ceramics, timeline, 1st, 10th, century
Tomb figure of a dog, Northern China, Eastern Han dynasty (AD 25–220). Museum no. C.167-1914
Tomb figure of a dog
Eastern Han dynasty (AD 25-220)
Museum no. C.167-1914
In China, animal figures were interred with the dead in their tombs. The figures, made from loess, were fired at relatively low temperatures. High levels of lead were added to the green glaze so that it would melt at these low temperatures. Similar high-lead glazes were used in the Roman empire at this time, but it is not known whether there is a link.
Vessel with two spouts, Peru, Nasca culture, AD 100–400. Museum no. C.15-1941
Vessel with two spouts
Peru, Nasca culture
Unglazed earthenware, painted and burnished before firing
Museum no. C.15-1941
Given by Lady Steel-Maitland
The Nasca potters of Peru produced some of the finest ceramics made in the Americas before 1500. This piece was formed by coiling and hand-modelling. The decoration in coloured slips depicts the killer whale of Nasca myth, which embodied the power of the ocean.
The two spouts may reflect the dualist aspect of Nasca beliefs. But a second opening was also needed to allow the passage of air in pouring.
Bowl with blue decoration, Iraq, probably Basra, 800–900. Museum no. Circ.175–1926
Bowl with blue decoration
Iraq, probably Basra
Tin-glazed earthenware, with decoration painted into the glaze. Restored from excavated fragments.
Museum no. Circ.175-1926
After 750, a direct sea route linked Iraq with China, and fine Chinese ceramics were imported for the first time. Wishing to imitate Chinese whitewares, Iraqi potters invented an opaque, white tin glaze to mask their darker earthenware. This technique later spread across the Middle East to Europe, remaining in use for centuries.
By adding decoration in cobalt blue, Iraqi potters created the world's first blue-and-white ceramics.
Pedestal stand, Korea, AD 400–600. Museum no. FE.58-1993
Unglazed stoneware, with incised, raised and pierced decoration
Museum no. FE.58-1993
The potter's wheel and high-firing kilns were introduced to Korea about AD 300. They enabled potters to produce thin-bodied, complex ceramics in an astonishing variety of shapes.
Tall pedestal stands were found in enormous numbers in royal tombs around Kyongju, the capital of the state of Silla in the south-east. They seem to have been used in funerals, probably to support round-bottomed containers.
Black-glazed ewer, China, Deqing kilns, Eastern Jin dynasty (AD 317–420). Museum no. FE.9-1972
China, Deqing kilns
Eastern Jin dynasty (AD 317-420)
Museum no. FE.9-1972
The potters in Deqing originally made fine green-glazed stoneware. After 300, they also began to use black and dark-brown glazes, probably inspired by black lacquer. These were the first in China's long tradition of dark-glazed ceramics.
The new colours were achieved by using an iron-rich clay for the glaze, or by adding iron to the glaze mixture already used for the green wares.
White stem cup, Northern China, Tang dynasty, AD 600–700. Museum no. C.138-1965
White stem cup
Tang dynasty, 600-700
Museum no. C.138-1965
Mrs B.Z. Seligman Bequest
The whiteness of fired kaolin was used to full effect in ceramics of this type, which are the first high-fired whitewares ever made.
The cup has the brightness, thin walls and overall shape of a silver vessel. It may have been made for drinking red wine. Wine made from grapes was brought to China from western Asia, and its introduction reflects the open, cosmopolitan nature of Tang culture.
Tomb figure of a horse, Northern China, Tang dynasty, AD 700–800. Museum no. C.50-1964
Tomb figure of a horse
Tang dynasty, 700-800
Earthenware, moulded in sections and assembled, details finished by hand, splashed with coloured (sancai) lead glazes.
Museum no. C.50-1964
Mrs Robert Solomon Gift
Large ceramic horses were placed in tombs from the time of the first emperor of united China, Qin Shihuangdi (died 210 BC). By the Tang period, the horses were shown with their saddle and trappings in place, ready for mounting.
The brown glaze running down the neck may relate to the 'blood-sweating' horses imported from the Ferghana valley, now in Uzbekistan.
Red bowl, Germany, Trier
AD 150–200. Museum no. 1921-1901
Unglazed earthenware, with moulded decoration and red slip
Museum no. 1921-1901
In the first century AD, earthenware finished with a glossy red slip became the tableware of choice all over the Roman empire. It was easier to produce than earlier Greek 'black' and 'red figure' wares, and large quantities were made in many places with access to the right clays.
Relief decoration was standard. Here gladiators in combat alternate with a man presenting an emperor with a palm.
Lustre bowl with peacock, Iraq, probably, Basra, 900–1000. Museum no. C.1309-1924
Lustre bowl with peacock
Iraq, probably Basra
Tin-glazed earthenware, with lustre painted over the glazes
Museum no. C.1309-1924
Given by Monsieur Georges Tabbagh
The potters of Iraq invented the lustre technique. By using metallic pigments to decorate their whitewares, they were able to imitate precious metal vessels. The dotted background, for example, copies the ring-matted texturing on gold and silver.
Like the tin-glaze technique, lustre spread across the Middle East to Europe, where Spain became an important centre of production.