One of the most fascinating pieces of historical artefacts that I find is significant to studying how our contemporary society has been shaped, are usually found on our dinner tables or in a museum. These are of course pottery, plates and stoneware collections. We use these almost on a daily basis without noting down how important they are in our historical development and the understanding of how we live today. Potted art pieces by well known artists such as Turner Prize winner of 2003 Grayson Perry are a contemporary version of the artists that have produced pieces that recorded the social conducts of their past.
Each piece of the stoneware, earthenware or chinaware collections very often depict images of the way people live at that time in accurate picture forms, or are mere interpretations of how the artist felt during that time or to depict their life story. The art of recording events of the past on vessels and pottery dates as far back as Ancient Egypt and Ancient China. Some of the oldest pots are usually a great find for most archaeologists when they embark upon field studies, extracting little pieces and relics of the past.
Materials such as earthenware, stoneware, porcelain, fine china and ceramics were a commonly fired material back then, which resulted in different texture and surface appearance once the vessels or pots were completed. Often the pots would be glazed over to create a shiny and smooth surface after they had finished painting over it. Various materials of each pot differ not only from the way they have been produced, but in their strength and texture.
For example, stoneware differs from earthenware because it is stronger and is especially resistant to scratches and minor damaging. These are fired at a higher temperature than earthenware and are impervious to excess liquids and are often vitreous or semi-vitreous. Porcelain can also often be referred to as a type of stoneware; however this is extremely vitreous and is normally whiter in colour whereas the former is opaque in colour.
Earthenware is actually more common in the world of ceramic pottery and one of the oldest. Red earthenware derives from the red clay and is often seen on shelves; however white buff clay is also used and can be a common pot on display of many retail outlets. The downside to using earthenware is that it can chip very easily and is much more porous than other potted materials. For this reason using this kind of material means it can mainly be used for decorative purposes and as a mantelpiece ornament.
Earlier pottery is found in the Gravettian period, where it is now known as the modern Czech Republic. These were made from clay and were normally figurine depictions of religious and mythical characters, mainly consisting of women. One of the first known figures, believed to have dated back to 29,000 - 25,000 BC is a statuette of Venus of Dolni Vestonice which embodies a figure of a nude female.
Vessels and pots were normally founded in and around Egypt, Japan, China, North Africa and South America dating as far back as 10,000 BCE. These very often told stories or recorded the society of that period using paint or colours. The Jomon (meaning cord-marked) vessels of ancient Japan, were so-called because of the cord marks made on the vessels and on the figurines. The Mediterranean areas saw creations of vessels using geometric shapes such as circles, squares and triangles depicting the Green Dark Ages of 1150 BC - 800 BC.
As these vessels and pots are relatively durable and strong, they can easily stand the test of time, making them an important artefact or find for archaeologists and historians. This provides a better insight and helps develop theories into past events, piecing together clues and providing inferences to the daily conduct of certain civilisations. As much as this is just a piece of potted vessel, it is in fact a step into the past and a relic of what was once a connection to our civilisation today, making it an extremely valuable piece.
Anna Stenning is always interested in the historical value of stoneware, earthenware, porcelain and fine china pottery collectibles, as it makes for a great gift and gives an insight into the past.