The Blue and White Nurnberg Judge Character Stein

By Judy Stuart

A character stein is often defined as a figural drinking vessel whose body, lid, handle, and mountings combine to form an entire figure, person, or object. Character steins were very popular drinking vessels in the late 1800s and many porcelain and pottery factories produced them in great quantities. 

The Schierholz factory of Plauen, Germany, used  designs that put them at the top of the field.  Their designs were strictly for the sake of appearance rather than utility.  There was almost no limitation to the creativity their designers put into these character steins to make seamless forms without rims or extra markings.  For their best quality character steins Scierholz did not limit the molds’ protrusions for hats, feathers, facial features, as not to compromise the exacting designs.  The bottom of the stein is marked with the word ‘Mustershutz’ and has blue ‘cross hatch’ marks under the glaze. 

 Schierholz company also used unique glazes in their stein production.  They incorporated a fine white glaze and then used two types of coloration over the white.  One was a full color design for the character.  The other technique was a single color with many variations of shading.  The most often used was a honey color of various tones.  Sometimes a cobalt blue was also used in varying tones.

The character stein pictured here is by Schierholz and is designed to be what has become known as a full figure of the Nurnberg judge.  In Germany and other parts of Europe in the 15-16th centuries, there were singing competitions for scholars of music and poetry who formed groups to compete.  One of the largest competitions was at a festival in Nurnberg.  Judges used very strict rules concerning rhythm, rhyme, wording, etc. to determine the winners.  Often the meistersingers, as the musicians were called, disapproved of the critiques given them by the judges.  This character stein is the embodiment of the meistersingers opinion of the Nurnberg judges of song.  This judge seems to be dull, disinterested, and picking his nose while a jester pours knowledge into his head through a funnel.

This character stein is a rarity as it tells a comical story, is an intricate and fragile piece of porcelain and is the only Nurnberg Judge known in the world at this time that is handpainted in blue and white from the Schierholz factory.

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