Roman redware pottery fragment from Gaul with nude female figure. 2nd Century AD. 50mm.

Ancient Coins - Roman redware pottery fragment from Gaul with nude female figure. 2nd Century AD. 50mm.
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Roman redware pottery fragment from Gaul with nude female figure. 2nd Century AD. 50mm. 
 
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Fine wares
Red gloss terra sigillata ware with relief decoration. Compare the plain unglossed restored section to the left.

The designation 'fine wares' is used by archaeologists for Roman pottery intended for serving food and drink at table, as opposed to pots designed for cooking and food preparation, storage, transport and other purposes. Although there were many types of fine pottery, for example, drinking vessels in very delicate and thin-walled wares, and pottery finished with vitreous lead glazes, the major class that comes first to mind is the Roman red-gloss ware of Italy and Gaul made, and widely traded, from the 1st century BC to the late 2nd century AD, and traditionally known as terra sigillata. These vessels have fine, fairly hard and well-fired buff to pink fabrics, with a naturally glossy surface slip ranging in colour from light orange to quite a bright red. The variations in the colour and texture of both body fabric and slip, as well as the vessel-shapes and the designs on the decorated forms can enable a trained student to identify source, date and often individual workshop quite accurately. Arretine ware, made at Arezzo in Tuscany, was the pre-eminent type of fine pottery in the 1st century BC and earlier 1st AD, and was succeeded by samian ware, manufactured in a number of centres in Gaul, modern France and Germany. However the definition of all these terms has varied and evolved over the many generations during which the material has been studied.[2] Technically, red-gloss wares have much in common with earlier Greek painted pottery, but the decorated forms employ raised, relief decoration rather than painting.

African Red Slip (ARS) ware belonged to the same tradition, and continued to be made much later than Italian and Gaulish sigillata, right through to the Islamic conquest.[3] ARS in turn influenced the production of Phocaean red slip, which is common in the Eastern Mediterranean and also appeared occasionally as far west as Southern France and Britain.

The production of related types of wares existed in Asia Minor and in other eastern regions of the Empire (Eastern Sigillata wares), while the Iberian provinces also had local industries producing terra sigillata hispanica, which had some similarities with the Gaulish products

Most of these wares were widely distributed and were produced on an industrial scale (the largest kilns could fire up to 40,000 pieces at a time [4] ), and undoubtedly using a high degree of specialisation within the workshops. The names of many potters and factory-owners are known from the potters' marks frequently applied to fine wares, and can be highly informative. Cnaius Ateius was an especially prominent producer at Arezzo, but wares with his stamps can be shown by modern analysis of their clay to have been produced in Pisa in Tuscany, and at branch factories at both Lyon and La Graufesenque in modern France. However, the interpretation of name-stamps can be more complex than it appears at first sight. Bold name-stamps visible in decorated areas advertise the name of the factory, but the names of individual artisans working within the pottery, the bowl-makers, appear on plain vessels, while the moulds for decorated bowls were also sometimes signed freehand by the mould-makers, and their signatures also sometimes appear on finished vessels. Theoretically, a decorated vessel might bear the mould-maker's name, that of the bowl-maker or finisher (for example, on the rim), and the 'brand-name' of the factory in the decoration.[5] The use of slave labour in the Italian workshops is unproven, though some names are certainly of liberti (freedmen, that is, freed former slaves). The site of La Graufesenque in South Gaul, near Millau, has been extensively studied and excavated.[6] Its products had an immensely wide distribution in the later 1st century AD, and sherds have been found from India to the Sudan and Scotland.[7]


In 1895, the German scholar Hans Dragendorff produced a classification of vessel shapes in Roman red gloss pottery that is still used (as e.g. "Drag. 27" or "Dr.27" to refer to the small biconvex-profiled cup).[8] Other scholars added to his numbered forms, and some archaeologists working on the products of specific manufacturing sites, or the finds from important excavations, initiated their own typologies, so that there are now many other classification systems for Arretine and samian, as there are, indeed, for other classes of Roman pottery, such as the Hayes numbers for African Red Slip forms. Other numbering systems used with Italian and Gaulish sigillata include those of D�chelette, Knorr, Curle, Walters, Loeschcke, Ritterling and Ludowici, to name but a few.[9]

The most common method of making relief decoration on the surface of an open terra sigillata vessel was to throw a pottery bowl whose interior profile corresponded with the desired form of the final vessel's exterior. The internal surface was then decorated using individual positive stamps (poin�ons), usually themselves made of fired clay, or small wheels bearing repeated motifs, such as the ovolo (egg-and-tongue) design that often formed the upper border of the decoration. Details could also be added by hand with a stylus. When the decoration was complete in intaglio on the interior, the mould was dried and fired in the usual way, and was subsequently used for shaping bowls. As the bowl dried, it shrank sufficiently to remove it from the mould, after which the finishing processes were carried out, such as the shaping or addition of a foot-ring and the finishing of the rim. The details varied according to the form.[10] The completed bowl could then be slipped, dried again, and fired. Closed forms, such as jugs and jars, were seldom decorated in relief using moulds, though some vessels of this type were made at La Graufesenque by making the upper and lower parts of the vessel separately in moulds and joining them at the point of widest diameter. Relief-decoration of tall vases or jars was usually achieved by using moulded appliqu� motifs (sprigs) and/or barbotine decoration (slip-trailing). The latter technique was particularly popular at the East Gaulish workshops of Rheinzabern, and was also widely used on other pottery types.

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Quotazione: 09/21/20

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