Anthropology, and more importantly archaeology which is a sub-field of anthropology studies the material culture of human civilization. Pottery is one of the more important material possessions for studying ancient cultures because in areas where pottery is found ways exist to date the area, study the meanings of symbols by what is on the pottery, and to discover something about the way in which pottery represents the living culture of that society. Maiolica pottery exists across Islam and Christian cultures.
Maiolica is tin-glazed earthenware ceramic that is made opaque because there is an addition of tin oxide in the lead glaze foundation or in its background coat. Lead is no longer used making ceramics because it is an unsafe product. Maiolica has a dense, white glassy covering which does not become liquid when fired. This means that the decorations do not become runny or blurred on the whitish background. When the ceramic piece is fired at a low temperature the decorations become set and the piece has a unique white glow that comes from the tin oxide in the lead glaze (Mussachio 9).
Maiolica was transported to Pisa via Majorca, which is likely how the pottery got its name. It was brought in by the Spanish Moors who brought the technique to the Italians in about the 14th century. The first evidence of this technology comes from around the 9th century Baghdad. Islamic pottery of this type began to spread by the 11th century and was used in buildings that were both religious and civic (Figure 1). The Crusaders likely introduced the pottery in Europe as a symbol of their victory over the ‘pagans’....
Eventually this change in trend dominated the pottery market in Europe for more than three hundred years. Figure 1. Friday Mosque of Herat, Afghanistan (Wikipedia). The first complex intended for the production of maiolica was found in Syria from the 8th century BCE. Other centers of ceramic pottery production from Islamic nations include Fustat from 975 until 1075, Damascus from 1100 until 1600 and Tabriz from 1470 until 1550. The addition of the metallic luster occurred in about 850 BCE in Mesopotamia and became spread across the Islamic nations in the 10th century up to the Iberian Peninsula. This technique comes from putting copper or silver into the oxide which is then mixed with ocher and applied to the enameled or glazed surface (Fuga 246). The development of maiolica comes from Islamic attempts to reproduce Chinese porcelain, but they did not have the technology to make their pottery using the high temperatures needed to create porcelain (Cooper 84) (Figure 2). Figure 2 East Persian Maiolica, 10th Century (Wikipedia). The effect of tin-glaze over pottery was an adaptation of the Egyptian use of the clear glaze, but had been invented a thousand years earlier by the Babylonians who had only used it on top of their bricks as there is no evidence of it being used on ceramic pots (Cooper 86). One of the reasons that maiolica was used in Islam households was that the use of precious metals and finery on the table was forbidden from the text of the Qur’an. This use of ornate looking pieces made from ordinary materials overcame this command from the Islamic holy book (Italian Pottery Journal). Figure 3 Hispano-Moresque Maiolica 13th Century
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