Saturday, 5 July 2014

Tableware documentation - Ceramics 27, 28 and 32.

I entered Lady Elizabet's ceramics in the Midwinter Crown-o-nation A&S competition for tableware. The following is the 10 pages of documentation I submitted. I've posted about her plate and cup but picked up the bowl only two hours before I had to get it over the other side of the city so Mistress Genna and Sir Wolfram could deliver it to the event. If you've been following this blog you've probably seen quite a bit of this text.

Tableware – Lochac Midwinter A&S competition
Entry & documentation by Antoinette Travaillie – the College of St Monica

What: Lady Elizabet’s ceramic tableware set – plate, cup and bowl (hand glazed commercial bisque)
Where: Manises, Spain
When: 15-16th Century
Motivation: I started this set being inspired by an imaged Lady Alliette linked to facebook of a 1450’s earthenware plate featuring a cat. As Lady Elizabet has a rather lovely device (Figure 1) (and has made me some wonderful silk banners) I decided to recreate the plate for her. Then, obviously, she and Alliette needed mugs with cats on to make them both smile. When I eventually found out about the A&S competition, I thought I’d borrow the items back and enter them, and thank Elizabet for the loan with a matching bowl (also it completes the set).

Figure 1: Lady Elizabet Hunters device as interpreted by Countess Constanzia.

General Technique: Between 15th-16th centuries there were a number of ceramic centres throughout Italy and Spain (eg. Manesis, Deruta). Earthenware plates and bowls would be moulded, fired and then ceramic artists would glaze them typically with tin based glazes. These processes were usually handled by different specialists. (the V&A website has some detailed information related to earthenware production).
For these three items, I have used commercially produced bisque. I have then glazed it with commercial (and modern) glazes. To achieve a solid colour, the under-glaze must have three layers painted on. This takes some time, but is important to prevent thick lines or splotchy colours. Where white decoration is required, it is either left blank or the coloured glaze is scratched back with a wooden skewer to reveal the ceramic underneath. A clear over-glaze is then applied before firing which I get done at a professional service.

Materials:  The bisque I purchase comes in a limited set of shapes. This restricts the items I can do and how closely I can replicate items due to changes in scale or shape. For each of the items presented here, the bisque choice has driven the design selection.
The main difference between my work and that of the workshops in Manises is that I use commercial glazes. These glazes come pre-mixed and are usually a consistent colour. They also contain no toxic substances and due to the over-glazing process result in a product that is dishwasher, microwave and most importantly food safe. Many medieval items utilise a lead based glaze as it can create a higher intensity in colours like red.
The main inspiration for all of these pieces (Figure 2) features background decoration in lustre typical of Manesis at this time. I currently do not have the resources to experiment with lustre and the firing service I use will not accept pieces that have been glazed in products sourced externally. I have substituted standard glazes for this instead.

Documentation (divided by object):
I was initially reluctant to paint this design as the cat itself is too pointy for my taste. Then I realised that the aim of this plate was not to reproduce an extant sample, but to make something in a medieval style for a modern day SCA use. So I adapted it a little to best represent Elizabet’s heraldry.

Figure 2: Dish featuring a Cat. 1400-1450, Spanish, Manises. Tin Glazed Earthernware. 34.6x5.5cm.  Accession number 56.171.115, Metropolitian Museum of Art.

Adaption: In keeping with Elizabets device, I have flipped the cat to sinister and painted the bottom third of the plate in red. I have retained the decorative elements (originally in lustre on the extant piece) and used them to tie the whole plate together. I have also adapted the cat from the pointy, toothy one above to something closer to the interpretation of her device that she likes best. I've retained the long legs but made the cat appear more fluffed up and protective which I think fits Elizabet better.

Figure 3: The finished plate.

Shape: Unlike the plate, there is no generic ceramic cup shape for the time period I was examining. Many people were using glass cups at this time as well. As I had to utilise what bisque was available to me and I didn’t want to have a handle, I purchased the only one available and reverse documented it. Figure 4 and 5 show the barrel shape in both glass and earthenware.
Figure 4: Barrel shaped 16th Century glass beaker, glass, The British Museum, item 1878,1230.268

Figure 5: 1634 - Barrel shape with handle, tin-glazed earthenware, The British Museum, item 1887,0210.117

Decoration: Extant cups were decorated with lustre in a style similar to plates and bowls of the time. I decided to adapt the pattern used on the plate to the cup and keep the top of the cup white. This also allowed me to avoid the warped look of the circular features that would be caused by the slope of the cup sides. I also changed the style of the cat to match Constanzia’s interpretation better as it’s more aesthetically pleasing. I added my own touch to the cups to make Elizabet smile; I painted a sleeping kitten inside the cup that would be revealed when they had finished her tea. 
Figure 6: Cup, Manises, Spain. 1625-1700. Victoria and Albert Museum, item 447-1903

Figure 7: The sleeping cat is revealed...

Shape: Again, there is no generic bowl shape for this time period. Shapes range from stumpy to sloped and footed (Figure 9). My bisque options were flat bowls with wide rims or more rounded, sloped bowls. I chose the second shape as it was more like those I’d seen on various museum sites.

Figure 9: Bowl, 1400 – 1425, Manises, Spain. British Museum item no: G.543

Decoration:  The craftsmen of Manises decorated both the outside and inside of bowls to varying degrees. It appears that the finer the item, the more intricate the decoration. Figures 10 & 11 show the inside and outside of a Spanish bowl with arabic inspired design. According to the listing at V&A for this item “A shipment by a leading Italian exporter of Spanish pottery, ordered from the Valencian potter Asmet Zuleima in 1407, lists 199 pieces of lustre ceramics, including ‘three large bowls, their covers painted out- and in-side’.”. When I was researching these bowls, I was rather pleased to find the bowl shown in Figure 10 as it helps support my choice of decorating 1/3 of Elizabet’s plate.

Figure 10: Inside of Lidded bowl, 1440-1460, Manises, Spain. V&A Museum item 7659:1, 2-1862

Figure 11: Outside of Lidded bowl, 1440-1460, Manises, Spain. V&A Museum item 7659:1, 2-1862

As the bowl is the final item made for this set, I wanted it to tie into the cup and plate but experiment with another way of displaying Elizabets heraldry. Figure 12 shows a typical bowl from Manises displaying lustre decoration and a heraldic device. Rather than paint the full device in the centre of the bowl (difficult with the curved sides), I decided to paint three cats around the edge. I retained the red on white decorative elements for the inside of the bowl and painted the outside with the white on red decoration. This is not entirely true to the use of elements shown by the Manises glazers however it fits well with the other items in the set.

Figure 12: Bowl, Manises, Spain, 1500. V&A museum, item 550-1864

Things learned:
* It is very difficult to paint the inside of the curved cup. Solution: lack works best as you can get away with only two coats minimising the chance of errors.
* Black glaze stains white ceramic and will never cleanly scrape off. Solution: paint a white undercoat or two underneath any black glaze that may need scraping. This prevents the black from soaking into the bisque
* Glaze on the outside of the bowl will come off on your hands (and the table) as you roll it around while painting. Solution: Paint the inside of the bowl first then upend it so it rests on it’s unpainted rim while the outside decoration is completed.
* Three layers of glaze will thicken even the finest of lines. Solution: The trick to balancing this is ensure you use lines of different thicknesses to put the ‘thin’ ones in perspective.

The set.

Project summary 

Because I could.

Materials: Bisque ceramic cups with underglaze decoration

Year:  ~
1450, Manises, Spain.

How historically accurate is it?
The bisque shapes are reasonably close to the parameters of extant pieces. The glazing technique is accurate however the glazes utilised are modern in composition due to safety reasons and other concerns. The three variations of the decorative elements are also quite close to medieval extant items.

Hours to complete: ~

Total cost:
$80 in materials

Satisfaction with finished products: 8/10

Additional resources:
Victoria & Albert museum -
British Museum -

Places to paint ceramics in Australia

Glaze it Studio
328a Glen Eira Rd

All FiredUp
568 Hampton Street

Tea andBisque-it
Shop 3 Sandgate Arcade
Cnr Brighton Rd & Cliff St

Colour MeMine
Shop 4, 29 Holtermann Street
Crows Nest

The PugMill
17a Rose Street,
Mile End
(also a good place to buy home supplies, assuming you have a kiln)

Fired!Ceramic Cafe
29 Winton Rd,

Make yourmark
8/2 Hulme Ct

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