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Photo: Joachim Rotteveel

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 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. The Van Beuningen-de Vriese collection, which is part of the Boijmans Van Beuningen Museum since 1983, contains a collection late medieval sgraffito earthenware. These examples have been produced between 1450-1550 in several potteries in the Netherlands. The museum also owns a small collection of Iranian sgraffito earthenware, which can also be found on this website.

The religious and profane decorations which are scratched into Dutch sgraffito wares, vary from simple motifs to a broad range of iconographic images, which are part of late medieval visual imagery. Possibly, part of this sgraffito earthenware, was produced for special occasions, such as marriage, births, name days of saints and Shrove Tuesday. The assortment of the domestic wares which has been decorated with sgraffito motifs are somewhat limited. Mostly dishes, butter dishes (on foot), mixing bowls, batter tubs, porringers, cooking pots and pipkins are the carriers of sgraffito decorations. Some of the larger dishes still reveal old traces of soot, because once they were filled with hot foods, being placed on top of a chafing dish at the dinner table. Besides this, old carving traces can be found sometimes.

Future archeological and art-historical research into Dutch sgraffito earthenware, and the iconography of the imagery that was used, will extend the insight into the diverse production centres of these objects, and how this pottery has functioned in late medieval society, where it gained its meaning.