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Terra Cotta

pieces, material, clay, baked, stone, french, baking, quality, hard and earthenware

TERRA COTTA, hard baked clay or earthenware of exceptionally good quality, of E uniform texture, hard and durable. The 'ng lish Dictionary of Architecture,' completed be fore there was much use in England of ma terials made with cement, speaks of it as arti ficial stone; but the term has also been used largely for that ancient earthenware of which are made the painted Greek vases which are so important in the history of art, and the inferior but still interesting pieces of Etruria. In corn mon usage, however, the term is employed for such baked clay as is used in connection with architecture, whether in actual building, as where a hollow mass of the baked clay takes the place of a stone, or where a solid casting in the is used for molded string courses and the like, in this way replacing bricks. It differs from brick in being harder, of better quality and molded to some special form or ornament.

Terra cotta is exposed without a coating of glaze or enamel, and its brown color constitutes the typical article. Japanese figures — groups, vases and the like—which were called °imita tion bronze° when they were first brought to western countries are really terra cotta. They are often very beautiful in design, having the same vigor of modeling and perfect finish of all their parts which is found in the Japanese bronzes. The raku-yaki, that interesting brown ware which is used for tea-jars and tea-bowls and is the joy of the collector, is also a variety of terra cotta.

In the European Middle Ages terra cotta, unglazed, and also covered by a colored enamel, was used for roof tiles, and also for the much more elaborate pieces employed for crestings, and especially for those finials (in French epis) which are used where the hips of the roof meet the ridge and where in this way a salient point is produced. These finials often include the wind-vane which, however, would be com monly of wrought iron. The custom of using terra cotta in these ways lasted into the time of the revival of classic architecture, and some of the most interesting pieces are French of the 16th century; the custom not disappearing until the complete establishment of pseudo classic uniformity of design throughout Europe. Chimney tops pierced with decorative openings through which the smoke might issue were also made of terra cotta and the custom still lingers in those simply built houses of Italy, Greece and Switzerland, where chimneys are built of hard baked earthenware tiles set in strong cement mortar and in this way made very light and thin.

Purely decorative pieces were also made of this material; but in the way of architectural adornment the most important development was in that Della Robbia ware (q.v.) which, how ever, is not often spoken of as terra cotta be cause it is covered completely by an opaque enamel which receives a most brilliant and effective polychromy, adding in this way color to sculpture in the most emphatic and interesting way known since antiquity. Still such pieces as the door-heads of many churches in Florence and elsewhere and the magnificent altar-backs; the lavabos or washing-fountains and the Eke throughout central Italy are among the most effective pieces to be found in that region. The

most extensive and splendid work in Della Rob bia ware is the broad frieze of the Hospital at Pistoja.

In the 18th century terra cotta, which had always been used by the French sculptors for the permanent form of many works of art, re ceived a fresh impulse from the practice of Jean Antoine Houdon (Iv., see also UNITED STATES, SCULPTORS or), Claude Michel (q.v,) (called Clodion) an others, among whom should be named certain makers of medallions as well 'worthy of study as the bronze medal lions of the Italian Renaissance. In modern French practice portrait busts are very fre quently made in baked clay, the same artistic quality being given them as to works in bronze or marble. The difficulty caused by the shrink ing of the piece in the drying and subsequent baking is only to be met by extreme care in the selection and preparation of the material. The piece shrinks, but it may be made to shrink uniformly and without disturbing the symnietry.

Modern architectural terra cotta continually comes to the front as a material allowing of much richer treatment at a reasonable price than carved stone; but for some reason it never becomes very general in its application. A large business building in New York had its roof brackets or consols made of this material before 1855. The old Boston Museum of Fine Arts contained much decorative terra cotta brought from England and this front was coin pleted about 1865. The constant demand for fireproof materials by means of which the ex terior of a large building may remain without serious damage in spite of a hot fire across the street has made concrete, brick and terra cotta the obvious material for the facing; but stone, marble and granite still retain their places in many structures.

In making monumental figures, groups, .de signs, etc., of terra cotta the steps are: Mixing and kneading the clay; molding; retouching, for taking off any blemishes; baking; coloring and sometimes gilding. Modeling by hand is now rare, except in designing for a mold. The high grade Work acquires its perfection largely by careful retouching. Baking requires to be performed slowly to permit evaporation of the moisture without injury. The coloring is mostly done after firing, solid body colors be ing employed, as browns, blues and reds, with occasional black or bright colors for sane de tail. Some of the Roman terra cottas are in a fine state of preservation though dating back 2,000 or more years.

Within recent years there has been a marked increase in the use of terra cotta, often colored, for ornamenting steel and concrete buildings and for roof-tiles. Consult Strack, H., 'Brick and Terra Cotta Work During the Middle Ages' (Boston 1914) •, Walters, H. B., The Art of the Greeks' (London 1906) and the of British School at Athens)