Who was the bearded man on beer jugs?

st-robert-bellarmine_med
Cardinal Bellarmine.

Who was the ‘bearded man’ and why was his face on medieval beer jugs?

On the Thames foreshore, you can often find pieces of a medieval jug called a ‘Bartmann’ jug or often called a ‘Bellarmine’ jug. Over 2 million were imported from what is now western Germany between the 16th and 17th centuries and were traditionally used as beer jugs.

They were decorated stoneware of a bearded face mask appearing on the lower neck of the vessel. The face is meant to be of Cardinal Robert Bellamine (1542-1621), a fierce opponent of Protestantism in the Low countries and northern Germany. Bellamine was anti-alcohol and legend has it that to ridicule him, his face was put on beer jugs.

From the 17th century, the jugs would frequently be decorated with a medallion on the middle of the body of the jug, usually in the form of the arms of royalty, noble families or towns.

In England in the 1640’s and 1650’s, Bellamine jugs were also used as ‘witch bottles’, to keep away a witch or evil spirit. They would be filled with urine and pins and buried at the entrance to a house, with the thinking that a witch or spirit would get caught on the contents of the jug and not get into the house.

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