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Europe (Rhenish stoneware, &c.), as well as for Chinese porcelain and the earliest German porcelains. With the organization of pottery as a factory industry in the 18th century, improved kilns were introduced, and the type of kiln now so largely used in civilized countries is practically a vertical reverberatory furnace of circular section, from 10 to 22 ft. in diameter and of similar height, capable, therefore, of containing at one firing a quantity of pottery that would have formed the output of a medieval potter for a year. Every device that can be thought of for the better utilization of heat and its even distribution throughout the kiln or oven has been experimented with; and, though the results have been most successful from the point of view of the potter, even the most recent coal-fired ovens remain very wasteful types of apparatus, the amount of available heat being relatively small to the fuel consumption. Gas-fired kilns and ovens are now being used or experimented with in every country, and their perfection, which cannot be far distant, will improve the most vital of the potter’s processes both in certainty and economy.

EB1911 Ceramics Fig. 5.—Two forms of Italian potter’s wheels.jpg
Fig. 5.—Two forms of Italian potter’s wheels, about 1540.

Glazes.—We are never likely to known when glaze (i.e. a coating of fired glass) was first applied to pottery, though the present state of knowledge would incline us to the opinion that the earliest glazed objects we possess are those of ancient Egypt,[1] but the practice may have been originated independently wherever a knowledge of the elements of glass-making had spread, as all the early glazes were of the alkaline type, which must first be fused into a glass before they can be applied to pottery.

Many primitive races seem to have burnished their pottery after it was fired, in order to get a glossy surface; and in other cases the surface was rendered shining and waterproof by coating it with waxy or resinous substances which were often coloured. It is possible that the black varnish of Greek vases was obtained by such a method, and though that point is not settled, we have many types of primitive pottery, both modern and ancient, which are coated in this way. Such a coating is only a substitute for glaze in the work of peoples who do not know or have not mastered the technical secrets of true glazes. We can only consider as glazes those definite superficial layers of molten material which have been fired on the clay substance. Glazes are as varied as the various kinds of pottery, and it must never be forgotten that each kind of pottery is at its best with its appropriate glaze. The earliest known glazes (Egyptian and Assyrian) were silicates of soda and lime containing very little alumina and no lead. Such glazes are very uncertain in use, and can only be applied to pottery unusually rich in silica (i.e. deficient in clay). Consequently these alkaline glazes cannot be used on ordinary clay wares, and when they have been used successfully, the clay has always been coated with a surface layer of highly siliceous substance (e.g. the so-called Persian, Rhodian, Syrian and Egyptian pottery of the early middle ages). The fact that glazes containing lead-oxide would adhere to ordinary pottery when alkaline glazes would not was discovered at a very early period; for lead glazes were extensively used in Egypt and the nearer East in Ptolemaic times, and it is significant that, though the Romans made singularly little use of glazes of any kind, the pottery that succeeded theirs, either in western Europe or in the Byzantine empire, was generally covered with glazes rich in lead. Throughout Europe, and over the greater part of the world, leaded glazes have been continuously used and improved for all ordinary pottery, and it is only with certain special hard-fired types of ware that they have yet been successfully replaced. Chinese porcelain and all the European porcelains made by analogous methods are fired at so high a temperature that a glaze by felspar softened by lime and silica is found most suitable for them, and the hard-fired stonewares, rich in silica, are often glazed with a salt glaze, or a melted earth rich in oxide of iron.

Every kind of potter’s clay (the mixture of clay, sand, flint, &c., from which the potter shapes his wares) has its own type of glaze, and from the earliest time down to our own what the potter could produce in form or glaze or colour has been largely decided for him by the clay material at his command. With any good plastic clay which cannot be fired at the highest temperature, lead glazes have always proved the most practicable. A similar clay, to which large quantities of sand are added, may be glazed by the vapours of common salt; and mixtures rich in felspar, like Chinese or European porcelain, can be glazed by melting felspathic materials upon them. Naturally those species of pottery which are the hardest fired are the most durable—the glazes of hard porcelain are more unchangeable than lead glazes, and these in their turn than alkaline glazes.

The most important types of glaze are (1) alkaline glazes (e.g. Egyptian, Syrian, Persian, &c.), the oldest and most uncertain; (2) lead glazes, the most widespread in use and the best for all ordinary purposes; (3) felspathic glazes, the glazes of hard-fired porcelains, generally unsuited to any other material; (4) salt glaze, produced by vapours of common salt, the special glaze of stonewares. Many intermediate glazes have been devised to meet special needs, but these remain the only important groups. Fuller details on this important subject must be sought in the technical works.

Colours.—The primitive potters of ancient and modern times have all striven to decorate their wares with colour. The simplest, and therefore the earliest, colour decoration was carried out in natural earths and clays. The clays are so varied in composition that they fire to every shade of colour from white to grey, cream, buff, red, brown, or even to a bronze which is almost black. One clay daubed or painted upon another formed the primitive palette of the potter, especially before the invention of glaze. When glaze was used these natural clays were changed in tint, and native earths, other than clays, containing iron, manganese and cobalt, were gradually discovered and used. It is also surprising to note that some of the very earliest glazes were coloured glasses containing copper or iron (the green, turquoise and yellow glazes of the ancient Egyptians and Assyrians). Marvellous work was wrought in these few materials, but the era of the finest pottery-colour dawns with the Persian, Syrian and Egyptian work that preceded the Crusades. By this time the art of glazing pottery with a clear soda-lime glaze had been thoroughly learnt. Vases, tiles, &c., shaped in good plastic clay, were covered with a white, highly siliceous coating fit to receive glazes of this type, and giving the best possible ground for the painted colours then known. With this rudimentary technique the potters of the countries south and east of the Mediterranean produced, between the 9th and 16th centuries of our era, a type of pottery that remains ideal from the point of view of colour: for, with nothing more than the greens given by oxide of copper and iron, the turquoise of pure copper, the deep yet vivid blue of cobalt, the beautiful uncertain purple of manganese, and in certain districts the rich red of Armenian bole, they achieved colour schemes that have never been surpassed in their brilliant yet harmonious richness.

When the coating of white siliceous clay was replaced by an opaque tin-enamel as in Spain, Italy, France, Holland, &c., a necessary change in the colour schemes resulted. At first only the copper-greens and cobalt-blues could be used on such a ground; the fine manganese purple turned to brown or black and the rich iron-reds to filthy shades of yellow. We cannot wonder that the Spanish-Arab potters paid more attention to their lustre decoration, for that was the natural thing to do. How strong and fine a palette could be evolved for use on a tin-enamel ground was shown by the Italian majolists of the 15th and 16th centuries; and when the later developments of tin-enamelled pottery took place in France, Holland, Germany, &c., their colour schemes are only echoes of Italian majolica crossed with Chinese porcelain. Delft, Nevers, Moustiers and Rouen may each charm us with its individuality; Nuremberg and other south German towns may show us that they too had mastered the use of tin-enamel; yet our minds always go back to the colour schemes of Italian majolica and of the Persian and Syrian pottery that lie behind and beyond them.

The colours already spoken of were either clay colours or what are known as “under glaze” colours, because they were painted on the pottery before the glaze was fired.

The earliest glazes of the Egyptians appear not to have been white, but were coloured throughout their substance, and this use of coloured glazes as apart from painted colour was developed along with the painted decoration by the later Egyptian, Syrian and Persian potters. Green, yellow and brown glazes were almost the only artistic productions of the medieval European potters’ kilns, and their use everywhere preceded the introduction of painted pottery. The most extensive application of coloured glazes was, however, that made by the Chinese, who developed this type of colour decoration before they used painted patterns in underglaze colour. The earliest Chinese porcelains, and the hard-fired stonewares out of which their porcelain arose, were decorated in this way, and the beauty of many of the early Sung coloured glazes has never been surpassed.

With the exceedingly refractory felspathic glazes of Chinese porcelain very few underglaze colours could be used; and the prevalence of blue and white among the early specimens of Chinese porcelains is due to the fact that cobalt was almost the only substance known to the potters of the Ming dynasty which would endure the high temperature needed to melt their glazes. Consequently the Chinese were driven to invent the method of painting in coloured fusible glasses on the already fired glaze. They adopted for this purpose the coloured enamels used on metal; hence the common

  1. The earliest glazed objects found in Egyptian tombs (once dignified by the name of Egyptian porcelain) are hardly to be called pottery at all, though we have no other name for them. The material is largely sand held together by a little clay and glass.