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THE HISTORY OF CERAMIC

One of the biggest discoveries of the Neolithic age was undoubtedly ceramics, which must have been a completely fortuitous accident. Once it was understood that clay, kneaded  and worked by hand, transformed through the action of fire, it was easy to give it a shape before firing , in order to use it for items like jugs or mugs.

It seems that women were often charged with this work, while men had other occupations like hunting or building  religious monuments such as the well-known menhirs and dolmens.

The paste was generally natural clay, containing aluminium silicates and with colors that range from gray to reddish ( based on the quantity of iron oxide content). Shapes  were derived from the manipulation of a block of clay, using a mold, or often using little cylinders of clay overlapped in a spiral and afterwards leveled: in every case the objects were dried at ambient temperature, then hardened next to a fire.

The word ceramic comes from the ancient Greek word “Keramos”. The art of ceramics goes back to ten thousand years ago, while the use of the lathe spread starting from about three thousand years ago. This useful clay-working tool is made by using a spinning wheel that permits modeling the object with both hands, obtaining in this way a perfect symmetrical shape.

A lathe is used in the creation of dishes, pots, bowls and in decorating them as well. The use of this tool , that permitted a faster and more uniform processing, diffused first in Egypt and Mesopotamia, spreading from here to the rest of world. Later, molds were used to obtain more copies from an original one.

 

WORKING CLAY

The phases of working clay are these: first shaping by hand, to give a form to each object, then a slow drying process, to eliminate water present in the paste, and then firing in a kiln. Kilns were originally fed by wood. Today simpler ones are powered with electricity or gas, replacing wood-fired kilns and allowing  more precise phases of firing

After these steps one obtains a piece of “terracotta”, also called  “biscuit”. During firing, the clay goes through some physical transformations that change its structure and makes the object solid yet porous to the weather. At this point is possible to cover it with a layer of enamel glaze that allows one to prepare a white or colored base to decorate on. A further firing at around 1000  degrees fixes the colors and vitrifies the surface of the objects, making it shiny and glass-like. From this way of processing we obtain the famous Italian ceramics “maioliche” or “faenze”.