Horezu Pottery

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Pottery is an ancient occupation, practised ever since prehistoric times, as can be seen from the beautiful ceramic items dating back to the Neolithic age, when a remarkable civilization formed and developed on the territory of present-day Romania.

Stating that at Horezu, in the Vâlcea county, is produced one of the most interesting and refined types of Romanian folk pottery is no longer a new opinion. It is a truth that, fortunately, has become more and more valid, not only for the Romanian and foreign specialists and collectors, but also to an increasingly diverse audience, both geographically and intellectually.

Whoever thinks that the Horezu pottery is easily made, from clay taken from one’s yard and modelled using the potter’s wheel, is far from the truth. The road is, in fact, long and difficult.

The potters take the clay from special natural deposits, bring it home and knead it with their hands, their feet or with a big wooden hammer, mixing it with water. The paste thus obtained is cleaned from any impurities, turned into lumps and then modelled with the potter’s wheel. The wheel represents the essential instrument with whose help the lump of clay is being miraculously and fascinatingly transformed into a shape-object, by the potter who knows how to render it perfect though only a couple of gestures. The wheel is formed of two disks, a smaller one in the lower section and a larger one in the upper section, united by means of a vertical axis. On the upper disk is placed the lump of clay, and the lower disk is put into motion by the potter, who impresses upon it a fairly rapid circular movement with his foot. This way, the wheel turns, obtaining circular shapes with regular contours.

Giving the final shape to the clay object needs a special technique and a great working speed, because the paste mustn’t get dry (sometimes, the shape is created in just 40-50 seconds). After the modelling, the ceramic objects are left to dry for a couple of days in the shade.

Afterwards, using specific methods, the potter starts changing the object’s appearance, using several embellishment procedures: vernissing, splashing, scratching or incising, piercing, cutting using a model, cutting out, stamping or painting it. Painting the ceramics represents one of the oldest forms of artistic expression, with whose help diverse civilizations communicate with one another.

The colours of Horezu pottery are full of expressiveness; they create special harmonies, form, by painting, decorative fields, or delimit, through intermediate shades, demarcation contours or spaces between the main and the secondary motifs. The number of colours is not great, but the decorative conception and the potter’s art of combining them reveal each colour’s live and natural quality. The potters’ declarations on obtaining and preparing the colours allow the observation according to which their colours, just like the ones used in the prehistoric paintings, are obtained from clay coloured with iron or magnesium oxide. Certain types of natural or calcined clay, diluted with water, become engobes coloured in ochre, red or brown tones.

Decorating the pottery with the horn is the part requiring the greatest skill in the use of the work instruments, a keen sense of proportions in contouring the models and artistic sensitivity in order to obtain a final result where the shape-colour combination must be perfect. Usually, this artistic activity represents a feminine contribution, even though, across the ages, many men have also created true wonders from this point of view. The cattle horns, instruments used as containers from which the colour drips on the objects, are perforated at one end, where a goose feather is attached, in order to obtain finer contours, as well as to diminish the flow of colour, who must create fine and uniform lines and dots. One decorative procedure is as easily executed as its final aspect is impressive. It consists of moving the colour freshly placed on the ceramic item with the horn and changing the direction of the initial pattern with an instrument called a „jay”.

After being decorated, the ceramic objects are left to dry for a couple of days, then they are put in the oven for the burning. In Horezu, the ovens are made of brick, having the shape of a frustum with the larger base downwards. For the Horezu pottery, most of which is enamelled, two burnings are needed.

The patterns are delicate, and yet strong from a symbolic point of view, having the following nature:

  1. Zoomorphic and avimorphic: the cock, the dove, the fish, the snake. The song of the cock announces the victory of the sun and the light over the night and the darkness. To the same category belong the dove and the fish, both symbols of Christianity.
  2. vegetal: grapes, leaves, clover (the luck), vines, little fir trees (the immortality) or the rosebuds, the ear of wheat (the prosperity).
  3. geometric: the artistic solutions adopted by the craftsmen from the Horezu area are based on repetition, alternation and symmetry: circles, spirals, concentric lines. The main trait of the geometric ornamentation specific to the Horezu area is the improvement of the simple elements (dots, lines), noticing a strong preference for the curve lines. The geometric elements used as decorative motifs are: 1. dots with variants originating in the execution technique (drops and commas), 2. short parallel lines, either straight or sinuous, 3. spirals, zigzags (interrupted or continuous), 4. semicircles, similar to smaller arcades, sometimes separate, sometimes connected, either adjacent or overlaid. 6. sinuous lines (most often in the upper part of the ceramic piece)
  4. other: 1. the traditional Brâncovenesc element, the spiral (symbolizing the whirlpool of life), 2. cosmographic ornaments ( the star and the sun), 3. nature-inspired elements: the peacock tail, the spider or the tree of life.

The emblem of Horezu ceramic centre is the cock, a symbol of renaissance and immortality of the soul. On the Horezu pottery, it is shown from the side, with its head held high up and its beak open (perhaps singing), with its tail ruffled, representing vigilance and pride.

This is, briefly, the fascinating story of Horezu clay, a story in which a humble lump of clay turns over a few times, like in the fairytales, and it turns into a Prince Charming – a living vessel – who knows the elixir of eternal youth.

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