Pottery is the art and craft of shaping clay and firing it at high temperatures in a kiln. The place where such wares are made by a potter is also called a pottery. The end result of the pottery process is called a ceramic. Humans have been making ceramics for thousands of years, and it has been a significant part of human history, culture, and civilization.
Pottery has been used as a functional art form and a source of aesthetic pleasure since the beginning of human history. Numerous practical artworks have been created throughout the years, including bowls, jars, cups, and plates. Everybody utilizes these everyday items for eating, drinking, cooking, and storing food regularly.
Pots are vital in ceremonial and religious activities in many different civilizations. For example, pottery in Native American was utilized in ceremonies and rituals, and in ancient Greek it was used in burial rites. Important details about historical civilizations and individuals from items made. There is much to be discovered about the beliefs, practices, and aesthetic tastes of people worldwide and throughout history by examining the ceramics they have produced.
In archaeology, especially of ancient and prehistoric periods, it often means vessels only, and figures of the same material are called “terracottas.” End applications encompass a wide range of products, from dinnerware and decorative pieces to sanitary ware and electrical insulators used in technology and industry.
Clay is a readily available substance resource. Potters only employ clay with a specific range of qualities even though many distinct varieties of clays exist. Among the most crucial characteristics of usable clays are plasticity—the capacity to be shaped without breaking or cracking—its ability to withstand firing at temperatures high enough to convert raw clay into ceramic without distortion, and its repeatability—the capacity to yield consistent results when treated in the same way, allowing potters to create the objects they desire regularly.
Clay is composed of relatively weak and porous fragments with fine grains. The process of combining clays with additional minerals yields a workable clay body. Sintering is a part of the firing process. This heats the clay to a temperature where the particles flow together and partially melt, forming a strong, single mass made of crystalline material and a glassy phase scattered with pores. The material shrinks significantly due to the pores getting smaller during the fire process.
Clay is made up of degraded igneous rock and is classified into primary and secondary. Secondary clay has displaced from the original parent rock’s location due to land movement or water erosion. Primary clay has remained at the location of the parent rock. Minerals, such as iron oxide, small quantities are absorbed by clay during its movement and serve as a flux. Flux refers to any substance capable of reducing the melting point of another. The amount of minerals that clay absorbs decreases with distance from the location of its parent rock, which lowers the temperature required for burned clay to become nonporous which is a durable form.
The three categories of pottery that are often distinguished are earthenware, stoneware, and porcelain. They can all be glazed or unglazed and decorated by various techniques.. All of these categories of historic are frequently divided into two categories: “fine” wares, which are typically more costly, well-crafted, and reflect the aesthetic preferences of the culture in question; or “coarse,” “popular,” “folk,” or “village” goods, which are typically more plainly embellished or just plain produced.
Pottery has a long and rich history that dates back to prehistory. Archaeologists have found ceramics in China that date from approximately 20,000 B.C. Clay was rolled, forming vessels, which were then smoothed using a tool or the potter’s hand. After that, the clay pieces were burnt over an open flame to solidify them.
The Industrial Revolution of the 19th century brought mass production and machinery, which profoundly impacted the industry. Shio Kusaka, Edmund de Waal, Betty Woodman, Ron Nagle, and Grayson Perry are among the most well-known potters.
What is Pottery in Art
Pottery is a fundamental art medium valued for its adaptability, robustness, and expressive potential. Pottery can take on many forms in artistic contexts, from simple, functional vessels to complex sculptures. Clay’s tactile quality encourages artists to work with it, transforming it into useful objects with symbolic, artistic, and cultural value. Artists convey stories about heritage, identity, and craftsmanship through this craftsmanship. Chinese artists wanted to express the relationship between people and nature.
Types of Pottery
The main types of pottery include: earthenware, stoneware and porcelain. They differ in terms of strength, color, temperature of firing, and common use cases. See below for more information:
Earthenware was first created approximately 9,000 years ago. It is still commonly used in the twenty-first century. Clay was first burned in pit fires or open bonfires at low temperatures. They were undecorated and formed by hand. Earthenware is burned at temperatures lower than 1200°C, though it can be fired as low as 600°C.
The color of the earthenware body ranges from gray to black and buff to dark red. It can be manufactured from a wide range of clays, some of which burn to a buff, brown, or black color, giving the reddish-brown coloration due to iron in the constituent minerals. Terracotta refers to reddish-colored variants, particularly when used unglazed or for sculpting. Common names for tin-glazed pottery include majolica, faience, and delft. If the clear-glazed body is a cream colour, it is called creamware .
Pottery has become more popular and useful due to the invention of ceramic glaze, which created impermeable pieces. Over time, decoration has changed and progressed. Since most commercial wares made in the second half of the 20th century was heat- and cold-proof, it could be used for serving, freezing, and cooking.
Unfired earthenware body is more plastic than most whiteware body, making it simpler to form using a RAM press, roller head, or potter’s wheel than porcelain or bone china. Fired body absorbs between 5 and 8% of water on its porosity. Hence, it needs to be glazed to be waterproof.
Stoneware pottery is stronger than earthenware pottery, and impermeable to liquids. It is fired in a kiln at a temperature between 1,100 and 1,200 degrees Celsius. Stoneware material is extremely durable and, while occasionally translucent, is typically opaque. The body might be red, brown, gray, white, or black, among other colors. Tableware and decorative items like vases are examples of end applications.
Despite being dense, impermeable, and tough enough to withstand a steel point’s scratch, stoneware is not the same as porcelain since it is typically only partially vitrified, and is more opaque than porcelain. Stoneware can be semi-vitreous or vitreous. Because of imperfections in the clay used to manufacture it, it is typically glazed and has a grey or brownish appearance.
China began producing fine white stoneware during the Shang dynasty at approximately 1400 BCE. Stoneware was initially produced in Japan in the Kamakura period of the 13th century and in Korea during the Silla dynasty (57 BC–935 CE). In the sixteenth century, Germany was the first country in Europe to produce stoneware. Originally brought to Europe from China in the 17th century, tea came in chests accompanied by red stoneware pieces from Jiangsu province’s Yixing kilns. England, the Netherlands, and Germany all imitated this product.
Porcelain is vitrified, white, finely grained, and typically translucent. To manufacture porcelain, ingredients—typically kaolin—are heated in a kiln to temperatures between 1,200 and 1,400 °C (2,200 and 2,600 °F). This temperature is higher than that utilized for the other varieties, and it took some time to figure out what materials were required to reach these temperatures. Compared to other pottery forms, porcelain is more robust, translucent, and strong than other ceramics because of vitrification, which occurs when the body reaches exceptionally high temperatures and forms the mineral mullite.
There are three primary varieties of porcelain: true or hard-paste, artificial or soft-paste, and bone china. The first known forms of porcelain first appeared in the Tang dynasty (618–907) and later in the Yuan dynasty (1279–1368), when it became popular in the West. True, or hard-paste, porcelain was created by pulverizing petuntse —a feldspathic rock—and combining it with kaolin, or white china clay. The petuntse was vitrified during the firing process at roughly 1,450 °C (2,650 °F), and the kaolin helped to keep the object’s shape. The development of artificial, or soft-paste, porcelain—a mixture of clay and crushed glass—required a “softer” burning (about 1,200 °C, or 2,200 °F) than hard-paste porcelain as a result of attempts by potters from Europe in the Middle Ages to replicate this translucent Chinese porcelain.
History of Pottery
Before they began farming, people in East Asia, specifically in China and Japan, made clay ceramics circa 14,000 BC. Ceramic pieces like the Gravettian culture Venus of Dolní Věstonice figurine have also been found in the Czech Republic dating back to 29,000–25,000 BC.
The first items were hand-modeled with the thumb and finger. Square or oblong bodies were created by lutening flat slabs of clay together with clay slip as an adhesive. The slabs could also be shaped into a cylinder and given a flat base using the same technique. Coiled pottery was an early development where one would poke a hole into a ball of clay or form a long clay snake and coil it into the shape of a pot.
Pottery in Africa
By the 9000s BC, people in Niger, West Africa, began making pottery. It’s possible that Africans began creating pottery as a secure means of storing grain. However, they also made fermented fish sauce, just like the people of Japan.
Pottery in the Americas
Several thousand years later, pottery production most likely started for the same reason in the Americas. In Brazil circa 5500 BC, ceramics were made by people who consumed a lot of fish and shellfish. Perhaps they also fermented fish in ceramic jars to preserve it. People started employing pottery further north from Brazil. By approximately 4500 BC, the fish-eating ancestors of the Cherokee and other Mississippians in what is now Florida and Georgia mastered the skill of pottery-making. Ceramics was first made at the same time by people on the Pacific coast of South America.
Pottery in West Asia and Europe
Around 6000 BC, pottery use also moved west from East Asia, spreading to Mesopotamia, the Eastern Europe, and North Africa. It’s possible that when West Asians first began farming, they began creating pottery to store grain and ferment fish.
About 5000 BC, pottery was brought to Greece. Potters were still considered artisans during the period, but the Greeks were recognized for turning pottery into an art form. Their more advanced method pressed and shaped the clay body into molds of fired clay. Primarily designed for pouring and consuming or storing olive oil and wine, their vases and pots were functional in design. These artists adorned their vases with Greek mythological figures and were the first to try coloring the clays with other naturally occurring substances like potash and ocher.
The slow wheel
The slow potter’s wheel was first used by people in West Asia in 3000 BC, at the start of the Bronze Age. Instead of having to stand and walk around the pot, they could rotate it while working on the slow wheel, which was a movable platform. The small wooden platform served as the foundation for the pot. A ball of clay is placed in the centre of a turntable, which the potter rotates with a stick, with foot power.
The fast wheel
Like the slow wheel, the fast wheel also had a platform, but it rotated like a toy top on an axle. A skilled potter can create a nearly identical pot every minute or so on the fast wheel. Because it’s faster than coiling or the slow wheel, artworks are now far less expensive than they were previously. The artists were either enslaved or children —as seen by the tiny fingerprints on the pot to manufacture pottery at an even lower cost. During this period, the Yamnaya migrated to Greece, Italy, and China, bringing the concept of the fast wheel.
The next significant advancement in pottery was the introduction of porcelain by Chinese potters in the Han Dynasty around 600 A.D. White kaolin clay and powdered granite were added, and the mixture was fired at extraordinarily high temperatures to make these delicate and artistic pieces that are now known as bone china. Because it was so costly to ship, West Asian potters created lead glazes to resemble porcelain. Soon after, potters in Europe used the same technique, producing vibrant glazes for their ceramics.
Earliest Dateable Clay Shards
The oldest pottery fragments in the world have been determined to be 20,000 years old. They were discovered in the Xianrendong cave in the Jiangxi province of south China. Research has uncovered evidence linking East Asian pottery mounds to a time over 15,000 years ago, debunking popular belief that pottery development coincided with humanity’s transition from hunter-gatherers to farmers some 10,000 years ago.
Persian ceramics have a long history, beginning in the early Neolithic Period, or 7th millennium BCE. Clay, water, small quantities of straw, and other plants made the artworks. These components combined created an extremely solid paste that served as the foundation for constructing all Iranian pieces.
Earthenware continuously adopted geometric patterns thus creating a more sophisticated decorative style. Alongside the development of this more advanced style, a greater range of ceramic types were produced. Vessel manufacturing quality improved with the invention of the potter’s wheel around the fourth millennium BCE. Better-quality, symmetrically shaped items were made using this table.
Susa and Uruk
Susa was an integral part of the cultural milieu of the Sumerian Uruks throughout the Uruk period. Susa is home to proto-writing, Sumerian-inspired cylinder seals, massive buildings, and a replica of Uruk’s whole governmental apparatus. Since Uruk and Susa are related, the periodization of Susa and Susa II (3800–3100 BCE) corresponds to Uruk’s Early, Middle, and Late periods.
The Susa style originated in the highlands of western Iran and was heavily influenced by modern and historical ceramic enterprises. Three vessels frequently appear near one another: a serving plate, a small jar, and a drinking goblet or beaker. The majority of the items from the cemetery are made of painted ceramics in these shapes. Some are painted bands on jars, plates and bowls used for cooking, which were likely the remains of less privileged individuals, teenagers, and maybe even little children. The ceramics are meticulously crafted by hand.
Early Islamic Period
Epigraphic pottery dates back to the Samanid era. Usually, these were pots with a white slip base with Kufic script in black slip letters decoration. Usually, blessings or proverbs would be etched on these vases.
Among the artistic creations were pottery, glass, metallurgy, coins, decorative walls, and painted and carved stucco. Buffware was a type of ceramic that was widely used. Images painted on the vessel with black and purple outlining characteristics define buffware. The buff pottery also showed a blend of green and yellow glazes.
Seljuk pottery was created when Iran was a part of the Seljuk Empire (1050–1300 AD). It is frequently regarded as the best and most inventive period of Persian pottery. The three primary categories of fine wares—lustreware, underglaze painted ware, and polychrome overglaze painted mina’i ware—were produced mostly, if not exclusively, at Kashan. Everybody used a new fritware (known as “stonepaste”) body that the Seljuks invented in Persia. Seven colors were employed in the Minai technique: turquoise, green, and blue. These colors were painted over the underpainting and fired. After that, other colors were added, including yellow, red, white, black, and occasionally gold leaf, and it was burned again at a reduced temperature.
The Safavid era brought about a startling transformation especially in Safavid pottery. The Safavid dynasty saw a revival in pottery production because of Shah Abbas’s plans. Kubachi goods, blue and white, Gombroon, Luster, Celadon, and import wares were among the ceramics produced during this time.
The items referred to as Kubachi porcelain include polychrome, blue and white, and black and turquoise ceramics that resemble the ceramics of the early Chinese Ming dynasty. By the latter part of the fourteenth century, blue and white ceramics had made their way to the Islamic world, and imitations may have begun shortly after that. The more varied and nuanced shades of the Persian blue set it apart from the Chinese blue.
Gombroon is arguably the most exquisite pottery ever made in Iran. It is composed of white fritware, which resembles Chinese porcelain in texture and compactness. Luster painting’s comeback was most likely brought about by the Safavid era’s revival of Iranian spirit, culture, and the arts. In the Islamic world, celadon goods like blue and white ones were always highly prized and in high demand.
Contemporary Iranian Pottery
The pottery tradition is still practiced in the village of Kalpuregan, located in southeast Iran. Men excavate, refine, and burn the clay, but women do the potting, which is unusual. There’s no use for the pottery wheel. Abstract patterns and symbols are used as painted decoration.
Chinese pottery, also called ceramics, has a 10,000-year history demonstrating an astounding advancement in artistic expression and artistry. Ancient Chinese societies used to manufacture rudimentary ceramics for everyday uses, including cooking and storing food, during the Neolithic era.
Chinese pottery included stoneware, porcelain, and earthenware—items formed of clay that were heated to a solid state. Nowhere else in the world has pottery gained the same prominence. and Chinese porcelain significantly impacted later European pieces.
From roughly 5000 BC to 3000 BC, the Yangshao culture, a Neolithic civilization, flourished along the middle reaches of the Yellow River. Yangshao ceramic artists produced exquisitely painted white, red, and black ceramics adorned with geometric, animal, and human face motifs. Pottery wheels were not used in the Yangshao pottery-making. Children were buried in painted pottery jars, according to excavation findings.
Several significant advancements in pottery technology were made during the Shang dynasty (c. 1600–1046 BCE), including the manufacture of glazes and hard-bodied, high-fired clay. A thin layer of hard, yellowish-green glaze is placed in liquid form on a small amount of stoneware. Using kaolin, which was eventually used to manufacture porcelain, Shang potters also created exquisite soft-bodied white material. This piece was likely intended for ceremonial usage and had designs resembling those on the ritual bronzes. A key-fret pattern and chevrons, or linked V-shaped, adorn the sole complete piece of exquisite white stoneware known to exist, which dates to approximately 1400 BC. The shoulder designs are evocative of those found on modern bronze containers. Gray pottery, which is widely available, also features far cruder imitations of bronze containers from the Shang era.
Zhou Dynasty (1046–256 bce)
The Zhou dynasty (1027–221 B.C.) did not focus much on their pottery, much like the Shang dynasty. Once more, the most common type of pottery created was the primary, coarse gray wares. The Zhou dynasty produced some unusual items, such as glazed stoneware that was painted and dipped in glaze. Because the Eastern Zhou (771-221 B.C.) made less expensive alternatives to the bronze containers used in rituals. During the Warring States period, “fine siliceous stoneware clays with yellowish, green-gray, or dark brown glazes” were frequently used to create these “bargain” funeral ceramics.
Han Dynasty (206 bce–220 ce)
The firing temperature of the shards unearthed from archaeological kiln sites in the Eastern Han was estimated to have varied between 1,260 and 1,300 °C (2,300 and 2,370 °F). The so-called “porcelaneous wares” or “proto-porcelain wares” date back to 1000 BC and were created using at least some kaolin that was burnt at a high temperature.
Lead-glazed ceramics were primarily used in the North as low-cost replacements for bronzes and tombs; in the South, ceramics gained increasing recognition as independent forms. Typical wares had high-fired glazes and were frequently red or gray. Funerary wares often had glazes evoking different patinations of bronze, and early Han lead-glazed vessels repeatedly mimicked the forms of Han bronzes. The glazes used in Sancai pottery during the Tang and Song dynasties were derived from Han discoveries.
The Three Kingdoms (220–280 ce) and Six Dynasties (220–589 ce)
The lower Yangtze Valley’s population growth greatly stimulated the Six Dynasties ceramic industry. Zhejiang kilns were creating stoneware with an olive-brown or greenish glaze. These ceramic objects include jars, plates, ewers, pitchers, and other grave goods. Potters broke free from the influence of bronze design during the Six Dynasties, producing shapes that were more distinctive to pottery.
While “northern celadon,” made in Hebei and Henan in the sixth century and reflects the taste of Turkish monarchs and other cultural interactions with western Asia, is unusual in style, most Zhejiang ceramics are plain or simply ornamented. Tomb figurines from this era are mostly unglazed, dark grey clay; however, occasionally, they are painted.
The hard, grayish, unglazed stoneware from Silla is the most typical type of pottery from the Three Kingdoms. The most common object shapes are jars, plates and mounted cups with straight, cylindrical necks. There are four or more rectangular openings at the base of the cups. In addition to the independent figurines of slightly bigger proportions, these gray ware jars have several human and animal figurines affixed to their shoulders.
Sui and Tang dynasties, 581–907 AD
The Sui and Tang dynasties made various low-fired and high-fired ceramics. These comprised the majority of the lead-glazed Sancai (three-color) wares. Because they were the first in the south to apply underglaze painting regularly, the Changsha Tongguan Kiln Site items at Tongguan are noteworthy.
The court favored Yue porcelain, the era’s most popular high-fired, lime-glazed celadon. It had extremely intricate designs. This also applied to the porcelains from the northern kilns in the provinces of Henan and Hebei, which, for the first time, satisfied the criteria of porcelain in both the East and the West by being translucent and pure white.
The Five Dynasties (907–960) and Ten Kingdoms (902–978)
The Five Dynasties’ and Ten Kingdoms unstable conditions in northern China did not help the pottery industry grow, and some varieties—like the Tang three-color wares—stopped being manufactured. Nonetheless, black glazed stonewares and white porcelain persisted throughout the Song period. On the other hand, the booming courts in the south and the significant population growth in the southeast served as major stimulants for the craft. Writers of the 10th century referred to the best pieces—embellished in the clay body beneath a very light olive-green glaze—as Biseyao, which means “secret” or “reserve, color ware.”
Song Dynasty (960–1279)
Chinese culture continues to place great value on Song dynasty pottery vessels, particularly those from the “Five Great Kilns.” The creative focus of Song porcelain was on graceful shapes and delicate glaze effects; additional decoration, when present, was primarily in the form of shallow relief. Early development was first carved using a knife, but in later years, mounds were employed, resulting in a loss of artistic quality.
Liao (907–1125) and Jin Dynasties (1115–1234)
The Liao and Jin dynasties were established by nomadic, illiterate individuals who had previously conquered regions of China. During their reign, pottery manufacture continued, but their creative traditions somewhat blended with Chinese culture, giving rise to distinctive new designs.
The Liao and Jin regions produced mostly high-fired fine pottery. What is known as kaolinite in the West was part of the clay utilized. Stoneware was sometimes chosen over other materials because of its richer color or superior functionality. Before applying glaze, a potter would cover their locally produced clay with a white slip if it was too gritty or dark for their tastes.
Yuan Dynasty (1206–1368)
The Yuan dynasty required artists of all stripes to travel throughout the Mongol Empire. In the case of ceramics, this resulted in a significant artistic and technical impact on the Islamic world in the form of blue and white porcelain with cobalt underglaze painting. Chinese pottery vessels have long been adorned with painted designs beneath a layer of glaze. The Yuan dynasty employed bright colors and intricate designs, whose structure was mostly derived from Islamic technique, particularly metals, even if Chinese culture continued to influence the animal and vegetable motifs.
Ming Dynasty (1368-1644)
The Ming dynasty witnessed a remarkable age of advancements in ceramic production. Kilns experimented with novel design and shape approaches, displaying a color preference, painted designs, and an openness to non-native forms. The cobalt had previously had a bright color but a propensity to bleed during a fire; adding manganese made the color duller but the line sharper. Works from the Chenghua and Xuande periods, particularly wine cups, became so famous by the late 16th century that their prices were almost on par with actual antiques from the Song dynasty or even earlier.
Along with these artistic advancements, the late Ming dynasty transitioned significantly to a market economy. At this point, kaolin and pottery stone proportions were roughly equal. When added to the paste, kaolin produced strong goods and improved the body’s whiteness. Compared to paste combined with kaolin, which required 1,350 °C (2,460 °F) of firing, pottery stone could be burnt at a lower temperature of 1,250 °C (2,280 °F).
Qing Dynasty (1644–1911)
The Qing dynasty developed many of the Ming’s innovations and produced various porcelain styles. The most noteworthy example of ongoing innovation was the growing palette of colors offered, primarily in overglaze enamels. With the West, a large commerce in Chinese porcelain exports emerged. The taste of the court was very varied; while monochromatic goods continued to be preferred, a broad spectrum of vivid glaze colours was now used. Unique glazing treatments were highly prized; new ones were created, and traditional Song products were expertly copied. However, the court now accepted the new vivid polychrome palettes and goods with painted scenes in both blue and white.
South American Pottery
Pre-Ceramic Period: Before 1800 BC
The Pre-ceramic Period (before 9500–1800 BC), literally before pottery was created, extends from the first recorded human presence in South America (the exact date is still up for discussion) to the first known usage of ceramic containers.
Initial Period: 1800–900 BC
Around this time, Peru developed a completely established sedentary agricultural way of life and saw the emergence of skills, including stone carving, weaving, and pottery manufacturing.
Formative or Preclassic Period: 900 BC – AD 200
Simple farming groups dominated the Preclassic era before the abrupt emergence of Classic cultures. Archaeologists recognize two lengthy evolutionary tendencies that gave rise to Classic civilization. First, the expansion of agriculture and its resulting effects on society, politics, economy, technology, and demography (e.g., pottery). The second is the increasing complexity of politics, society, and ideology.
Regional Development Period: 200 BC – AD 600
Handmade pottery was frequently created with coil or flat slabs construction methods, producing various shaped and sized containers, such as bowls, plates, effigy pots, and jars. Many surface decoration, such as geometric patterns painted or carved, stylized human and animal forms, and elaborate motifs with cultural and symbolic meanings.
Middle Horizon: AD 600–1000
The Middle Horizon was a long period when two powerful states, Wari and Tiwanaku, dominated much of the central and south-central Andean highlands. The Wari were recognized for their exquisitely crafted polychrome ceramics, while the Tiwanaku were known for their characteristic black-on-red pottery, frequently embellished with mythological and cosmological symbols.
Late Intermediate Period: AD 1000–1476
A single cultural group in the Late Intermediate Period did not dominate the Andes. Amidst this age of cultural variety, the coastal Chimú Kingdom emerged, showcasing well-developed administrative ideas and architecture.
The Chimú people were skilled potters who produced various shaped and sized pots using coiling, shaping, and painting methods. They were particularly good at making stirrup-spout jars, which were both very practical and quite beautiful.
Late Horizon: AD 1476–1534
This time frame starts with the creation of the Inca empire and ends with the entrance of the Europeans. They then extended their rule outside of the Cuzco region. The poly-chrome technique was used to paint ceramics, depicting various motifs like animals, birds, waves, cats, and geometric patterns typical of Nazca pottery. Ceramics depicted the commonplace events of everyday life in a society without written language, such as relationships, tribal warfare, and the smelting of metals.
Byzantium was renamed Constantinople after it assumed the role of the Roman Empire’s imperial capital in 330 CE. The majority of the surviving wares can be divided into two classes: one is red-bodied and occasionally has stamped relief decoration beneath a clear glaze; the other is sgraffito and features a variety of images, including Greek crosses, animals, birds, monograms, and human figures, all engraved through a white slip and covered in glazes in yellow and green.
There are two types of Spanish earthenware: lustreware and painted tin glazedware. The primary material of Hispano-Moresque pottery is typically quite coarse clay that has been burned to a pinkish-buff color. Lead is in variable amounts in the tin glaze covering the clay.
Paterna, close to Valencia, was known for its green and manganese-decorated goods, many of which included Moorish themes. The color scheme is typical of many Spanish tin-glazed ceramics; green and manganese are prominent, usually paired with gray and orange-red accents. The Cuenca technique created tiles with deeply impressed designs, and the resulting compartments were filled with colored glazes. Lustre pigments were also used as tile decoration.
Italian earthenware can be divided into two classes: majolica, tin-glazed ware, and sgraffito-decorated pottery. The most notable aspect of Italian majolica is its painted decoration, which surpassed all European creations since the classical era in terms of technical proficiency. The tin glaze was dry but unfired, and the painting was done in multiple hues. The color spectrum was somewhat narrow; the primary colors were cobalt blue, copper green, manganese purple, antimony yellow, and iron red, with the tin-glaze substance serving as white.
The sgraffito ware’s body was coated in a slip of contrasting color, the ornamentation was then scratched through to reveal the clay body underneath, and the entire piece was coated in a lead glaze with a somewhat yellow tone.
French pottery of the highest caliber dates back to the Saint-Porchaire era. Often mistaken for real faience, white lead-glazed earthenware body was produced for a select group of French buyers between the 1520s and the 1550s. It is distinguished by the use of clay inlays in contrasting colors, and as Victorian revivalists discovered, it is quite challenging to manufacture. The primary body is white, with a thin layer of cream glaze on top. Patterns inlaid in brown, reddish-brown, or yellow-ochre slips are heavily used.
While Belgium achieved some success in the eighteenth century in replicating the Meissen and Sevres styles, the majority of their original creations were in the form of figurines and tableware. During the 17th century, porcelain was produced in Brussels and Tournai. During the Rococo era, Brussels produced some great tureens in forms such as fowl, vegetables, and fruits, but their styles were primarily derivative.
In 1759, a hard-paste factory was established; some employees were Germans who had been laid off due to the Seven Years’ War; hence, German styles predominated in models and painting. A common item produced by these companies was sets of vases with intricate perforations and minimal embellishments, yet featuring finely detailed miniature paintings.
The primary reason for the faience industry’s expansion throughout Scandinavia was labor migration from Germany. Bowls and plates shaped like mitre, are used for a type of punch known as bishop, were a characteristic product of Scandinavia.
Notable Ceramic Artists
Notable famous pottery artists inclue Grayson Perry, Ron Nagle, Betty Woodman, Edmund de Waal, and Shio Kusaka. See below:
- Born: 24 March 1960 (age 63)
- Country: England
- Notable Works:
- Guerilla Tactics (2002)
- Using My Family (1998)
- We’ve Found the Body of Your Child (2000)
Grayson Perry’s work draws on numerous ceramic traditions, including Greek pottery and folk art. He uses a traditional way of coiling to create his vessels. The majority feature intricate surfaces that use various methods, such as “glazing, incision, embossing, and photographic transfers,” which call for multiple firings. Perry questions the implicit belief in the craft tradition that pottery is only functional or ornamental and is incapable of expressing ideas. Some of his famous works include Guerilla Tactics (2002), Using My Family (1998), and We’ve Found the Body of Your Child (2000).
- Born: San Francisco, 1939
- Nationality: American
- Notable Works:
- Centaur of Attention (2014)
- Beirut Canal (2009)
- Elephant Shadow Cup (1993)
Ron Nagle is well-known for his intimately scaled sculptures comprised of ceramic components that have been shaped, fired, and decorated with epoxy and other synthetic materials, allowing him to push his shapes beyond the boundaries of clay. Some are airbrushed after being textured like stucco, while some are glazed to a hot-rod gloss. Some of his most amazing works include: Centaur of Attention (2014), Beirut Canal (2009), and Elephant Shadow Cup(1993).
- Born: May 14, 1930
- Birth name: Elizabeth Abrahams
- Died: January 2, 2018 (aged 87)
- Nationality: American
- Notable Works:
- Aeolian Pyramid (2001)
- In her Boulder, Colorado studio. (1961)
- The Kitchen Table (2014)
Betty Woodman started as a production potter in the 1950s. Her work transitioned from practical ceramics to retrospective exhibitions. Woodman has created a singular and noteworthy sequence of inventions through her conceptual audacity and ambitious experimentation, including combining odd materials such as lacquer paint on earthenware body and terra sigilatta, a slip glaze frequently used on ancient pottery, on paper. Some of her famous works include: Aeolian Pyramid (2001), In her Boulder, Colorado studio. (1961), and The Kitchen Table (2014).
Edmund de Waal
- Born: 10 September 1964, Nottingham, United Kingdom
- Nationality: British
Edmund de Waal is renowned for his expansive installations of porcelain items, which he frequently produced in reaction to archives, collections, or local history. After graduating, de Waal started to produce affordable household pots with pleasing earth tones by adhering to the discipline of British studio pottery. Since 2000, de Waal has shifted his focus from creating and displaying individual domestic artworks to creating groups of vessels and objects meant to be viewed about openings and spaces. Later, he moved into primarily wall-mounted and freestanding vitrines that were filled with a variety of his porcelain art, and most recently, he added various metals, metallic gilding, porcelain shards, and porcelain sheets with handwritten embosses.
- Born: 1972, Morioka, Japan
Shio Kusaka is a prominent artist in the recent West Coast trend that uses clay as a medium. Her work frequently has simple forms with surface patterns, dimpling, lines, etc. Her sometimes asymmetrical shapes and breathtakingly gorgeous surfaces in modern art command a dominant position. Her use of shape, pattern, color, and glazing processes has led her to construct a unique formal language.
For more information see our full article on Ceramic Artists.
Famous Ceramic Artwork
Bust of the Virgin by Andrea Briosco
- Artist: Andrea Briosco
- Date: 1520–1525
- Medium: Terracotta with traces of polychromy
The Virgin, portrayed as a compassionate human mother and an immortal, heavenly monarch, holds the Christ child in her arms. Ancient Roman depictions of deities are reminiscent of the Virgin’s attire and delicate features. Her perfectly coiffed hair is crowned with a crown embellished with shells, pearls, a cameo, and a winged putto.
Only the upper portion of the original full-length statue of the Virgin and Child remains intact. Both figures were initially pale with dark brown hair. The Christ child was dressed in yellow, and the Virgin wore a crimson robe with a blue mantle. Experts consider red specks on the Virgin’s crown to be remnants of a gold-preparation layer, indicating that the object was once gilded.
See more from Artchive’s online art gallery: Bust of the Virgin by Andrea Briosco.
Il Guerriero (The Warrior) by Lucio Fontana
- Artist: Lucio Fontana (1899-1968)
- Date: 1953
- Materials: polychrome ceramic
Il Guerriero measures over a metre tall and is a remarkable and dramatic example of the artist’s groundbreaking glazed ceramic sculptures, which were among the first fully Spatialist works in his long and prolific career. Fontana modeled the figure in wet clay, then fired and glazed it in deep shades of Viridian. Its sweeping silhouette and unpolished, elemental textures are characteristic of Fontana’s ceramics from this era, which incorporated Baroque and Futurist idioms to represent the ideas of time, space, color, and movement at the core of his Spatialist perspective.
Read more from Artchive’s online art gallery: Il Guerriero (The Warrior) by Lucio Fontana
Hibou Blanc sur Fond Rouge (White Owl on Red Ground), by Pablo Picasso
- Artist: Pablo Picasso (Spanish, 1881-1973)
- Date: 1957
- Materials: Ceramic Plate
Hibou Blanc sur Fond Rouge is a magnificent work piece that blends the artist’s love of owls as a subject with his colors and inspiration from Greco-Roman ceramics. The owl in a frontal stance with its wings spread is displayed in this Madoura-turned round dish, which has an amazing color scheme that highlights the terracotta clay’s inherent beauty. Picasso’s skill with lines is evident in the playful patterns that define the bird’s features and adorn the dish, while the black engobe painting contrasts with the white form of the bird. The decoration on the verso of this Picasso Madoura porcelain adds to its charm. The dish’s convex back is painted in white enamel and has abstract lines that were etched with a knife to decorate the surface.
Read more at Artchive’s online art gallery: Hibou Blanc sur Fond Rouge (White Owl on Red Ground) by Pablo Picasso
Spatial Concept, Nature (Concetto Spaziale, Natura) by Lucio Fontana
- Artist: Lucio Fontana (Italian, 1899–1968)
- Date: 1959–1960
- Materials: Terracotta
Concetto Spaziale, Natura is created by severing a slit across a spherical terracotta clay, which is then cast in bronze. According to him, the cut was a “vital sign” that expressed “a desire to make the inert material live.” Fontana was interested in change and the malleable but unbreakable density of matter. The “atrocious unnerving silence” that awaits man in space and the necessity of leaving a “living sign” of the artist’s existence served as inspiration for some of the Nature series.
Read more on Artchive’s online art gallery: Spatial Concept, Nature (1959-1960) by Lucio Fontana
How to Make Pottery
Making pottery has 3 fundamental steps: Preparing clay, shaping clay (either by hand or via a pottery wheel), and drying clay (possibly via a kiln).
Equipment Needed to Make Pottery
Clay is the raw material used to create pottery and ceramics. Alumina, silica, and water comprise most of the clay’s composition, with trace amounts of additional elements. Because clay extracted directly from the earth might not have the right qualities for ceramics, potters typically blend various clay types or incorporate other materials into their clay. These artificial clays are referred to as clay bodies.
There are three basic types of clay body; earthenware, stoneware and porcelain.
- Available in a wide range of colors from white to dark brown.
- Usually plastic
- matures at low temperatures, but remains porous.
- Available in various colors.
- Usually plastic
- Vitrifies at medium to elevated temperatures.
- Its main ingredient is kaolin, also know as China clay
- Porcelain is white
- Relatively non-plastic
- Vitrifies at elevated temperatures.
For guidance on what clay to buy for your own project, see our buying guides on Best Air Dry Clay.
A kiln is a kind of oven that is thermally insulated and can reach high enough temperatures to finish processes like drying, hardening, or chemical reactions. Clay ingredients are formed, dried, and fired in a kiln to create pottery. The preparation and content of the clay body and the firing temperature define the final properties. Kilns come in two varieties: intermittent and continuous. They are both insulated boxes with regulations on interior temperatures and atmospheres.
A pottery wheel is the equipment used to shape clay into circular ceramic pieces through throwing. The wheel can also be used to apply colored rings or incised ornamentation and to trim surplus clay from leather-harddry ware that is rigid but flexible. The wheel may use electrical power or foot power.
For recommendations on what pottery wheel to buy, see our buying guide on the Best Pottery Wheel for Beginners.
Ceramic glaze is a glass like covering on ceramics. It serves as ornamentation, guarantees that the object is impervious to liquids, and reduces the amount of contaminants that stick to it. It provides a more rigid surface as well. The unfired glaze can be applied in various ways, such as by brushing, dipping, spraying, or trailing. Once fired, a glaze’s color may alter dramatically from its pre-firing color.
A ceramic flux is required for glazes; it encourages partial liquefaction of the clay bodies and other glaze constituents. Silica is a common raw element used in ceramic glazes and serves as the primary glass forming. Many metal oxides, including those of calcium, potassium, and sodium, function as flux and reduce the melting point. Alumina stiffens the molten glaze material so that it doesn’t drip off the object.
Frequently Asked Questions about Pottery
Where was Pottery Invented?
The earliest ceramic artefacts were found in Eastern Asia. Pieces of pottery were discovered in the Xianrendong cave in China from 18,000–17,000 BCE.
What is the Oldest Pottery in the World?
Pottery dating from 20,000 years ago was found at the Xianrendong Cave site in Jiangxi province, making it among the earliest pottery yet found. Another reported find is from 17,000 to 18,000 years ago in the Yuchanyan Cave in southern China.
What is Pottery Made out of?
Natural raw elements like clay, earthy minerals, and water are combined and shaped into forms to create pottery. After shaping, the clay body is heated to a high temperature in a kiln to solidify and it heat resistant.
What is Glazing in Pottery?
Glazing in pottery is putting a layer of liquid glass like material, known as glaze, into a ceramic piece before firing it in a kiln. Glaze can be applied by dry-dusting a dry mixture onto the surface of the clay body or by putting salt or soda into the kiln at elevated temperatures. Other methods include:
- Brushing the glaze material on directly with a brush or other tool.
- Pouring it over the artwork.
- Spraying it on with an airbrush or other similar equipment.
Difference between Pottery and Ceramics?
The main difference between ceramics and pottery is that the ceramics can be created using various inorganic, non-metallic elements, whilst the pottery is only constructed of clay body. Specifically, pottery refers to items formed of clay and baked in a kiln at a high temperature. Conversely, ceramics technically refer to a wide range of items created from non-metallic, inorganic materials that undergo permanent modification through high-temperature burning.