Sunday, 11 December 2011

Plate 5 - The Ibis

Plate 5 was an interesting beast. I originally completed the back of the plate in anticipation of glazing the front as a A & S prize for my Winterfeast event. Unfortunatly for my well laid plans, the winners of the A&S competition was Mirriam and household (Abbotsford). As they won with their table decoration entry I decided that I’d make them a serving platter in a style suitable for their chosen period. This will mean some future research into 15th century plates. Unfortunately, I had a half finished plate with no real plan!
So I flipped through the images that I’d downloaded of various plates and decided that I wanted to try something different, simple and easy to execute. My own pride stopped me from replicating a rather nice yet simplistic plate featuring artichokes. The next in line was the not-kiwi bowl, so labelled because the bowl shape skews the bird motif making it look like a kiwi. This was deemed too simplistic (though I am going to try it on a small plate as a glaze experiment later I think). Instead I decided to do a different bird – the Ibis (or maybe flamingo, which ever, it’s cute!).

Figure 1: The not-kiwi Bowl (Muel, 1550-1610, V&A Museum)

Figure 2: Inspiration for the front of Plate 5. A plate made in Manises between 1525 and 1575 (V&A).

I have made some minor changes to this plate. I had glaze left over from the relief experiment and I still haven’t found a good replica for the ochre/yellow/gold colour that features on so many of the extant samples, so I used red. As the main Ibis is picked out in a blue colour I’ve converted this to a purple. This was in part, an experiment with the purple glaze. I think the colours have worked quite well (I’m rather enamoured of the red glaze). You can see in parts where I haven’t quite gotten the same spacing as the original plate thus the background decoration isn’t exactly the same.

Figure 3: The front of plate 5 – the Ibis plate.

As previously mentioned, the back was created before the design of the front of the plate was chosen. To ensure a easy to document plate I surveyed a large number of images from the Victoria and Albert Museum and selected a motif that seemed common (Figure 4). The motifs utilised on the back of the plate (Figure 5) are evident in both of the plates shown in Figure 4 (and in many other examples) however these have finer brush strokes and more attention to the balance of the piece. While I believe that my work on the rear of the plate is coarse in its execution, on comparison with the reference image I think I am actually closer to the original that I thought.

Figure 4:  a) back of a plate created in Manises 1500-1525, b) back of a plate created in Manises 1525-1560.

Figure 5: a) The back of plate 5, b) the inspiration for the back of the plate, Reus, 1575-1600, V&A (the back of the plate used as inspiration for plate 4)


Watching me complete this plate triggered a lot of conversations with my housemates. The most thought provoking was the comment “you’re replicating a medieval plate, it doesn’t matter if it’s rough, that makes it look more medieval!”. Though I’ve got the upper edge as far as knowledge on 16th century pottery is concerned, I wonder if it’s a common mis-conception that medieval cultures lacked technology so couldn’t make artwork of a similar quality to those we can create (or better for that matter). I guess anyone who thought about the issue in-depth would recognise the huge number of medieval artists recognised worldwide for their superior work. Having seen a huge number of plates now, I don’t agree that rough equals medieval. Yes, I have found plates of inferior quality that still appear to have been used but I believe this is a result of apprentice work or workshops not wanting to destroy hours of labour instead selling mistakes to the middle or lower classes. I don’t think it’s fair to suggest that medieval craftsmen were less talented or cared less about their end product or were incapable of producing superior goods.  I propose that while we can get a more even consistency in our products, plastic objects with obvious flashing is exactly the same product as roughly glazed pottery – not the desired end product but still something marketable.

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