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History Of Pottery And Porcelain:
Pottery And Porcelain Defined
History Of Pottery
Romano-British Pottery
Asia Minor
Hispano-Moorish Pottery
Italian Pottery
Majolica Ware
Forms Employed By The Italians
French Pottery
German Pottery
Holland - Delft
English Pottery
Introduction To Porcelain
Oriental Porcelain China
European Porcelain
English Porcelain
Italian Porcelain
French Porcelain

Other Encyclopedias:
Pottery And Porcelain
Clocks And Watches

The History Of Pottery

( Originally Published Late 1800's )

The oldest, and probably the most useful, of the industrial arts claims a degree of attention and study which has never been accorded it in this country.

Intimately associated as it is with every age and nation within and without the pale of continuous history, bearing as it does, in many instances, the solitary records of extinct peoples, full of interest and instruction, whether considered in the light of a science or as a medium for the expression of art, it seems strange that we have so far neglected it as to grant it only a passing recognition. It lies in the strict thoroughfare through which we must by necessity travel to the attainment of what the Old World terms "a critical knowledge of art." If we would come to a good understanding of Art, we must at least regard her attributes. Doubtless there are many who will regard the contemplation of a poor baked jar with somewhat of contempt, or disdain to look upon Etruria when they might behold Raphael. Raphael himself had not this same disdain, and what exalted him may be just what we neglect.

Topics which have long exercised the talents and tastes of all Europe we cannot becomingly disregard. Keenly sensitive as we are, every influence from that direction is felt by sympathy here, and excites our attention as being worthy among our pursuits of knowledge.The study of the world's fictilia deserves an eminent place in our annals of history and art. Our own hemisphere even absolutely thrusts upon us materials of which we have not yet availed ourselves. The subject of ceramics, as practised here in ages far anterior to our own, remains unstudied, unknown. Numerous as are the evidences, no one has ventured upon that long and arduous study which can alone unfold the mystery in which it is involved.

In chronological order it would perhaps not be correct to mention what is termed the "Peruvian ware" of America just here, but if we were to allow that that is oldest of which least is known, we might begin this history with a description of the quaint and curious pottery found in the southern part of our own continent.

In character and form it perhaps more closely resembles the Egyptian than any other. A collection of about fifty pieces, sold in New York City some years since, and afterwards, I believe, transferred to the Museum of "Cornell University," contained a variety of exceedingly interesting and curious pieces, none of them however of so large a size as some to be seen elsewhere. There are also several pieces in the Museum of the New York Historical Society. Duplicates of the same design are seldom met, and this one fact would go far to prove that the use of the mould was unknown, everything being wrought by hand. The ware is generally thin and light, being of a dark brown or blackish color: the surface has a peculiar metallic appearance, as if it had been purposely polished, or become so by long use. In the vicinity of the Incas Territory it is most abundant, it frequently being associated with their tombs and burial places. Throughout the whole inhabited portion of South America it is still found in considerable quantities, as also in Central America and Mexico, and as far north as Texas, where traces of it become lost.

At the foot of Ometepec, a mountain island of Lake Nicaragua, lies an enormous monolith, or deified stone, surrounding this is an incredible amount of debris, made up mostly of broken vessels of pottery, some in such a state of preservation that the form may still be distinguished. The island is an abrupt, volcanic mountain, jutting directly out of this inland sea about fifteen miles distant easterly from Virgin Bay, this being the nearest point on this coast. It seems probable that its commanding position and appearance-its height being about two thousand feet-suggested to the natives its propriety as a house for this deity, and that these broken vessels and remnants of old pottery are the tributes of devout pilgrims to its shrine. The small value of mere conjecture confronts us severely when we try to go further than this. As regards origin, mode of production, or artizan, we are totally in the dark, and can only confine ourselves to bare description.

Most of the specimens now known are water-vessels of small capacity, but curious and interesting design, similar to the one in cut number one. Nearly all these small pieces are copies of animate forms, birds, monkeys, and fish being most frequent, and these are exhibited in attitudes grotesque, extraordinary, and repulsive. Some of the bird pieces are so formed as to emit sounds when water is poured into or out of them, or by breathing into them, these, however, are not so common.

Throughout Central America and the adjacent country almost all the hollow-ware in use among the natives is provided by Nature herself, gourds, of all sizes and shapes, being very generally applied to the wants of the household. The one and almost the only piece of pottery used there at the present day is the bibulante, or water cooler, which is of porous material, and keeps the water at a temperature of refreshing coolness through constant evaporation, which is maintained by the percola tion of the contents. Curiously enough, this simple vessel is almost an exact reproduction of the Egyptian chooleh, both in form and purpose. To make this latter more effective, it was constantly fanned with palm leaves, and evaporation thereby facilitated. These are in use also in Andalusia, where they are termed alcarazzas. Another striking similarity of form between the Egyptian and ancient American pottery is the double bottle: in fact nearly all the pieces of Peruvian ware are double, being two distinct vessels, which are joined at the sides, and, by means of a syphon, have one orifice. No reason can be given why this form was in such general use except that they might be more conveniently carried. Still more interesting is the fact of its common adoption by two antipodal points, Egypt and America. The oriental, gourd-shaped, pilgrim's bottle is another form very generally employed by both.

M. Jacquemart, in his "Merveilles de la Ceramique," thus discourses regarding American pottery:

"If there be in this country a series of earthen monuments interesting to study, they are those which connect it with the ancient people of the world which we call in our ignorance New. In their ambitious frenzy the West-, ern nations rushed upon this virgin continent. They annihilated the aborigines, without even seeking to know their origin, and, after having taken all the gold they were able to demand from the treasures of the unhappy Indians, they left it to Nature to spread a veil of luxuriant tropical vegetation over the ruins of an extinct civilization. It remained to some adventurers of our day to discover by chance the unforeseen witness of this civilization. In 1750 two Spaniards visited the monuments of Guatemala, and related their discoveries without awakening in any great degree the public attention. It was not until 1805 and 1808 that some earnest explorers undertook the study of the ruins of Milta and Palengue. At last M. Alcide d'Orbigny, in his voyage to Peru, discovered to the public an entire new series of works, being witness to the artistic intelligence of the ancient people. It is not our province to speak of the pyramids and temples of the New World, neither to call attention to the structural resemblance between these and the Egyptian monuments. But we claim a connection even more direct and apparent between the American pottery and Greek and Etruscan ware. Of a paste sometimes red, very fine, strong and lustrous, sometimes black or grayish, a little less fine, and rendered lustrous by friction, it is often ornamented by reliefs, by engravings, and even upon the red earth by designs in black appearing to be analogous with ink. Some pieces are covered with a glazing of greenish or reddish brown, with metalloid reflections. But the mere fabrication is not the only striking and interesting feature of these potteries, more astonishing are the artless imitations through which is perceived a rare intelligence of art, and the figurative vases whereon the American people have left us most remarkable historic evidences of themselves. It is difficult at present to trace the origin of the greater part of the pieces displayed in the collection, however: by analogy of types and materials, this may be clearly enough distributed among the distinct tribes. The most ancient belonged in Central America, particularly Guatemala, and those go back to a very remote antiquity. The works found in sepulchres and vaults are principally plates and urns of red clay, placed on the ground or in niches, each of these vases contain human bones surrounded with lime and mortar. The crypts or tumuli of Milta and Palengue contain, beside the red pottery, some gray earthenware, very strong."

M. Jacquemart attempts no detailed description of the ware, either historic or otherwise, a circumstance which certainly reflects little credit upon our own interest and research. He found no authority to bring to his aid.

The largest specimens of ancient pottery found in this country are the funeral jars, in which human remains were deposited. Several of these have been found in Brazil and elsewhere on this continent, here again the likeness to the Eastern custom impresses us.

In this direction alone there is ample material for study and conjecture: here are comparisons more interesting and more suggestive than can be found in other evidences of the first inhabitants of our continent, proofs more conclusive than can be obtained through other tangible sources.

Further research remains for the archaeologist and student of this obscure history. Truths so useful and important cannot remain long uninvestigated, the impulsive progress of our day demands that every source of knowledge should be made available and yield its fruit.

A subject like this, which has long exercised the talents and ability of scholars abroad, we, sensitive as we are to foreign impulses, cannot long pass unrecognized. What has exalted itself to a high degree of importance among the cultured people of Europe must at last excite our attention as being worthy of an eminent place in our annals of history and of art.

The far antiquity of the potter's work commands for it no ordinary attention. Were this to be the primal standard of eminence, it would stand first among the arts of the world; even such great authority as Winckelmann has admitted it to this degree: "clay is the first material in all nations, and pottery the most ancient of all arts," he remarks, and real evidences will not allow us to doubt his statement.

In the contents of the tombs we find still more tangible proofs. In the Sanscrit "Mahabharata" is probably the earliest mention of the art made in profane history. Here, one Satiavan, an artist in clay, is spoken of as a "modeler of horses." Doubtless his work was done long before Homer's heroes figured in the world's history.

The potter's wheel, Pliny claims, is the invention of Hyperbois, a Corinthian; but this statement is at once proved false by the Bible, which mentions it at a period long before this. Indeed one of Israel's earliest kings is mentioned as having employed a master-potter.

The remnants of these times are too obscure and rarely met to afford foundations for any consecutive review. Authorities claim diversely, according to their particular prejudices, and the result of all is that this pottery is too remote, too little known, to be chronologically considered. The first country where we find any good foundation for the commencement of a history is Egypt.

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