Pottery, Ceramics and Glass

As in all civilisations, great use was made of pottery, for cooking, lighting, washing, etc. In the bazaar in Cairo, grocers, druggists and ironmongers provided the glasses, the faience vessels and the paper to hold or wrap what they sold.

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Quoted from Gaston Wiet, Vladimeer Elisseeff, Philippe Wolff and Jean Naudou in The Great Civilisations; Introduction; Part One; Part Two: Section One. Translated from the French p. 335:

As in all civilizations, great use was made [in the Muslim World] of pottery, for cooking, lighting, washing, etc. In the bazaar in Cairo, according to a Persian writer of the eleventh century, grocers, druggists and ironmongers provided the glasses, the faience vessels and the paper to hold or wrap what they sold.

It was a custom that persisted. 'Daily,' a fifteenth-century Arab historian informs us, 'there is thrown on to the refuse heaps and waste piles waste to a value of some thousand dinars - the discarded remains of the red-baked clay in which milk-sellers put their milk, cheese-sellers their cheese, and the poor the rations they eat on the spot in the cook-shops.'

Ceramics of finer quality were also produced, and firing workshops in general were very active throughout almost the entire Moslem world, the potteries of Egypt and Syria rivalling the faience workshops of Tunis and Cordoba.

This description of a modern potter's wheel is probably applicable to all those of the Middle Ages: 'The potter's wheel consists of a sloping tray over which is a wooden axis supporting a further piece of wood in the shape of a disc, the whole resting on a cross-bar. The lower wheel is turned by the craftsman with his foot, an action requiring no great expenditure of energy; in consequence of its inclination, the tray is carried round and over by its own weight.'

The same Persian traveller conveys an idea of the quality of Egyptian faience at the time: 'Egypt produces faience of every kind; so fine and transparent that a hand placed against the outside of a vase may be seen from inside. Bowls, cups, plates, and other utensils are made. They are decorated with colours that change with the position of the vessel.' Studies of the wide variety of Eastern ceramics and the techniques employed in their manufacture are legion, so that only a list of them is called for here.

We must distinguish between ceramic pieces that are carved and glazed, and those painted in lustre. Classifications have been made as follows: clay objects lead-glazed ; clay objects glazed in metallic-lustre with copper, and perhaps, pewter and silver; limestone-clay faience over-laid with variously coloured alkaline earths ; and unglazed fired clay earthenware, under which heading come the Alcarrazas or water-coolers.

Thousands of ceramic pieces and fragments are extant, of varying artistic quality, but in their technical perfection bespeaking workers versed in all the secrets of their craft.

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