Object of the Month

Longfellow House - Washington's Headquarters National Historic Site has a large museum collection consisting of thousands of objects, many of which are not regularly displayed in the house's furnished exhibit rooms. Every month, an object will be featured on this page, providing a look at an unusual piece from the collection.

 
A 19th century satirical terracotta figurine.

This terracotta figure dates to the first half of the nineteenth century, and was made in Zizenhausen, a town in southern Germany not far from the border with Switzerland. The figure, a man on horseback heavily loaded with a wide array of trade goods, is a caricature meant to represent the wealthy Rothschild family.

Terracotta figures were first made in Zizenhausen in 1799 by Anton Sohn. Sohn was originally a church painter when he began manufacturing painted terracotta figurines illustrative of various aspects of daily life, including religious themes, various professions, and a whole series meant to characterize Jews, often in an unflattering manner.

This creator of this particular piece is unconfirmed, but it bears many aspects of Anton Sohn’s work, including the paper label glued to the oval base that he regularly added as an explanatory device to help communicate what the figure was meant to symbolize. The figure is labeled in both French and German, that when translated to English reads “Blauschild. The traveling salesman.”

The name “Blauschild” or “Blueshield” is a take on “Rothschild”, or “Redshield.” By the early nineteenth century the Rothschild family had already built a massive fortune through banking. Five Rothschild brothers, based in London, Paris, Naples, Frankfurt and Vienna, had managed to create a banking network that not only proved financially successful, but also afforded them a considerable amount of political influence. This Blauschild figure was likely intended as a satirical view of the Rothschild family by portraying them as itinerant peddlers, referencing what had been an occupation often associated with Jews in central Europe during the 1700s.

How this figure made its way to the Longfellow House is unknown, it was perhaps purchased by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow during his travels in Germany in the 1820s and 1830s.

 

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