Yesterday we paused our ceramics history lesson around the year 9,000 BC—when ceramic food vessels were becoming widespread. At this time, earthenware tiles and bricks were also increasingly produced. Up to this point, all ceramics were made of stoneware and formed-by-hand. The invention of the wheel (for ceramics making!) around 3,500 BC, allowed ceramics vessels to be "thrown." Although still hand-crafted, the new technology allowed for faster production, more symmetrical uniformity, and more sophisticated execution. For the first time, ceramic vessels reached the level of an art form—and were further embellished with complex and pleasing decoration.
The Chinese pioneered another ceramics advancement: the improvement of kilns which could reach higher temperatures and maintain those temperatures consistently. Around 600 AD, the Chinese began firing finer grades of clay (in their improved kilns), thus inventing porcelain. These exotic porcelains—which the Europeans would not figure-out how to manufacture for another 1,000 years—became highly coveted in the West and traded on Medieval "Silk Road" trade routes. This commerce popularized ceramics throughout the Middle East where Islamic ceramics production advanced and took-on an aesthetic character of its own. And though Europeans began producing porcelain in the 1600's, authentic Chinese (and later, Japanese and Middle Eastern) porcelain remained highly-collectable by wealthy European aristocrats into the early Twentieth Century.
The European vase shown above, though made in the technologically advanced Twentieth Century, purposefully attempts to convey the earthy, hand-built nature of ceramics from millennia past. Perhaps the ceramicist was referencing an ancient piece, newly-unearthed at a Mid-Century archeological dig. Click on the photo above to learn more about it.
More ceramics history tomorrow...
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