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Shop Sign

Aust, Gottfried
Place Made:
Salem North Carolina United States of America
Date Made:
slip-decorated earthenware
DIA: 21 1/2″
Accession Number:
DESCRIPTION: Lead-glazed earthenware shop sign with lugs on the back pierced to receive the cord for hanging. The marley (flat part of the rim) is decorated with letters, date, floral motifs, geometric shapes, and swirls shallowly carved from the clay and filled with white slip. Concentric lines just visible under the clear glaze (and generated by the potter at the wheel) serve to align the lettering, but scrollwork was apparently applied freehand. The cavetto decoration is composed of a large white bird to the right (representative of a dove) with carnations and other stylized foliage in white and green slip.

Aust’s shop sign attests to the cosmopolitan nature of Moravian ceramics. The cavetto decoration shares details with enamleing on a French Faience dish from the late seventeenth century (see Ceramics is America 2009: 19) including carnatons, foliage, and a prominant bird. Motifs found on this class of Nevers ware were deirved largely from Chinese, Persian, and Iznik ceramics. Eastern motifs occur in a structured composition reminiscent of flower paintings and prints. Aust may never have seen any Iznik pottery, but he probably came in contact with European ceramics that had been influenced by Iznik designs.

Master potter Gottfried Aust made this shop sign in response to a church board directive “to place proper signs at the houses of the tradesmen, store and tavern in order that strangers could find them easily….” and the sign is marked with the inscription, “GOTTFRIED AUST ANNO 1773” around the marley.

Gottfried Aust (1722-1788) arrived in Bethabara in 1755 and immediately sought local stores of clay and flint for use in his pottery. By the spring if 1756 he had conducted firing experiments on these materials, and in August he built a larger kiln in which he fired earthenware. Aust stayed in Bethabara until 1771, where upon he moved to the Moravians’ newly built town of Salem and served as master of the pottery there until his death in 1788.

The Moravian potters were masterful in their application of slip. On several
early examples, the decoration looks almost as if it were applied with
a calligraphy pen. Most of the slip-decorated dishes associated with Aust
and his successors have naturalistic plants in their centers, making them
analogous to flower paintings in clay. Possible sources for the motifs used
by Moravian potters range from Islamic pottery, and its European derivatives,
to seventeenth- and eighteenth-century botanical woodcuts and
prints. As Aust’s shop sign suggests, their work was more cosmopolitan
than that of contemporary Germanic potters in the Middle Atlantic
region. (Art in Clay Gallery Guide)
Flowers have long been used to represent the transience of life in the
visual arts. Dutch artist Hendrick Goltzius (1558–1617) alluded to the
inevitability of death when he included a skull, hourglass, and tulip in his
1614 pen and ink drawing of a young man. The inscription under the
hourglass reads: “Quis evadet/ Nemo (Who escapes/ None).” Art historians
traditionally have viewed the great flower paintings of the seventeenth
century from a similar perspective. Both the flowers and the container
holding them are fragile, signifying the ephemeral nature of
worldly things. Within the Moravian community, slipware dishes carried
the same connotation. (Art in Clay Gallery Guide)
The most frequently depicted flowers on Moravian dishes are anemones,
which often appear in conjunction with lilies of the valley. Christians have
long associated anemones with Jesus’ sacrifice, believing them to be the
flowers that sprung from the ground as the blood flowed from his
wounds. As the flowers in the foreground of an anonymous Crucifixion
painting from Herrnhut suggest, anemones held special significance for
Moravians, who focused on Christ’s blood and wounds more than other
Protestant sects. Compelling evidence for the symbolic importance
of anemones in Moravian art can be found in artist John Valentine Haidt’s
Cornelius Forseeing his Christianity. The painting, which was probably
owned by one of the Moravian congregations in North Carolina, depicts
the Roman centurion Cornelius, who is considered to be the first Gentile
converted to Christianity, and Mary holding the Christ child. Below the
hem of Mary’s robe are two white anemones draped over a book that
probably represents the New Testament. In this context, the flowers represent
the death of Christ to come rather than his crucifixion. Aust and
his successors used strikingly similar floral compositions on their slipware
dishes. The lilies on Moravian slipware may have been visual analogues
for the marriage metaphor that was pervasive in early Moravian
theology. The memoir of single sister Anna Rosina Anders (1727–1803)
describes the final moments of her life, when she “went gently and happy
over into the arms of her beloved Bridegroom.” As a flower that blooms
early in the spring, the lily symbolizes both the advent of Christ and each
believer’s relationship to him. In the rustic mysticism of Jacob Boehme,
who influenced Zinzendorf and other pietist theologians, lilies are also a
symbol of God and the regenerated spirit of man.
Other motifs in Moravian slipware have similar theological underpinnings.
At a meeting of the Pilgrim Congregation of London in 1749, Zinzendorf
cut open a pomegranate to show how it is an allegory for the
beauty of the bride of Christ filled with the blood of Christ. Leonardo da
Vinci and Sandro Boticelli used similar metaphorical imagery in their
religious paintings. Moravian potters often represented pomegranates
partially cut open with crosshatched or parallel lines representing the
center and, occasionally, jeweled dots representing seeds on the outside.
Scholars will never be able to fully interpret the designs on Moravian slipware,
because the meaning of motifs varied from person to person. An
unusual slipware dish depicting turtles and fish illustrates the point. To
some observers its composition may have been interpreted literally.
Moravians, however, may have seen something entirely different. To
them, the pond was a metaphor for Christ’s side wound. Believers were
described as fish in the “sea Wound” of Christ, “swimming in the bed of
blood.” (Art in Clay Gallery Guide)

See Also “Ceramics in America” 2009

Credit Line:
Wachovia Historical Society Collection