Vases from Around the World

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  • Vases from the Six Main Continents

  • Native American Vases American Indian pottery traditions are difficult to generalize about because they developed so differently in different tribes. The fact of the matter is, everybody needs someplace to store their corn. As far as I know just about every culture that does any farming at all developed pottery in ancient times, and American Indians are no exception. Southwestern pottery is probably the most famous, for its colorful designs and figures, distinctive forms like the double-spouted wedding vase (seen to the right), and unique techniques like the Pueblo "black on black" firing. The Southwest tribes are unquestionably the ones who have preserved their ceramics heritage the best--and, not coincidentally, the ones who still live nearest to their original homelands. Elsewhere in North America, Native Americans were forcibly transplanted to reservations where their traditional agriculture was not viable; some tribes, like the Sioux and Cheyenne, abandoned their farming practices and adopted a more nomadic lifestyle when they acquired horses from the Europeans and were able to pursue the buffalo herds.

  • Some artists from non-Southwestern tribes have recently begun to reclaim their ceramic traditions. Though Native American pottery styles, firing and finishing methods, and decorative patterns varied widely, the basic technology did not--as far as I know no tribe ever used pottery wheels or other spinning instruments. All of them made coil and pinch pots by hand, as their descendants still do today.

  • South American (Incan) VasesHiram Bingham, the American explorer who found the ruins of Machu Picchu in 1911, wrote: In addition to agriculture and the breeding of useful plants and animals, the Incas carried to a remarkable extreme the manufacture of graceful, symmetrical pottery. They learned to recognize different kinds and qualities of potter's clay. It seems likely that a form of potter's wheel must have been used in the manufacture of their jars.There was nothing crude or uncouth about their pottery. Most of it was made with the utmost skill, hard finished with polished and painted surface from which every trace of the process of manufacture had been removed. Unlike the primitive pottery of the Indian tribes in the Amazonian Basin, and in many parts of America, Inca pottery gives abundant evidence, in its symmetry and fine proportions, as well as in its finish, that the makers were the inheritors of a thousand years of culture and love of beauty. Their pieces were admirably designed for the uses to which they were put and just enough decoration to please and satisfy the most fastidious owner.

  • Inca designs were nearly always geometrical and conventional. They included squares repeated one within the other, cross-hatching, rows of triangles, parallel lines, rows of lozenges, elaborate scrolls, a conventionalized necklace design consisting of a large number of disks each suspended by separate strings from the principal cord. The bar and double-cross pattern which occurs frequently on the handles of Inca pottery is clearly imitative of ancient basketry and derives from the easiest from of making handles.

  • Asian (Chinese) VasesThe Ming Dynasty saw an extraordinary period of innovation in ceramic manufacture. Kilns investigated new techniques in design and shapes, showing a predilection for color and painted design, and an openness to foreign forms. The Yongle Emperor (1402-24) was especially curious about other countries (as evidenced by his support of the eunuch Zheng He's extended exploration of the Indian Ocean, and enjoyed unusual shapes, many inspired by Islamic metalwork, During the Xuande reign (142535), a technical refinement was introduced in the preparation of the cobalt used for underglaze blue decoration. Prior to this the cobalt had been brilliant in color, but with a tendency to bleed in firing; by adding a manganese the color was duller, but the line crisper. Xuande porcelain is now considered among the finest of all Ming output.

  • In addition to these decorative innovations, the late Ming period underwent a dramatic shift towards a market economy, exporting porcelain around the world on an unprecedented scale. Thus aside from supplying porcelain for domestic use, the kilns at Jingdezhen became the main production centre for large-scale porcelain exports to Europe starting with the reign of the Wanli Emperor (1572-1620). By this time kaolin and pottery stone were mixed in about equal proportions. Kaolin produced wares of great strength when added to the paste; it also enhanced the whiteness of the body - a trait that became a much sought after property, especially when form blue-and-white wares grew in popularity.

  • European (Greek) VasesBetween the beginning of the sixth and the end of the fourth centuries B.C., black- and red-figure techniques were used in Athens to decorate fine pottery while simpler, undecorated wares fulfilled everyday household purposes. With both techniques, the potter first shaped the vessel on a wheel. Most sizeable pots were made in sections; sometimes the neck and body were thrown separately, and the foot was often attached later. Once these sections had dried to a leather hardness, the potter assembled them and luted the joints with a slip (clay in a more liquid form). Lastly, he added the handles. In black-figure vase painting, figural and ornamental motifs were applied with a slip that turned black during firing, while the background was left the color of the clay. Source: Athenian Vase Painting: Black- and Red-Figure Techniques | Thematic Essay | Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History | The Metropolitan Museum of Art

  • Figures could be articulated with glaze lines or dilute washes of glaze applied with a brush. The red-figure technique was invented around 530 B.C., quite possibly by the potter Andokides and his workshop. It gradually replaced the black-figure technique as innovators recognized the possibilities that came with drawing forms, rather than laboriously delineating them with incisions. The use of a brush in red-figure technique was better suited to the naturalistic representation of anatomy, garments, and emotions. Source: Athenian Vase Painting: Black- and Red-Figure Techniques | Thematic Essay | Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History | The Metropolitan Museum of Art

  • African VasesThe continent's master potters--primarily women--display their dexterity by handbuilding a variety of vessels, coloring their surfaces with slips or other concoctions prepared from clay or vegetable sources, incising or impressing decorations with wood or metal tools, and firing the vessels at low temperatures. The rich earthen bodies of their creations are often decorated and sometimes burnished.

  • The malleable quality of moist clay and a potter's skill allow her to create forms ranging from bowls of minimal form to water bottles of complex shapes. These objects, often cherished by individuals and families, may remain undecorated or may be embellished in various ways. Once a vessel is formed and dried to a leather-hard state, a potter has a series of choices. She may cut intricate designs into the clay surface with a wood or metal blade; create a roughened, textured surface by impressing patterns with a roulette; burnish the surface to a high sheen; or alter the original form by adding handles, clay pellets, or strips. She may color the entire surface or apply a slip (colored, clay wash) to highlight the decorative areas, which often appear on the most visible parts of a vessel--namely, the neck and shoulders.

  • Australian VasesLike other areas of the world, Australia does not a have a rich heritage of creating pottery. In this section, contemporary (current) or recent ceramic pieces are shown.

  • This wheel-thrown Majolica glazed earthenware Garden urn, was made by John Koster at his Premier Pottery in Norwood, Adelaide, in 1901, to mourn the death of Queen Victoria. It is hand decorated with the profile portraits of Queen Victoria, Prince Albert and the Royal Coat of Arms.