POTTERY AND PORCELAIN. The word "pottery" (Fr. poterie) in its widest sense includes all objects fashioned from clay and then hardened by fire ; the word "porcelain" should only be applied to certain well marked varieties of pottery. Pot tery is dependent on two important natural properties of that great and wide-spread group of rocky or earthy substances known as clays, viz., the property of plasticity and the property of being converted when fired into one of the most indestructible of ordinary things.
"Ceramics" or "Keramics" (Gr. KEpagos, earthenware) is a general term for the study of the art of pottery. It is adopted for this purpose both in French (ceramique) and in German (Keramik).
The primitive races took such clay as they found on the sur face of the ground, or by some river-bed, and, spreading it out on a stone slab, picking out the rocky fragments, then beating it with the hands, with stones or boards, or even treading it with their feet, proceeded to fashion it into such shapes as need or fancy dictated. Fired in an open fire, such pottery may be buff. drab, brown or red—and those from imperfect firing become smoked, gray or black. For ages tools and methods remained of the simplest—the fingers for shaping or building up vessels, a piece of mat or basket-work for giving initial support to a larger vase—until some original genius of the tribe found that by starting to build up his pot on the flattened side of a boulder he could turn his support so as to bring every part in succession under his hand, and thus the potter's wheel was invented.
At first this simple hand-made pottery was hardened by drying in the sun, but the increasing use of fire soon brought out the fact that a baked clay vessel became as hard as stone. Different districts produced different colours of clay, and thus colour decoration arose. On this substructure all the pottery of the last 4,000 years has been built, for behind all Egyptian, Greek or Chinese pottery we find the same primitive foundations.
In subsequent articles on this subject we find that the Egyp tians evolved schemes of glowing colour—brilliant glazes fired on objects, shaped in sand held together with a little clay, or actually carved from rocks or stone; the Greeks produced their marbles of plastic form, and then turned the plastic clay into imitations of metal forms; the Romans spread some knowledge of the craft over all the empire, but with its fall pottery was forgotten along with its greater achievement. Egypt and the
Near East continued the splendours of their glorious past, and glazed and painted pottery was still made by traditional methods. Many interesting kinds of decorated pottery were made at Old Cairo, Alexandria, Damascus, in Syria, Anatolia and elsewhere (on which the later Moslem potters founded their glorious works).
Meantime, in the farther East, the Chinese—the greatest race of potters the world has ever seen—were quietly gathering strength, until from their glazed, hard-fired pottery there emerged the marvellous, white translucent porcelain, one of the wonders of the mediaeval world.
With the dawn of the 15th century, the state of affairs was practically this : In European countries proper, we find rudely fashioned and decorated wares in which we can trace the slow development of a native craft from the superposition of Roman methods on the primitive work of the peoples. The vessels were mostly intended for use and not for show; were clumsily fash ioned of any local clay, and if glazed at all then only with coarse lead-glazes, coloured yellow or green; in no case above the level of workmanship of the travelling brick- or tile-maker. The finest expression of this native style is to be found in the Gothic tile pavements of France, Germany and England.
As early as the 12th century the superior artistic pottery of the Moslem nations had already attracted the notice of Europeans as an article of luxury for the wealthy; and we may well believe the traditional accounts that Saracen potters were brought into Italy, France and Burgundy to introduce the practice of their art, while Italian potters certainly penetrated into the workshops of eastern Spain and elsewhere and gathered new ideas.