The Exeter puzzle jug

Contributed by RAMM Exeter

The Exeter puzzle jug

Pretty risqué for the 14th century.

The figures on this decorated jug are thought to represent naked bishops, dancing girls and musicians. It was made around AD 1300 in Saintonge in medieval France, but was found in pieces on an Exeter building site in 1899. This kind of humour would hardly have been acceptable to everyone at the time. It shows that medieval Exeter was a city with European tastes and trading links and a sophisticated outlook.

The jug was donated to RAMM by a man who found the pieces in his drain when it was being repaired. The fragments were gathered up by a museum curator and sent to the British Museum to be restored to what we see now.
This jug's puzzle lies in working out how to fill it up and how the liquid then gets to the spout despite its hollow centre. In other puzzle jugs the liquid spills out unexpectedly through hidden holes or spouts, to trick the unwary.

In medieval Europe the church was at the centre of life - even if it was the butt of a joke. A wealthy, cultured elite across Europe shared the same taste in entertaining, tableware and possibly even humour.

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Comments

  • 10 comments
  • 1. At 13:41 on 22 July 2010, RAMM Exeter wrote:

    I think it's delightful. It manages to get wine, women and song in one pot.

    (Richard from Exeter, in a Moving Here session organised by RAMM Exeter)

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  • 2. At 13:42 on 22 July 2010, RAMM Exeter wrote:

    It's interesting to think why that was made. It's very time-consuming to make, and it's a bit risky. It looks like something you'd make, and hope somebody rich would come along and buy it.

    (Caroline, potter, in a Moving Here session organised by RAMM Exeter)

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  • 3. At 13:42 on 22 July 2010, RAMM Exeter wrote:

    It makes me think of an early version of a caricature in a newspaper.

    (Ruth Gidley, Curator of Moving Here project, in a Moving Here session organised by RAMM Exeter)

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  • 4. At 13:43 on 22 July 2010, RAMM Exeter wrote:

    That's exactly it. All that work just to make a joke!

    (Richard from Exeter, in a Moving Here session organised by RAMM Exeter)

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  • 5. At 13:43 on 22 July 2010, RAMM Exeter wrote:

    It's like stories in the news today, of mistresses of Italian priests saying they should stop the laws of celibacy.... Was this before Catholics imposed celibacy on clergy? But maybe it was different for Huguenots (Saintonge was the heartland of protestant French Huguenots).

    (Anne-Flore Laloe, historical geographer and French interpreter, in a Moving Here session organised by RAMM Exeter)

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  • 6. At 13:44 on 22 July 2010, RAMM Exeter wrote:

    I once knew a girl called Saintonge!

    (Richard from Exeter, in a Moving Here session organised by RAMM Exeter)

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  • 7. At 13:44 on 22 July 2010, RAMM Exeter wrote:

    It's not just celibacy - it's general debauchery! ... It's interesting quite how contemporary the debate it's raising about the clergy is. "Do as I say, not what I do." ... It's pretty to look at. Would they hang [for making] this?

    (Anne-Flore Laloe, historical geographer and French interpreter, in a Moving Here session organised by RAMM Exeter)

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  • 8. At 13:44 on 22 July 2010, RAMM Exeter wrote:

    You couldn't actually drink from it because of the holes. It's an animal but also a house.... It's got an animal head. Maybe it's an ass or a donkey. I think it's a made-up animal....

    (Richard from Exeter, in a Moving Here session organised by RAMM Exeter)

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  • 9. At 13:45 on 22 July 2010, RAMM Exeter wrote:

    Why not a proper puzzle jug?

    (Anne-Flore Laloe, historical geographer and French interpreter, in a Moving Here session organised by RAMM Exeter)

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  • 10. At 13:46 on 22 July 2010, RAMM Exeter wrote:

    I had [a puzzle jug]. It belonged to my father. As you tipped it up, the water came out in the wrong the place - a joke jug. I think it's a nasty object - I don't like it at all. The figures are very crude.

    (Margaret Hammond, painter, in a Moving Here session organised by RAMM Exeter)

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About this object

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Location

Saintonge in Western France

Culture
Period

1300 AD

Theme
Size
H:
47cm
W:
29cm
Colour
Material

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