for pipe clay figurines. Nowadays, this clay is referred to as pipe clay, a somewhat unfortunate name for objects older than the pipe industry itself, let’s say from before the year 1580. Nevertheless, pipe clay was already used in the Middle Ages, then referred to as witte cley (white clay). In addition, some makers used, next to pipe clay, also tinted, red or brownish clay. This may have been done deliberately to create variation in the market or otherwise out of lack of pure pipe clay.
The figurine of pipe clay is a serial article made in a printing mould. In the late Middle Ages two working methods were developed, of which only one was still applied in the seventeenth century. To be complete, we briefly discuss both techniques. The better designed, larger statuettes are created by combining two printed halves. How these moulds have looked like, we know through a spectacular find of the late medieval Utrecht statuettes discovered in the 1840s. When the city walls were demolished fragments of ceramic moulds were found (Fig. 2). These moulds have two parts that are evenly filled out by pressing layers of clay. That filling was done with the help of rags. The printing of the textile on the inside betrays this method. The two halves are then glued together with kles, a liquid wet clay of the same kind. This technique resulted in relatively light weight, hollow figures. These objects were then baked in a potter's kiln.
In the fifteenth century small, massive statuettes with a size of up to ten centimetres were created in addition to the hollow version. They are made in the technique that stays in use during the seventeenth century and later. These figures are also made in a two-part printing mould in both pipe clay and red backing clay. Apart from ceramic templates, moulds made out of wood or another material may have been used, but examples do not survive. Baking such a solid object is more risky, since air can easily be trapped in the object during pressing. In the kiln this air expand, causing flakes to cracks in the object or even completely destroy it. Finds of misbacked objects testify to that effect. Incidentally, such damage was simply repaired, sometimes even with plaster or lime mortar. When the object was then painted, those imperfections became invisible. In order to prevent this kind of failure, a maker will pierce the thickest parts of the solid figures from the base with a metal pin to allow the trapped air to escape.
However pleased we can be with the knowledge on the production moulds the excavations in Utrecht provided, we know little to nothing about the origin of the designs, the production of the printing moulds and the actual making of the statuettes. The above-mentioned Utrecht saints' images bear witness to a high artistic quality as evidenced by the folds in the clothing and the Gothic ornamental detailing. This not only expresses a great deal of precision, but also a high craftsmanship. Yet it is still completely unclear whether a professional sculptor multiplied his creations with printing moulds or whether there was a craftsman who purchased high-quality printing moulds and only provided the production. What is certain is that the production of pipe clay figures in this high quality disappears in the middle of the sixteenth century, because the Protestant Netherlands no longer needed figurines for private devotion. The production of small, simple figures also stops at the same time.
Pipe clay as a material for artistic expression remains in use by sculptors, for whom this fine, plastic raw material is extremely suitable for modelling. In that case it concerns professional sculptors who make artistic experiments or models in small size as an example for an assignment. Such unica are in no way comparable to the printed figurines that this article deals with.
In the course of the seventeenth century the interest in pipe clay figurines revives, and therewith the production. Strange enough, we know even less about technology in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries than in the early period. Sometimes we can deduce the material of the mould from the figurines themselves. Pipe figures that have predominantly round shapes (see Fig. 12) testify to a hand modelled prototype that has been processed into a ceramic mould. Other representations, on the other hand, are typically characterized by linear carved lines that point to a wooden or stone mould from which the representation was cut (see Fig. 15). From some figurines the mould seems to have been renewed or sharpened because the lines of the worn mould have been retracted (Fig. 11). The two-piece print mould for making solid figures remains common, as said, the hollow version disappears in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. Sizes above ten centimetres in height then hardly occur any more.
After moulding and drying, the object is baked in a potters kiln in the neighbourhood. Much of these figurines were painted in multi-colours, including bronze or silver paint. The bright colours gave the items a popular appearance; the often sloppy performance did not make this an article for the aesthetic. It is clearly a simple craft on a folk art basis. The production was presumably sold out by the makers themselves, by the piece but also in larger numbers. Around the year 1800 this small-scale industry disappears. It is yet unknown why the demand for such articles completely dried up in a short time.
In the fifteenth century, the manufacturers of statues and statuettes were designated with the word beeldedrucker, literally image printer (note 3). This was an independent craft that we encounter in various places, not only in our provinces but also in England and even to a greater extent in Germany. The existence of these workshops was rooted in the great demand for holy statues in their function as a votive figurine or pilgrim souvenir. In some cases the craftsmen were clearly skilled and trained in their work.
When in the mid-seventeenth century, after roughly a century, the making of pipe figures starts up again, there we can hardly see it as a craft in the sense of skilled labour. The moulds are of great simplicity, the finish medium to poor. In addition, wear of the mould was not always a reason to replace it.
In the literature the beelddrukken (image printing) is wrongly associated with the craft of pipe making, which also started in the early 17th century. The pipe maker was well trained and highly developed from a technical point of view. Logically, a side activity of making simple printed statuettes did not fit into the specialized business nor in the self-esteem of the skilled pipe maker. For the production of figurines, only simple tools were needed and the work consisted of filling and pressing the mould and cutting of the mould seams with a knife. Hence, the simple actions of printing figurines had no relation with the pipe making industry where an apprenticeship of a few years was required to obtain the required manual skills. In both cases, an external potter was called for baking.
An exception in this branch is the Gouda maker Jan Boot (active 1696-1744) (note 4). He was an unbound pipe maker who liked to experiment and create all sorts of unexpected objects. A few figurines are known from his workshop, that are recognizable by his signature "IB" (Fig. 3). Presumably these figurines were pressed in his own company or else under his patronage, possibly even by children. In any case, this was done by people who were not skilled as pipe maker, because in that case they could spend their time more economically.
More likely it is that the figurines are made in special small workshops by people who had not learned any craft. The making of the figurines is never mentioned in a guild or corporation. Apparently, with this free, simple or even naive profession for which hardly any investment and only very limited work space was needed, anyone could earn his living. In the seventeenth century the figurines are made in many cities of the provinces Holland and Utrecht. It seems that Gouda was quite important in this trade, in the end the raw material was generally available there. In Friesland, too, a certain production of pipe figurines existed. As for now, there is too little comparative material to allow distinguishing workplaces within the manufacturing centres. Regional differences are the key for this.
In the eighteenth century the creators of pipe figures are sometimes referred to as poppeties makers (doll makers). Compared to the designation of beeldedrucker, there must have been a clear devaluation of the craft. This is also evidenced by the simplicity of the later products, as well as the simple moulding. They were predominantly intended as children's toys and cheap curiosity.
Since the figures from the seventeenth century are purely profane, we briefly go back to one of the last statues of medieval tradition. It is a primitive figurine, made in the first half of the sixteenth century, that marks the end of late-medieval clay image production. The depiction is half religious and half profane. It shows a woman with two cornucopias (Fig. 4) whose design is derived from a religious example of a Maria figure, recognizable by her saint's crown. It is interesting that nearly unnoticed the subject has shifted to a profane representation of the abundance. Whether the non-religious message of this figurine was also understood by the owner is the question. In our twenty-first-century humour, the worship of a semi-saint can be regarded as ironic. With this pipe clay figure the medieval tradition ends. There is a period in which there is no longer market for clay figures. Only after the mid-seventeenth century the craft returns with a new product intended for another target group.
From the middle of the seventeenth century we discuss another transition type. It is a large, solid statue of pipe clay of which only the trunk and upper legs are preserved (Fig. 5). The fragment is twelve centimetres high, which should make the total figure about thirty centimetres. In view of the modelling, this is the work of a sculptor who was well capable to meet the nuances of the human body. However, it is not a sculpture, but an image printed in a two-part mould. In terms of size, this large image is unsuitable for being massive. No surprise that it broke in parts. The purpose of this large, serial produced article is not clear, since we are not able to identify the person. It is quite possible that the complete figure was a representation of Christ on the cross or a risen Christ. On the other hand, a random male can also be depicted for a drawing school or as a luxury home or garden decoration .
From 1650 onwards renewed interest arose in the pipe clay statuette, as we may conclude from the excavation results, but now in its simplest form. The depictions show that it is a completely different article with its own development and an altered target group. What is especially striking is the simplicity of the themes. The most typical are standing figures: men or women in different guises. The representations usually seem to be based on fantasy, although the better modelled examples depict existing contemporary people, but still hard to identify. In the course of time the images become more and more trivial.
The most famous and endlessly depicted figure is a standing man with shoulder-length hair, dressed in a fashionable long coat with striking lace jabot (Fig. 6). In the right hand he holds a command staff, in the left a pair of gloves. Such figurines usually have a small rectangular pedestal on which they stand. In order to reinforce the base, a thickening has often been provided between the lower legs, on which the relief of a leaf branch can be seen. However general these figurines are, the depicted person is still not known with certainty. The admiral staff points to a high position in the Dutch fleet, a staff that is carried by all Dutch naval heroes. Presumably this statue is not very true to life and represents Michiel Adriaanszn. de Ruyter (1607-1676), whose fame exceeds that of all other heroes. His popularity with the common people, caused by his successes in three English wars, culminating in the glorious trip to Chatham in 1667, was unprecedented. His state funeral in 1677 in the Nieuwe Kerk (New Church) in Amsterdam received international attention. Even after his death he remained the celebrated naval hero of the Seven Provinces.
As noted, the portrait of De Ruyter is not very accurate. For example, he did not have the bangs that is shown of the figurine. In addition, on all official portraits he is depicted with the insignia that he had been given because of his victories at sea: a golden medal on a heavy gold chain. Often he also wears a wide sash across the chest. We do not see these characteristics in the small statue. Also the fashion of the exaggerated wide cuffs on the sleeves does not fit well with the time of De Ruyter. These inaccuracies were apparently not a problem for the seventeenth century. Everyone immediately understood that the most famous flag officer of the navy had been depicted here. The earliest specimens are best designed: the three dimensionality is then the greatest, carefully executed in detail. In those larger personifications , a hole has been pierced in the base for production reasons to prevent explosion in the kiln.
The thought that the figure is a simplified version of the state portrait of Stadholder-King William III (1650-1702) has been suggested on several occasions. This assumption is understandable since William III, certainly after his coronation as king of England, had an enormous status. However, that attribution cannot be correct. The external characteristics of the statuette are even further away from the Stadholder than from the aforementioned naval hero. Of course, a not very educated Orange minded person can have given such a figurine another meaning. Incidentally, there are a few other examples of Orange memorabilia with which the pro-Orange preference could be propagated.
Gradually the representation of the naval hero generalises into a conceptual male figure without sharp details. In this way he loses his staff and gloves. Meanwhile, during the first quarter of the eighteenth century, there can no longer be any question of the representation of a specific person. A good example of the same subject but in an understated form shows the same silhouette but almost stripped of detail (Fig. 7). This figurine was printed in a worn mould and is vague in design. Long coat, shoulder-length hair and jabot have remained, the head is now provided with a three-sided stitch that indicates as well a somewhat later date. In this limited quality, it is more about children's toys than about an ornamental object with propaganda value. Traces of red paint show that this figure has been painted in colours.
A similar figure shows a male person (Fig. 8), dressed in trousers and a close-fitting doublet with a few buttons. He carries a basket on his arm. Tricky to this figurine are the openings in the statue, both between the trunk and arms and between the legs, which give the figure a transparent appearance. Here, too, the detailing has been weakened by wear and tear of the mould. Time vanished the painting in black and red away. This object has been a vulnerable children's toy and it is a miracle that it was thrown away and excavated undamaged.
A very common figure shows an elegant woman with a waistline and double skirts (Fig. 9). In the illustrated version, a half-opened fan is kept in front of the breast. The representation of the double skirts has been extremely popular. The sturdy base of this figurine is often found in the West Netherlands, the more fragile upper part is usually missing. By analogy with the assumed portrayal of King William III, this woman has been identified as his wife Maria Stuart II. Unfortunately, that attribution cannot be substantiated with similar portraits. Later, when the details become vaguer, there is certainly no question of personalizing an existing person but rather a general representation of woman. Some later ones have the inscription "HERMINO" on the base.
A figurine of a standing king with a high king's crown and a long royal mantle over a harness must be an historical image (Fig. 10). To emphasize his dignity, he holds an orb and a sword in his hands. It is the classic representation of Emperor Charlemagne, but with seventeenth-century armour. It is unclear whether it concerns the representation of a royal person that may have existed, or more likely it is pure fantasy. The pedestal has a hexagonal shape much like medieval sculptures. Typical for this cheap figurines is the two-dimensional effect. The mould of the illustrated example has already been worn quite a bit while, in accordance with it, the moulding seams failed to have been removed with any care.
Other representations are clearly less common. For example, a Maria with child who is closest to the medieval predecessors in terms of subject (Fig. 11). Nevertheless, in the way the pleated garment is represented this is clearly a seventeenth-century creation. In another one the combination of the child with a sword is iconographical not quite logic. An Indian with a feather skirt and a headdress and a putto with bow and arrow (Fig. 12) are other popular depictions.
A striking object is the bust of Stadholder-King William III, clarified with the initials "WR" as abbreviation for William Rex (Fig. 13). They emphasize the period of origin in the last of the seventeenth century and were destined for the Orangist. It almost looks like the miniature version of the Delft busts from the same period. A variant shows a Roman emperor (Fig. 14). Such bust figures are based on classical sculptures of which you could hardly expect affinity from the target group, unless literate parents bought them for their children.
The series of standing statuettes is interspersed with all kinds of curiosities that remind even more of children's toys. After all, decorative figures ask for a specific theme, a religious, politically or socially engaged subject. For children, fewer requirements are imposed on the representation and the quality of execution. Of course, it goes without saying that pipe clay figurines were simple objects, predominantly intended for the common man. By generalizing the depictions, the sculpture could be fit an even broader target group.
A nice example of children's toys is a shooter behind a bush (Fig. 15) that is almost a tin soldier. Another specimen shows a standing fool (Fig. 16). We come across simple animal figures like a reclining lion (Fig. 17), a standing rooster (Fig. 18) or parrot in the ring (Fig. 19). These figures are characterized by simplified modelling, touching primitive with all freedom for the childish imagination. Most such figurines have a simple flat foot on which they can stand, or at least should be able to stand. Due to poor workmanship, the balance is sometimes lost.
A specific category are the patacons used as bread decorations during holidays. They are flat moulded plaques with one-sided embossed decor. The word patacon is derived from a silver coin that was baked in the bread with holidays. Instead, a pipe-clay version comes later, often in the form of a Christ child (Fig. 20). They brought happiness to the person who found this figurine in his of her bread. Such articles are always decorated unilaterally and come from a simple printing mould that only consisted of one part. At the back the clay was smoothed down and sometimes the traces of the knife are still visible. Patacons exist in size from two to more than twenty centimetres and are meant for Sint Maarten, St Nicholas, Christmas and Epiphany. Such bread decorations show more fantasy because a wider variety of subjects is depicted. Logically, hardly anything of this equally fragile or trivial material has been preserved (note 5). Like many statuettes they were painted with watercolours mixed with Arabic gum.
The function of the pipe clay figurines has changed considerably since the late Middle Ages. In the Middle Ages they were portrayals of devotion and therefore religious in theme. Such early figurines were often kept in a box and that explains why they usually have a poor stand. Their goal was purely religious, namely for the worship at home. With the obsolescence of image worship, which wasn’t supposed to exist in Protestant belief, these objects also disappear. Only after the middle of the seventeenth century did the use revive in a new sense of decoration and curiosities, with or without a background message. The larger, better finished pipe clay figures get a clear foot on which they can sit. They are generally available and adults purchase them as finery for their home. In the better environments children could be allowed to play with it, but the ornamental function was the primary goal.
The image of the naval hero is the most common as a sign of pride in the Dutch supremacy at sea. In addition, portraits of Stadholder William III of Orange would have a political meaning. In the Orangist's house they served as an unconcealed symbol of Orange sympathy. This design may have conceived some variants with which other contemporary people were honoured. Because of their primitive depiction we can no longer interpret these figurines. In addition, pictures of a more general nature, such as a fertility figurine, symbolizing prosperity and abundance, should be seen as a decorative element in the house. A standing Indian was made to underline the craving for the stranger. Such decently worked out specimens were suitable as a decoration of the interior of the simple Dutch household. Unfortunately, no images are known on which we see such figurines stand out and they are not mentioned in estate inventories. Not surprising, incidentally, given the small size and the trivial value of these curiosities. The difference between ornamental function and toys becomes increasingly blurred with this late examples. Around the year 1700, only a limited number of figurines are eligible for ornamental objects. Over the decades, the main quantity of these figurines is too poor in modelling to serve as an ornamental item, unless the buyer had no sense of aesthetics.
At the same time, bulk goods of lesser quality were created, mainly intended as a gift item for the annual market and for times from Sint Maarten to Epiphany. They were a giveaway or a cheap item available to everyone. The function of these objects is determined by the owner himself. What is a precious piece of curiosity for one put on a ledge in the house, was a give-away toy for the children for the other. Many of the figurines were pressed into a worn mould in accordance with the low-quality mass production. They lost their appeal due to lack of details. A colourful painting often obscured the worn relief and will have appealed to children in a different way. As children's toys, however, they still could stimulate the imagination. Logically, the target group changes accordingly.
Many figurines that originally had an ornamental function, but whose moulds were worn, will later be sold as children's toys. For example, the bust of Stadholder William III, which was conceived for adults, could have ended up as a cute doll in a child's hand. With an object of archaeological origin, it is often difficult to say something about the original target group and the use in old times.
These toys are just cheap and wide spread, nice gadgets for children, although in our eyes no cuddly objects at all. A didactic message is usually missing. Used as children's toys, such articles have a short life. A child has yet to learn the fracture boundary of ceramics, and flaking lies in wait, resulting in the expected disappointment. Children's toys are always separate objects, not to be found as ensembles. Incidentally, for most of the eighteenth century children a loose toy was already a certain luxury.
All in all, the unrecorded, small-scale (home) industry of making statuettes, or, as a contemporary source says, poppeties maken has been a wonderful activity that has always stood on its own. This branch of craftsmanship produced a range of representations that call for a serious inventory and further study. Much of this work, however, is only fragmentarily known and therefore it will take a long time before a fairly complete inventory can be made. Only then can the chronology of these objects be refined.
It seems that this small-scale industry continued throughout the eighteenth century to die out around the year 1800, along with many other small crafts. In the first half of the nineteenth century we see a gap in production: preserved objects are not known while archaeological finds from that late period are missing as well. There are several reasons for this. For quality goods, better quality objects were placed on the market. As children's toys it was supplanted by moulded toys of lead and tin. Reason can be a decreased prosperity of the clientele or rather alternative products. Only after the middle of the nineteenth century do we see a final return of the pipe clay figurines but then as a factory-produced article. Once again the target group is multiple: both as decorative items and curiosities and for children's toys. Then, for a change, the production takes place in pipe factories.
© Don Duco, Pijpenkabinet Foundation, Amsterdam – the Netherlands, 2012.
- Photo from Friederich & Conijn, ‘Beeldenstorm in pijpaarde’, Westerheem, 1967.
Amsterdam, Pijpenkabinet documentation
- Photo of a pipe clay statuette including the printing mould in two parts. Utrecht, 1420-1450.
Amsterdam, Pijpenkabinet documentation
- Fragment of a pipe clay figurine with initials IB. Gouda, Jan Boot, 1695-1740.
Amsterdam, Pijpenkabinet study collections
- Pipe clay figurine of a woman with two horns of abundance. Two part printing mould. The Netherlands, 1480-1550.
Amsterdam, Pijpenkabinet collections Pk 17.354
- Pipe clay figurine (fragment) of a naked figure. West-Netherlands, 1640-1680.
Amsterdam, Pijpenkabinet collections Pk 1.322
- Pipe clay figurine attributed as Michiel de Ruyter with admiral staff. Gouda, 1660-1680.
Amsterdam, Pijpenkabinet collections Pk 9.697
- Pipe clay figurine of a standing man with a jabot and a long coat. Gouda, 1680-1750.
Amsterdam, Pijpenkabinet collections Pk 16.843
- Pipe clay figurine of a standing male, traces of polychrome. Gouda, 1720-1780.
Amsterdam, Pijpenkabinet collections Pk 18.499
- Pipe clay figurine of a standing woman with a small crown. Gouda, 1690-1740.
Amsterdam, Pijpenkabinet collections Pk 16.842
- Pipe clay figurine of a standing king with armour and royal mantle, in his hands a sword and a cone. The Netherlands, Holland, 1675-1725.
Amsterdam, Pijpenkabinet collections Pk 16.840
- Pipe clay figurine of a standing crowned Mary with child, a sword in the right hand. Gouda?, 1670-1750.
Amsterdam, Pijpenkabinet collections Pk 16.841
- Pipe clay figurine of a standing putto with bow and arrow. The Netherlands, Friesland?, 1670-1720.
Amsterdam, Pijpenkabinet collections Pk 8.505
- Pipe clay figurine of the bust of Stadholder William III. Gouda, 1690-1730.
Amsterdam, Pijpenkabinet collections Pk 18.695
- Pipe clay figurine of the bust of a Roman emperor. Gouda?, 1700-1750.
Amsterdam, Pijpenkabinet collections Pk 21.083
- Pipe clay figurine of a shooter behind a bush. Gouda, 1700-1760.
Amsterdam, Pijpenkabinet collections Pk 16.845
- Pipe clay figurine of a standing jester. Gouda, 1720-1780.
Amsterdam, Pijpenkabinet collections Pk 2.607
- Pipe clay figurine of a reclining lion. Gouda, 1720-1760.
Amsterdam, Pijpenkabinet collections Pk 1.744
- Pipe clay figurine of a standing rooster. Gouda, 1750-1800.
Amsterdam, Pijpenkabinet collections Pk 8.932
- Pipe clay figurine of a parrot in the ring. The Netherlands, Holland, 1700-1750.
Amsterdam, Pijpenkabinet collections Pk 3.701
- Patacon of a Christ child with an apple. The Netherlands, Zuid-Holland, 1700-1750.
Amsterdam, Pijpenkabinet collections Pk 6.974b
- J. Leeuwenberg, 'De Utrechtse industrie van pijpaarden beeldjes en reliëfs', Oud Nederland, 4, 1950, pp 73-75 and 81-84.
- W. Conijn and F.H.W. Friederich, 'Beeldenstorm in pijpaarde', Westerheem, 2, 1967.
- G.A. Utrecht, Buurtspraakboek 1466. In: J. Leeuwenberg, 'De Utrechtse industrie van pijpaarden beeldjes en reliëfs', Oud Nederland, 4, 1950, p 74.
- D.H. Duco, Merken en merkenrecht van de pijpenmakers in Gouda, Amsterdam, 2003, p 210.
- Michiel Bartels, Winnie von Ende and Dirk Schütten, 'Broodversiering uit de Koekstad, achttiende-eeuwse patacons uit een kuil aan de Polstraat te Deventer', Westerheem, 52/3, juni 2003, pp 95-107.