Ceramic: Handmade and Factory-made Pieces - Dream Art Gallery
As in all other fields of applied art, it is fundamental also with ceramics to distinguish between handmade wares and wares produced industrially, even though in this sector manufacturing process were mechanized very early.
Ceramic started being manufactured industrially as early as the beginning of the 19th century, when the english firm wedgwood was the first to introduce mechanized processes into its production cycle. Generally speaking it can be said that the quality of the ceramic surface of machine-made wares is better and more uniform.
The presence of teardrops in the glaze, of excessively thinned colours, of blisters, irregularities and overly thick ceramic walls are charateristic which may not be very aesthetic,but are the unfailing signs of a handmade piece.
It is not always possible to distinguish a handmade plate or other round, smooth-surfaced object from a similar one that is partly machine made. The best clues are offered by details like handles and decorations, and with figures, especially hands and feet.
One very reliable way of telling whether a figurine is handmade or not is to examine the base. The imperfectly round central hole made to allow air to escape during firing is a sign the item has been hand made. A smooth and perfectly glazed bottom on the other hand can be only machine made. Only a machine creates perfectly uniform walls and smooth surfaces because it is precisely uniformity that simplifies mechanized operations.
Completely handmade figures are extremely rare and generally fairly large in size. Knowing the date when a certain pigment was used for the first time can be decisive for determining authenticity. Since ancient times pigments for paintings and fabrics were supplied in abundane by nature. But most of them were neither fireprrof nor colourfast, for which reason the number of pigments used for ceramics up until the eighteenth century was very limited: antimony yellow, copper green and manganese brown. In the 15th century cobalt blue, of arabian origin was added to the above colours. Until the end of the 18th century the entire palette used for ceramics was made up of the four above mentioned colours. Depending on the place of manufacture, gold and iron oxide based colours ranging from yellow to reddish brown and greenish brown, were the only rare exceptions. These colours changed during firing, however. Chrome green and other chrome colours were introduced into ceramics and other decorative arts only in the 19th century. Objects purported to be from before this period and decorated in a great many colours are in all likelihood copies or fakes.
A number of pigments used in the past were not suited to high oven temperatures, so that it was necessary to proceed to a second firing at a lower temperature if such pigments were to be used. Evidence of successive applications of colours is a positive indication of authenticity.
Today a potter who wants to copy an antique piece has a complete palette of colours at his disposal which can be fired at a high temperature in a single process. In order to increase the value of an antique but simply decorated item, in the 19th and 20th centuries extra motifs were added to the ground. Typical of subsequently added decorations are tiny blisters which form during the new firing. Numerous interventions with abrasives, chemical products and new colours in order to enhance the beauty of a previously made plate or jug leave traces of air, humidity or solvents in the pores of the clay body which cause the new layers to blister. The lack of heat-resistant pigments sometimes made painters prefer to decorate objects with conventional colours over the glaze after firing. With this process, already used in ancient times, the decoration loses its brilliance and is much less resistant to wear.
Colours are also dictated by fashion and can furnish clues to the date of manufacture. Meissen's early production, for instance, used strong colours, whilst 19th century tastes induced the painters to use a more delicate palette. There are a number of rules of thumb, which have been accumulated by generations of collectors and conoscenti. For example copies of ming ceramics are generally a paler blue than original pieces or the ceramic bodies of antique plates from the south of France are generally lighter than those from the north. There may be some truth in such rules but they are not a dependable basis for judgements.
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