A Good Samaritan has a home in the Jamestown Settlement Museum. Unlike the human kind we admire so much for their selfless contributions in our most unsettled world, the Settlement’s “Good Samaritan” is a 400-year-old stoneware jug. Produced near Cologne in the Westerwald region of Germany, the jug reflects a baluster form. This means that between the curving top and bottom elements is a flat mid-section the potter embellished with friezes of relief ornamentation produced by specially-cut molds. The friezes on baluster jugs included armorial and political imagery as well as biblical and mythological narratives derived from pattern books or from popular woodcuts printed in bibles. Some of these highly-decorated jugs have been found by archaeologists at Jamestown and other early Virginia sites.
As you may have guessed, depicted on the nine panels of the Settlement’s jug is the parable of the Good Samaritan from the Gospel of Saint Luke. This and other New Testament stories, such as the Nativity, the Marriage of Cana, the Last Supper and the Prodigal Son were popular themes for the Lutheran potters of the Westerwald.
Each arcade of the jug’s frieze depicts part of the biblical story from Luke 10: 25-37, beginning with the meeting between the lawyer and Jesus. Wishing to achieve eternal life and being told by Jesus that the answer was to “love thy neighbor as thyself,” the lawyer replied “and who is my neighbor?” The second panel begins the parable related by Jesus and depicts the “certain man” starting his journey from Jerusalem. In the third and fourth panels, the traveler is attacked by thieves, stripped of his clothing, and left for dead.
The fifth arcaded scene portrays the wounded traveler lying in the foreground while the parable’s priest and Levite—an assistant to the priests in the Jewish temple—are passing by in the background without giving aid. By looking carefully, you can see that the mold maker was subtly appealing to consumers with anti-Catholic sympathies by changing the religion of these two characters. The priest leading the procession is depicted wearing a biretta, the three-peaked cap worn by Roman Catholic clergy; however, the peaks have been exaggerated in this instance to look like devil horns!
The 6th panel of the jug depicts the Good Samaritan giving aid to the fallen traveler by administering “wine and oil” and binding up his wounds. In the 7th and 8th panels, the Samaritan places the recumbent man on his “own beast,” which looks like a horse in some depictions and a donkey in others.Following the Lutheran Reformation in Germany, visual art was often used to satirize the Catholic Church. Imagery in print and on material culture such as carved wooden furniture, textiles, silverware and pottery was a powerful tool for religious propaganda aimed at Europe’s semi-literate populace. Illustrations like the 16th-century engraving of the Good Samaritan by German artist Heinrich Aldegrever were used as inspirations for motifs on Westerwald pottery. In this scene from the parable, just as on the Westerwald jug, the artist has recast the biblical story. The special emphasis in the parable’s message used the contemporary hostility between the Jews and Samaritans, an ethnoreligious group that had split from Judaism by the 4th century B.C. In the 16th-century print, it is the conflict between Catholics and Protestants that carries the moral of the story. On the lower right of his image, Aldegrever depicts the priest of the parable as Catholic and, while the holy man was not inclined to stop and help the injured traveler, he is shown pausing for a prayer to the Virgin Mary at a wayside shrine.
The 9th and final panel has the pair arriving at an inn where, in the biblical story, the Samaritan “took out two pence, and gave them to the host, and said, Take care of him; and whatsoever thou spendest more, when I come again I will repay thee.”
At the end of the parable, Jesus asks the lawyer which one of the three characters he described was a neighbor to the man “who fell among thieves.” When the lawyer responds “He that shewed mercy on him,” Jesus answers his original question about the path to eternal life. Molded in German on a band below the narrative frieze is the phrase: “DA SPRACH IHSVS ZU IHM SO GEHE DU HIN UND THV DESZ GLEICHEN AUCH SANT LVCE AM X CAPITEL” or “Then said Jesus unto him, Go, and do thou likewise, Saint Luke, 10th Chapter.”
The baluster jug form was first produced in the 1570s in Raeren, located in present-day Belgium and about 1 kilometer from the German border. Although part of Germany in the late 16th century, the area was affected by military struggles in the adjacent Spanish Netherlands causing numbers of potters to migrate to the Westerwald in the 1580s and 90s bringing their molds and technical potting skills with them. The Jamestown Good Samaritan jug was made by one such potter, Peter Remy who immigrated to the Westerwald town of Grenzhausen in 1600. His initials “PR” are located in 3 places on the jug, including impressed on the top of the handle. When archaeologist Ivor Noël Hume found the handle of an early 17th-century
Westerwald jug at Martin’s Hundred impressed with the initials “W M” (probably Wilhelm Mennicken, also a Raeren emigre) he claimed that he could find no published parallels of initials on Westerwald handles. Now there is one!
The story of the Good Samaritan is as meaningful and relevant to us today as it was to people in the time of Jesus and to the European consumers of German pottery 400 years ago. Through centuries of wars, pestilence, famine and disease there have always been Good Samaritans. We admire them and want to be more like them. Through the care and curation by a few Good Samaritans over the centuries, this beautiful jug has been saved from the vagaries of time to be enjoyed by us today. Now it is our turn to be the Good Samaritan and preserve the jug and its message for generations to come.
The Good Samaritan Westerwald jug is on display in the Jamestown Settlement permanent exhibition gallery.
Bly Straube Ph.D., FSA
Senior Curator, Jamestown-Yorktown Foundation
David Gaimster (1997) German Stoneware 1200–1900 (London: British Museum Press). 2 vols.
Gerd Kessler (2002) Zur Geschichte des Rheinisch-Westerwäldischen Steinzeugs der Renaissance und des Barock: Die Werkstätten, Forscher und Sammler. Höhr-Grenzhausen, Germany: Helmut Ecker.
Ivor Noel Hume and Audrey Noel Hume (2001) The Archaeology of Martin’s Hundred. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology. 2 vols.
Beverly A. Straube (2003), “The Prodigal Son Returns to Jamestown,” The Journal of Ceramics in America 2003, edited by Robert Hunter (Milwaukee, WI: Chipstone Foundation). http://www.chipstone.org/article.php/100/Ceramics-in-America-2003/The-Prodigal-Son-Returns-to-Jamestown
Beverly A. Straube (2001) “European Ceramics in the New World: The Jamestown Example,” The Journal of Ceramics in America 2001 edited by Robert Hunter (Milwaukee, WI: Chipstone Foundation) 47-71.