Friday, 1 November 2013

Werra slipware, from Germany 1550-1650

I thought I’d identified most of the decorative pottery you can find along the Thames, so I was thrilled to find a new type. It was a treat to be back in detective mode, the UK finds database gave me the first lead  - ‘werra slipware’. It was this unusually large shard which prompted me to search 
Mudlarking Find: Werra Slipware 1550-1650
and interesting to find a dish which had a similar boarder design. 

Werra Slipware with Rabbit 1607 (Dr Fischer)
Werra Slipware was produced in Germany in potteries along the Werra River between 1550 – 1650. It was widely exported from the port of Breman and has been found in quantities in the low countries, North America and East and Southern England where finds are  concentrated in coastal and urban areas. 

Red bodied earthenware was decorated with a distinctive pale greenish yellowy slip - a thin clay mixture. The decoration tends to follow a standard format divided into zones. 

Dashes and lines were quickly struck around the rim of the plate. The potter then expertly looped thin bands of slip spiraling inwards. A wide band of swirls and squiggles forms a boarder followed by another set of bands which frame a central motif. Rather random  bright green splashes of copper oxide provide highlights in the centre and surrounding areas. 

Werra Slipware Plate with Pig/Boar 1615 (Museum Rotterdam) 
The central drawing is skillfully etched into the slip, a technique called sgraffito. Being a Werra potter was a tricky business, there was no room for error or second goes. Any mistake would be obvious. 

Animals or figures usually filled the centre. I love these confident, naive, bold, quirky pictures. I can't help think of our wonderful Grayson Perry (whose current Reith lectures on art are not be missed, link here.) when I look at these masterly drawings on pottery. 

Werra Angel 1613 (Museum Rotterdam)

Detail of Werra Slipware Horse (Museum Rotterdam) 

Werra Slipware Nobel Man on Horse back 1621 (Museum Rotterdam) 
Werra Ware with Dove 1585-1625 (Museum Rotterdam) 
I had picked up a few small pieces of these drawings over the last few months and noticed one or two appearing on other mudlarkers sites. I'd realised how different they were from anything else I'd found but thought they just came from one eccentric plate. My favourite is what I hope is a little bit of angel. 

Mudlarking Find: An angel? wing Werra Slipware 1550-1650. 
They were very keen on their angels

Werra Ware 1615
a couple of indecipherable shards I've found, but now I look at the second one, I wonder if the top right markings are 'I8' the second half of a date. Most plates seem to be dated and  it appears to be in the right place. 

Mudlarking finds: Werra Ware 1550-1650
Werra Slipware with Adam and Eve 1595 (Dr Fischer)

I was prompted to look through my box of slipware shards and pulled out a few more pieces of Werra Ware.
Mudlarking Finds: Werra Slipware 1550-1650

Mudlarking Find - Werra? slipware 
There is no doubt that Germany was the European ceramic market leader in the 16th and 17th centuries, it was where stoneware was perfected along with those deep cobalt blue and manganese purple glazes of Westerwald together with these ambitious slipware and sgraffito beauties.

 And finally a couple of Grayson Perry pots


  1. wow, I always love visiting your blog and learning about mudlarking! this is quite a cool find and love the look of this slipware with green - how unusual, but gorgeous

  2. after seeing your post I think I have a few small pieces of similar composition. Thanks for the updated history lesson! You are a wealth of information!!

  3. Hi Julia,
    We are very interested to find your blog site with your lovely images and writing. Lizzy Hobbs and I are London artists working on participatory art projects with film and events. You can see our work at
    We are developing a project around Mudlarking and would love to talk to you about the work you do. You can contact us through our website if you would be interested.
    Many Thanks

  4. Hi Julia,
    Great blog!
    I am working on a mid-18th century English fortification site over here on Mid-Coast, Maine, US. An early site for the States. It is fun to compare my ceramics with your finds.
    Thank you for your work.