ceramics, timeline, ancient
Ewer with three feet, China, Shandong
province, about 2500 BC. Museum no. FE.8-2000
Ewer with three feet
China, Shandong province
about 2500 BC
Museum no. FE.8-2000
Purchased with funds from Mr T.T. Tsui
This early ewer was made from the same kaolin-rich clay as porcelain. But at this date high-temperature porcelain kilns had not been invented. The clay was therefore fired below 1050ºC and has remained a porous earthenware.
Kaolin is more resistant to heat than other clays. This fact, together with the ewer's distinctive shape, suggests that it was placed over a fire for boiling water.
Jar with spirals, China, Gansu province, 2000–1700 BC. Museum no. C.286-1938
Jar with spirals
China, Gansu province
Unglazed earthenware, painted and burnished after firing
Museum no. C.286-1938
Large jars of this kind were used for storage and in burials. Examples have been found that contain food remains and children's bones.
The body was made from the fine, wind-blown soil called loess. The loess was formed into rolls of clay, which were coiled round and smoothed to build up the walls. This coiling technique was widespread before the invention of the potter's wheel.
Monumental sceptre, Egypt, 1427–1400 BC. Museum no. 437-1895
Composition with alkaline glaze (faience). Inscription naming pharaoh Amenhotep II (ruled 1427-1400 BC)
Museum no. 437-1895
Given by H.M. Kennard, Esq. through Prof. Flinders Petrie, University College, London
The huge sceptre is the largest known example of ancient Egyptian faience. Composed of powdered quartz rather than clay, faience was moulded or modelled by hand. It was the first material to have a glaze, here coloured turquoise by the addition of copper.
The sceptre, a symbol of divine power, was found in fragments in a temple. Its animal head probably represents the god Seth.
Jar with geometric designs, Cyprus, perhaps Kourion, about 750–600 BC. Museum no. 222-1883
Jar with geometric designs
Cyprus, perhaps Kourion
about 750-600 BC
Unglazed earthenware, made in sections and assembled, covered with buff slip and painted
Museum no. 222-1883
The jar, used for storing wine or water, was made in two halves. They were thrown on a potter's wheel and 'luted' together with slip (liquid clay).
Cyprus was colonised first from Greece, from 1500 BC, and then from Phoenicia (modern Lebanon). In 709 BC it came under Assyrian control. The refined decoration reflects this cultural mix and the high social status of the jar's owners.
Boar’s-head drinking cup, Greece, Athens,
about 460 BC. Museum no. 669-1864
Boar's-head drinking cup
about 460 BC
Unglazed earthenware, painted in slip
Museum no. 669-1864
Moulded from earthenware, the cup was painted with black slip apart from the silhouettes of the figures, which were left unpainted. This 'red figure' technique allowed the fired clay to show through. Skilful manipulation of kiln conditions was needed to achieve the bright red and glossy black.
The maker was probably the famous potter Sotades, who specialised in vessels with unusual shapes.
Green-glazed storage jar, China, Zhejiang province, Western Han dynasty (206 BC–AD 8). Museum no. C.138-1913
Green-glazed storage jar
China, Zhejiang province
Western Han dynasty (206 BC-AD 8)
Glazed stoneware, with incised and combed decoration
Museum no. C.138-1913
The clays of southern China need a relatively high temperature to mature. This led to advances in kiln technology, and by 1500 BC southern Chinese potters were using firing temperatures up to 1200ºC. The stonewares they made were the world's first high-fired ceramics.
The olive-green glaze was made using a mixture of clay and wood ash. The colour resulted from minor impurities in the clay.