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Sgraffito earthenware - Introduction
Sgraffito is the term to describe redware pottery, in which, with the aid of a sharp tool, decorations have been scratched into a thin layer of white clay slip. Since the middle ages, this centuries-old oriental decoration technique was introduced into Western Europe by way of Persia and the Byzantine empire. In the 15th and 16th centuries, potters in the Netherlands applied this technique onto simple domestic earthenware.
Functional use of sgraffito earthenware
The utilitarian function of a decorated domestic object can be understood both in a practical as well as a symbolic sense. Based on archeologica evidence, coming from late medieval Dutch cities, one can conclude that a certain assortment of everyday pottery with or without any form of decoration has been in use in every late medieval household.
Sgraffito - The Middle East
Before the middle of the 9th century, ‘lead-glazed splashed wares’ with splashes in green, brown and yellow started to get produced in the Middle East, which recall the mottled decoration of Chinese ceramics of the contemporary Tang period (AD 618-907). There is a nice story of imprisoned Chinese potters introducing the art of Chinese pottery manufacture in the Islamic World. However, this is not sure.
Sgraffito - Byzantium
Variants of the sgraffito technique were extensively used in the Byzantine World from the 12th century onwards. The Byzantine potters took much more trouble to ensure that vessels for the table such as bowls and dishes were pleasing to look at. This was achieved by covering their inside with an overall coating of white slip and a colourless lead glaze, and further enhancing the surfaces with a colourful variety of incised and painted designs.
Sgraffito - Italy
In the late medieval period, sgraffito wares started to get manufactured in northern Italy (in particular in the Po Valley), copying Byzantine prototypes. Especially Venice was an important production centre, starting with the manufacture of sgraffito wares in the mid 13th century.
All pottery is a copy
Japanese cook and potter Rosanjin Kitaoji (1883-1959): "All pottery is a copy. The only question is what the copy is aiming for; what element of the original it is seeking to emulate."
"If clothes make the person, dishes make the food".