: July 2003

  Discovery :

This whistle was found in the collection of a Parisian ceramics enthusiast. Its precise origin is unknown.

General description:

It is a zoomorphic whistle with a globular body. The whistle is inserted into its back. The body has a circular hole (D=0,5cm) at the back of the right aspect. It is entirely covered with a dark green lead glaze with lighter-coloured zones where the glaze has pooled,except for two glaze skips, one to the right of the base, the other on the left size of the body.
The general condition is good with a few small glaze chips along edges of the base and the ears. The whistle is blocked at its end; the mouth piece being certainly restuck during firing.
The clay is light-coloured and the glaze lets guess by place a red clay slip.

Juillet 2003: le sifflet du mois

Click to look at the left aspectClick to look at the front aspectClick to look at the right aspect
  Juin 2003: le sifflet du mois
Detail of the decoration
The decoration:

Two flattened clay pastilles were stuck on the whistle: one in front of the neck and the other in front of the body. Both are incised with horizontal indentations. The mouth is also marked by an incised line. The eyes are simply represented by dots made with a tool.
The head has the general form of a rhombus and at the ends, the ears are represented by the points bent downwards.

  Study of the object :

Typology: Although blocked, it is no doubt a water whistle. The mouth piece opens outside the globular body at the middle of the whistle. The location of the circular hole corresponds to the filling holes of other water whistles.

  Glaze: The whistle has been presented as a Parisian ceramic of the 16th century but knowing the inaccuracy of ceramic dating, one must look carefully at this assertion.
Indeed, the green glaze corresponds to the glaze used at times in the 16th century. The former parisian models had only green glaze spots. This type of glaze fits those used during a broad time span, from the 15 to the 17th century.


The type of decoration formed by flattened and striated pastilles is found on a well-known series in the Paris area: decorated "cuttlery baskets".
Such anthropomorphic pots of unknown function originates in the first two thirds of the 16th century according to scholars(Lahaussois, Pannequin, "the art of the glazed ground of MA at the year 2000", 1999).
They are made of clay covered with red barbotine and yellow and green glaze.


A visit to the national museum of the ceramics of Sevres confirms this statement. Among the whistles linked with a series of "cuttlery baskets", a whistle in the shape of bird is most similar in form to the studied whistle.
The other preserved whistles are decorated by a more carreful hand, the yellow and green glaze contrasting with certain details left in red on very neatly modeled forms. Possibly, they come from a more skilled production or they are earlier productions. As the glaze of our whistle is common to certain Parisian jugs of the end of the 16th century, perhaps it was made after the whistles of the Sevres museum.

The decorative style can be connected with a whistle in the shape of cock found in the village of Fosses at the time of excavations of the workshops of potters from the 16th century. This whistle has also many similarities with those whistles exhibited in the museum of Sevres. Only a comparative study of all aspects, in particular the analysis of clay, would make it possible to further this study.

The presence of anthropomorphic whistles very similar to the "cuttlery baskets" results in wondering about the function of these objects. The water whistles reproduce either animals or jugs shapes. If it is considered that these anthropomorphic whistles were used at the time of hullabaloos, it is possible that these "cuttlery baskets" were jugs carried out for similar occasions what would explain their whimsical character.

National museum of Sevres ceramics


It remains to determine the animal represented. The general shape of the head makes think of a sheep. The sheep represented often do not present hanging ears however of such races exist.
It would be necessary to know the races of sheep of the Paris area at the 16th century to confirm this interpretation.

Glandée. Very rich hours of the Duke of Berry, detail
15th S .

Fatty kitchen. Detail. Engraving according to Bruegel
P. Van der Heyden, 16th century

The sheep being unknown among the shapes of whistle in France, one can also think of a dog. One knows many whistles in the shape of dog as from the 17th century in all the North of France. Moreover, several contemporary representations of dog to the whistle show a race rather similar to the animal of the whistle.
Sheep or dog, one can wonder about the significance of the horizontally striated bands. On other objects, these bands make it possible to evoke a precise detail: wings, barbs, floral decoration...

One can conclude temporarily that it is about a water whistle of a workshop of the Paris area in form of a dog(?) 16th century (late 16th?) and undoubtedly intended to be a toy. Never used because it was blocked, it is probably about a failure of firing. A precise location of discovery would have given many informations.
Several questions still give place to many assumptions also do not hesitate to make known your ideas...