previous next


πλαστική, κέραμον). A word applied to anything made of earth or clay; pottery. In Greek the special word for moulding in soft materials, πλάσσω, with its derivatives πλάσμα, πλάστης, πλαστική, was gradually applied only to clay, in which sense the words plastes and plasticé passed into Latin. Then, as clay played an

Brick Forms. (Rich.)

important part in the preparation of works in bronze, the use of these words was extended to metal, and still further to statuary in stone and marble. The Latin equivalent of πλάσσω is fingo, which originally was applied only to the moulding of soft stuffs, but later was used for statuary of all kinds as opposed to pingo; in this extended sense we have also fictor and figmentum, but the usual application of fictor is confined to modelling in clay, just as fictor, figlinus, figulus refer only to work in clay. The original term for clay is κέραμος, whence the forms κεραμεύς, κεραμεύω, etc., applied not merely to the potter, but broadly to any worker in clay. From πηλός (applied to the clay of the bricklayer, and also to that of the potter) we have πηλουργός, πηλοπλάθος, corresponding to the poetical use of lutum; whereas, however, argilla=modelling clay, ἄργιλος=clay without reference to its plastic uses, γῆ κεραμίς=terra or creta figularis; hence also ars cretaria.

The simplest, and at the same time one of the oldest, branches of the primeval art of working in clay is the manufacture of bricks (lateres, πλίνθοι) and tiles (tegulae, κέραμοι), the invention of which (at Athens) was ascribed by the Greeks to the mythical personages Euryalus and Hyperbius (Plin. H. N. vii. 194), and to Talus, the nephew of Daedalus. So far as bricks were used at all, their use was generally confined to private buildings; and Greeks and Romans for ages employed only unbaked or sun-dried bricks. Bricks baked in the kiln came into use at a later date. The first to employ them extensively were the Romans, probably at the period when the population of the city

Tegulae of Baked Clay with maker's stamp. (Rich.)

rendered it necessary to build houses of several stories, which demanded a more solid material. In imperial times such bricks were the common material for private and public buildings. The walls were built of them, and then overlaid with stucco or marble. Building with baked bricks extended from Rome into Greece, and, generally speaking, wherever the Romans carried their arms they introduced their exceptional aptitude for making excellent bricks. Bricks which presented flat surfaces, to be used for walls or pavements, were made of the most varied dimensions, but were for the most part thinner than ours. Besides these, there were also rounded bricks for building dwarf columns, and for the construction of circular walls. For the Assyrian and Babylonian bricks, see the articles Assyria; Babylonia; Cuneiform.

All that we know of the Greek method of brickmaking is that the earthy clay (πῆλος) was carved out with trowels (ἀμαί) and laid in mould; it was moistened with water and kneaded with the feet, put it is uncertain whether the bricks were modelled by hand or pressed into a mould. The Romans were careful in the selection of clay; they rejected sandy or stony clay, both on account of the weight and liability to damp; a whitish clay was preferred (terra albida, cretosa), or else a reddish clay (rubrica), or the softer kind of sandy loam (sabulo masculus). The special times for brick-making were spring or autumn; after baking it was usual to leave the bricks for some time to dry. Vitruvius recommends the use of those which are two years old and thoroughly dry; and quotes a law of Utica, ordaining that bricks for walls must be five years old. The clay was carefully purified, damped, and mixed with chopped straw; it was then either formed by the hand or pressed in a mould, and set to dry in the sun. In some parts of Spain and Asia Minor bricks are said to have been made so light that they would not sink in water.

The usual size of bricks in Greece was 5 palms square (πεντάδωρα) for public, and 4 palms square (τετράδωρα) for private buildings; in Rome the size usually adopted was the γένος Λύδιον, 1 1/2 Roman foot long by 1 foot broad (sesquipedales). Pal ladius recommends bricks of 2 Roman feet long (bipedales) by 1 foot broad and 4 inches high. In later times there seems to have been no definite rule as to size.

For roofs, flat tiles were chiefly used, which

Tiled Roof. (Portico of Octavia, Rome.)

were provided with a raised rim on both of their longer sides, and were so formed that the upper fitted into the lower. Concave tiles also were used (imbrex, καλυπτήρ) of the form of a half-cylinder, which covered the adjoining edges of the flat tiles. The lowest row was commonly finished off with ornamental moulding. From the same material as bricks were also made pipes for conveying water for sewers, and for warm air; the section in the first two cases was round, in the last square. See Balneae; Hypocaustum.

Pottery in its proper sense, the manufacture of utensils, is very old. The potter's wheel was known even before Homer's time ( Il. xviii. 600), and was probably derived by the Greeks from Egypt. (See Aegyptus, p. 26.) Corinth and Athens, where the neighbouring promontory of Colias furnished an inexhaustible supply of fine potter's clay, were, in fact, the headquarters of the manufacture of Greek pottery. Next came Aegina, Samos, Lacedaemon, and other places in Greece itself, which always remained the principal seat of this manufacture, especially in the form of vases of painted clay. These were exported in large numbers to the countries on the Mediterranean and Black Seas. The high estimation in which Greek, and especially Attic, pottery was held is proved by the numerous vases which have been discovered in tombs, chiefly in Italy. Moreover, they represent almost every period. The excel

Clay Quarry. (From a tablet at Berlin.)

lence of the workmanship lies in the material, which is very fine, and prepared with the utmost care; also in the execution and in the baking. Its thinness as well as the hardness of its sides, even in vessels of large dimensions, astonishes experts in such matters. The shapes are mostly produced by the potter's wheel, but also by hand in the case of vessels too large to be conveniently placed on the wheel; for example, the largest wine-jars. The prehistoric pottery from Mycenae, the Troad, and other Hellenic sites, was also made by hand. Whereas small vessels were made of a single piece, in the case of large ones, the body, handles,

Tile Stamp. (Birch.)

feet, and neck were fashioned separately, and then united. They were first dried in the sun, then twice baked, before and after the painting. The colours are no less admirable than the workmanship. The clay shows a beautiful bright reddish yellow, which is produced by the addition of colouring matter, and is also further intensified by a thin coating of glaze. The black colour, which often verges upon green and is of a brilliant lustre, is then applied. Either


the design stands out black against the bright background, or


the figures appear in red on a black ground, the former being the earlier method. Other colours, especially white or dark-red, were applied after the black glaze had been burned into the clay by the second baking, and served as a

Archaic Vase with Owl Head and Characteristics of a Woman. (Schliemann,

less lasting adornment. In later times yellow, green, blue, brown, and gold were also used.

In the case of vases with black figures, the vase was first turned on the wheel, and, in order to give it a surface of deeper red, clay finely ground and mixed with water to the consistency of cream, technically known as “slip,” was applied by a brush or otherwise while it was still revolving. The outline of the design was next roughly sketched, either with a point or in light-red ochre with a brush. The vase was then dried in the sun, and again put on the wheel, and the glaze, finely powdered and mixed with water, was applied to it with a brush as it revolved. The vase was then, in some cases, fired for the first time in the kiln in order to provide a smooth, almost non-absorbent surface for the use of the painter. The painter then put on the black-enamel figures and ornaments with a brush. After the firing of the enamel, the details

Archaic Greek Vases. (Birch.)

were drawn in by incised lines, cutting through the enamel down to the clay body of the vase.

In vases with red figures, instead of the figures being painted in black, the ground was covered with black enamel and the figures left, showing the glazed red “slip” which covers the whole vase. This method produced a great artistic advance in the beauty of the figures, the details and inner lines of which could be executed with freedom and ease by brush-marked lines, instead of by the laborious process of cutting incised lines through the very hard black enamel.

Lastly, the form deserves great praise. The vases of the best period present the most tasteful elegance of form, that is at once fine and strong, and the most delicate proportion of the various parts to each other and to the whole, without interfering with their practical utility. It was not until the times when taste had begun to degenerate that the fashion was introduced of giving to

Corinthian Vase. (Height, 8 1/2 inches; greatest diameter, 11 1/2 inches. Vulci.)

clay ware, by means of moulds, all kinds of grotesque forms of men and beasts, and of furnishing them with plastic, as well as painted, ornamentation.

The technique of ancient pottery is illustrated by the following figures. The first represents a potter seated in front of an oven, from which he takes with a stick a small vase which has been newly glazed, while two other vessels are standing to dry on an oven, the door of which is closed. The remaining figures, from a tablet at Berlin, explain themselves.

Greek Potter at Work. (Edwards.)

Among the votive tablets in the Louvre there are two from Corinth. The first of these represents an early Greek type of kiln, which is domed over, and has a space for the fuel on one side and a door in the side of the upper chamber, through which the pottery could be put in and withdrawn. The second shows a potter applying painted bands while the vessel revolves on the wheel.

The ovens (κάμινοι, fornaces) for baking vases seem to have differed very little from those of the present day. The remains of such ovens, dating from a late Roman period, have been found in Germany, France, England, and Italy. The most perfect, perhaps, was that found in 1881, at the little Roman colonia situated between the villages of

Potter at Work. (Berlin tablet.)

Heddernheim and Praunheim near Frankfort; it has now been destroyed by the owner of the property on which it was found, but an excellent set of plans were drawn up before its destruction, by Donner, and published in the Annali dell' Inst. 1882 (Tav. U 3-6).

The following illustrations are from paintings on a number of πίνακες, or small clay tablets, found at Penteskaphia near Corinth in 1879, and now in the Museum at Berlin. They date from the sixth century B.C.

In the preceding cut, the potter is seated beside his wheel, which he turns with one hand, while with the other he applies ornament either with

Exterior of Furnace. (Berlin tablet.)

a brush or stick; if the ornament was engraved alone, this would have to be done while the clay was still moist; if painted, the vase would be first dried in the air.

The Romans, with whom, as early as the time of the second king, Numa, a guild (collegium) of potters existed, neither had vessels of painted clay amongst their household goods, nor did they employ it for the ornamentation of their graves. In earlier times at least, they used only coarse and entirely unornamented ware. They imported artistically executed vases from their neighbours, the Etruscans. In the last hundred years of the Republic, as well as in the first hundred years after Christ, the chief place for the manufacture of the red crockery generally used in households was Arretium (Pliny , Pliny H. N. xxxv. 160; Mart.i. 54, 6Mart., xiv. 98; Dennis, Etruria, ii. 335). The ware of

Interior of Furnace. (Berlin tablet.)

this place was distinguished by a coral-red colour, and was generally furnished with glaze and delicate reliefs; in fact, ornamentation in relief was widely employed in later Roman pottery. Very much valued was the domestic ware, called vasa Samia, which was an imitation of the earlier pottery brought from the island of Samos. It was formed of fine, red-coloured clay, baked very hard, of thin make, and very delicate workmanship. It was glazed and generally adorned with reliefs, and served especially for the table use of respectable people who could not afford silver.

While this fine ware was made by hand, the manufacture of ordinary pottery, as well as of bricks and pipes, especially under the Empire, formed an important industry among capitalists.

Drinking-bowl and Dish of Clay. (Pompeii.)

who, on finding good clay on their estates, built potteries and tile-works, and either worked them on their own account through slaves, or had them carried on by lessees. The emperor himself, after the time of Tiberius, and the members of the imperial family, especially the women, pursued a similar trade, as is shown by the trade-mark which, according to Roman custom, was borne by clay manufactures.

The production of large statues of clay, apart from the purpose of modelling, belongs amongst the Greeks to the early times. It continued much longer amongst the Italians, especially amongst the Etruscans, who furnished the temples at Rome with clay images of the gods before the victorious campaigns in the East brought marble and bronze productions of Greek art to Rome. On the other hand, throughout the whole of antiquity, the manufacture of small clay figures of very various kinds, for the decoration of dwellings and graves, and for playthings for children, etc., was most extensively practised. They were generally made in moulds, and after baking were decorated with a coating of colour. The excellence which Greek art attained in this department, as in others, is shown by the “figurines” discovered at Tanagra in and after 1874. Very important, too, was the manufacture of clay reliefs, partly with figured representation

Etruscan Sarcophagus of Terra- Cotta from Caeré. (Louvre.)

and partly with arabesque patterns, for the embellishment of columns, windows, cornices, and also of tombstones and sarcophagi.

The reader is referred for further details and illustrations to the article Vas, and to the following works: Krause, Angeiologie (1854); Blümner, Technologie und Terminologie, etc., vol. ii.; Birch, History of Ancient Pottery (2d ed. 1873); Jacquemart, History of the Ceramic Art (Eng. trans. 1873); Kekulé, Thonfiguren aus Tanagra (1878); Jännicke, Grundriss der Keramik (1879); Henzen, Catalogue des Figurines Antiques de Terre Cuite du Musée du Louvre (1883); Kekulé, Die Antiken Terracotten (1880); id. Die Terracotten von Sicilien (1884); Dumont and Chaplain, Céramiques (1888); Pottier, Les Statuettes de Terre Cuites dans l' Antiquité (1890); and Robert, La Céramique (1892).

hide References (3 total)
  • Cross-references from this page (3):
hide Display Preferences
Greek Display:
Arabic Display:
View by Default:
Browse Bar: