I recently began working on a series of ceramic plates and dishes inspired by Byzantine glazed pottery. Byzantine ceramics have not received the attention they deserve, in comparison with other ancient and medieval types. The techniques employed by Byzantine ceramicists were varied, including scraffito, “splash” glazing and fast, sketchy brushwork reminiscent of mid-20th Century design. In today’s international art marketplace, the available examples are undervalued but appeal to a fairly small group of modern antiquities collectors. Usually made of simple earthenware bodies with lead or tin glazes over underglaze decoration, everyday Byzantine glazed pottery of the 10th through 15th Centuries often featured geometric arrangements of plant life, mythical creatures or stylized real animals and people. The style incorporated not only older classical traditions but also strong influences from Islamic art and, in areas where they interacted such as Cyprus or Sicily, influences from western European glazed pottery. My modern reinterpretations are made of stoneware with water based glazes.
My first piece in the series is shown above. It is a loose interpretation of the example pictured below, which is on display in the Byzantine Museum, Athens, Greece.
The second piece in my Byzantine series is pictured above. It is a large platter. The surface decoration, in colored underglazes beneath clear glaze, is loosely based on a fragmentary piece of the 13th or 14th Century (pictured below) made in the Marmara region, very close to the Byzantine capitol at Constantinople (today’s Istanbul in Turkey). Instead of using the scraffito and splash techniques typical of Byzantine pottery, I’ve applied the decoration without scratching through the surface and kept colors confined to specific decorative areas. Because the rim decoration on the original is not preserved and therefore speculative, I’ve opted for a conservative approach and left most of the clay plain and un-decorated closer to the rim
Third in my Byzantine series is the relatively small plate shown above. The surface decoration is based on a damaged but complete piece of the early 15th Century (shown below), the final decades of what remained of the Byzantine Empire. Surprisingly, it was found during excavations in The Netherlands. In the original piece, the central bird and the wavy pattern near the rim were scratched through the underglaze in scraffito technique, a layer of yellowish clear glaze applied over it. In my example, I’ve drawn the bird and wave pattern in black underglaze pencil over a white slip, then added more color using underglaze in browns, green and yellow before applying clear glaze over these.
Pictured above is the final piece (for now) in my exploration of Byzantine glazed pottery. This is a shallow stoneware plate decorated in scraffito technique, in which a slip or underglaze is applied to the pottery and a design is scratched through the slip to reveal the clay body beneath. In addition, the typical Byzantine “splash” glaze technique has been used here, with a clear glaze applied first and splashes of colors (in this case yellow and dark green) applied over the scraffito designs.
Unlike the other pieces in this series, in this case I have not tried to reinterpret the original style and technique of the ancient potters but have reproduced their techniques faithfully. This piece is also interesting in that the design is based on a stemmed cup (pictured below) in the Victoria and Albert Museum made on the Island of Cyprus when it was transitioning from Byzantine rule to Anglo-Norman rule in the 13th Century, introducing European ceramic tastes alongside strong Islamic and even ancient Classical ceramic traditions. I found this fusion of ceramic styles from very different cultures quite satisfying.
All of these pieces are available for purchase (u.S. buyers only unless by special arrangement) in my Etsy shop. The glazes are all food safe. They are all dishwasher safe but hand washing is recommended.