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The Legend of Bohemian Glass:
A Thousand Years of Glassmaking in the Heart of Europe

by Antonin Langhamer

This book offers a comprehensive overview of the history and traditions of Czech art glass. Divided into 12 chapters, the book details the evolution and development of glassmaking as an art form from the earliest times, when the first glass beads appeared in central Europe, to the present.
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Bohemian Tango Cordial Set

Pottery in the Ancient World
by Bob Brooke


Pottery has been around since the ancient people roamed the earth. As one of the oldest human inventions, the practice of pottery has developed alongside civilization. The earliest ceramic objects have been dated as far back as 29,000 BCE. Because clay has always been abundant, cheap, and adaptable, pottery was independently invented in many parts of the world at different times.

The introduction of pottery usually coincided with the beginnings of an agricultural lifestyle, when people needed durable and strong vessels and containers. First and foremost, pottery served as household wares for the storage, preparation, transport, and consumption of food, drink, and raw materials.

At first, people made pottery by baking it in open fires. Around 8,000 BCE, peoples of the Near East used special ovens to parch cereal grains and to bake bread. These allowed people to control fire and produce high temperatures in enclosed facilities.

Early potters used relatively low firing temperatures, ranging from about 1112° to about 1472° to 1652° F., to make their pottery.

Eventually, potters began firing their wares in a kiln. The first kilns appeared around 6000 BCE in what’s now Iraq in the Middle East—originally as pit kilns, then as stone-lined kilns---enabling potters to achieve much higher temperatures when firing, thus improving the reliability and durability of their pots. To fire clay vessels in a pit kiln, the early potters placed the fuel in the bottom of a shallow pit followed by their pottery, then placed additional fuel in the upper layer.

An early form of enclosed kiln consisted of a temporary domed structure formed of pieces of turf, straw and clay, which the potter built up on a framework around the pots as he stacked them, and which he removed when the firing had completed. The pots rested on a series of clay firebars, and some of these kilns had a permanent vented floor.

Another type of kiln was an updraft kiln, a cylindrical construction divided into two compartments. The potter placed fuel in the lower compartment, then placed the unfired pottery in the upper compartment. This allowed the heat to rise, allowing the pottery to fire at a temperature level normally ranging from 1832° to 2192° F.

In some cases, potters could change the color of the earthenware from its natural reddish tone to gray without the need of pigments, merely by manipulating the temperature and air influx into the kiln during the firing process.

For primitive Stone Age cooking pots, all that was needed was a supply of clay and a source of heat. Thus most Chinese pottery until about 10,000 BCE was roughly made earthenware, fired in bonfires for a short time at temperatures up to 1652° F. Potters made vessels with round bottoms to avoid any sharp angles or rims that would be more prone to cracking. They didn’t glaze their pieces and limited decoration coiled clay "ropes."

Potters hand-formed the earliest pots from slabs of reddish-brown clay, leaving them undecorated and unglazed. But by 6,000 BCE, they had introduced a variety of decorative techniques involving intricate painted designs.

Between 18,000 and 12,000 BCE the art of pottery spread from the China mainland across East Asia. It eventually appeared in Japan by 14,500 BCE), in the Amur River Basin by 14,000 BCE, in sub-Saharan Africa by 9,500 BCE, in Persia by 8,000 BCE, in the Middle East by 7,000 BCE, in the Americas by 5500 BCE, and in the Indian sub-continent by 5,500 BCE.

The potter's wheel first appeared in Mesopotamia between 6,000 and 4,000 BCE, leading to a surge in pottery vessels of all types and sizes.

Egyptian Pottery
The Egyptians were one of the first cultures in the world to create pottery. They began to make pottery about 4,000 BCE, 10,000 thousand years later than the Chinese. They had developed an excellent farming-based civilization, and archaeologists believe they made pottery to store grains and food items. They formed the most common vessels from Nile clay, also called Nile silt. After being fired, it has a red-brown color.

By this time, advanced kiln designs enabled potters to fire their pottery up to 2192° F. This brought forth a variety of new technical possibilities. Small groups of potters, rather than by individual artisans making ceramic containers for their families, produced most Egyptian pottery. As the region became wealthier and more organized, the types and characteristics of ceramic vessels became more varied, and demand rose. Potters began using more molds in order to speed up production, and glazing became widespread.

Potters decorated their pieces by pushing the clay into plaster molds, instead of by painting it on. Molding the decoration was much faster and cheaper than painting it.

The most famous type of Egyptian pottery was faience. Potters crushed together quartz/sand crystals with calcium, magnesium, potassium, sodium, and copper oxide. Then they formed the resulting paste into shapes and fired them. During heating, the shapes would harden and develop bright colors and a glassy finish. The Egyptian word for faience means "shining" because the Egyptians believed faience reflected the light of immortality.

Ancient Greek Pottery
Ancient pottery reached its peak in classical Greece, with the manufacture and decoration of vases, amphoras and hydria. The origins of Greek excellence date between 3000 and 2000 BCE when Aegean art superceded Thessaly as the leading pottery center. Minoan art also contributed to this Aegean renaissance.

The finest pottery came from Crete, home of the Minoan civilization, between 2,000 and 1,800 BCE. Peoples throughout the Mediterranean region sought Minoan pottery..

The resurgence of Greek art began about 900 BCE, with the appearance of Geometric Style Greek pottery between 900 and 725 BCE, which produced some of the finest works of Greek ceramic art. This was followed from about 725 BCE onwards, by the Oriental Style of Greek pottery between.725 and 600 BCE, influenced by Greek colonies in Asia Minor. Athens and Corinth, on the Greek mainland, became the two major centers of pottery making.

The high point of Greek pottery occurred between 600 and 480 BCE, with the development of "black figure" pottery, in which potters painted designs in black onto red clay vases, followed by "red figure" pottery in which they filled the undesigned area in with black paint, to contrast with the incised designs colored in red.

Roman Pottery
Roman pottery was initially influenced by Etruscan and Greek style but later on established its own separate identity. Unlike Greek pottery in which potters painted decorations on the pottery, Romans preferred to engrave them. The most common fine ware pottery was the red glazed pottery called “terra sigilata.”

While the Greeks preferred painted decoration, the Romans was more inclined towards relief decoration on their pottery using colored slips, finishes, and glazing.

Roman pottery can be divided into three categories:

Amphorae: The Romans used this type of pottery to store, carry, and ship products, especially olive oil and wine. Amphorae were usually not decorated although the finish might suit the type of product the amphora was meant to carry. They were often stamped with a maker’s signature to show provenance.

Coarse ware: The Romans used this type of pottery, the most common, for everyday necessities, especially cooking. It was, as the name states, coarse. As the name implies its finish went as far as satisfying utilitarian needs. The Romans produced Coarse Ware in greater quantities because it tended to break easily. Also, potters made the walls of the pots thicker to make the ware more resistant to heat and heavy use.

Fine ware: Wealthy Romans often possessed better pottery which combined functional and decorative elements and was often painted or even glazed. The shapes of Fine Ware pottery dictated its use as special showcase pieces, as vessels to hold cosmetics, or to be used on special occasions and dinners. If Fine Art pottery had any painted decoration, it usually took the form of geometric patterns and designs.

The Romans used glazing very little. If they used any decoration at all, the Romans employed figurative shallow relief, either made with a mold and applied to the surface of a pot or drawn directly onto the surface by squirting a semi-thick clay through a nozzle.

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