The word Terracotta is etymologically Italian, and means ‘baked earth’ or ‘fired earth’. A clay-based unglazed ceramic art, terracotta art is an antique practice and bears testimony of man’s civilization through various ages. In fact, the ceramic art form comprises of the first steps that were taken by man towards creativity and expression. Generally, the practice of terracotta art involves baking molded clay at high temperature and preparing various structures out of it. The items that are prepared through terracotta art are brownish orange in color and are also referred to as ‘Terracotta’.
Tracing Back to History
The preponderance of the terracotta art is generally witnessed in the Indian sub-continent. From times immemorial; this art has been a pulsating life-force for the people of India. The excavations of the Harrappa and Mohenjodaro civilizations validate the fact. From daily bric-a-bracs to revered idols; Indians mastered this art to cater to their every necessity. In fact, terracotta art was considered as mystical in India, as it incorporates the five vital elements - Air, Water, Fire, Air and Ether. Many terracotta statues and figures of monumental scales are still present in different parts of the country. Some famous ancient temples also showcase the rich diversity of this sacred Indian ritual of terracotta art.
For the purpose of making terracotta, refined clay is first dried partially (not completely). Following this, it is cast, molded, or hand worked in such a way that it gets the desired shape. Thereafter, it is allowed to dry some more and then fired, by placing in a kiln or on top of a combustible material in a pit. Finally, it is allowed to cool, either by covering it with sand (in case of pit firing) or cooling down the kiln (in case of kiln firing). The sculptured items that are produced through this procedure may range from household utensils, potteries and curios to ornamental statues and designs on temples.
Though India acts as a repository of unmatched terracotta murals and monuments; it would be wrong to say that it is entirely an Indian art phenomenon. In fact, the art revolutionized the concept of European creativity and was elevated to an indomitable status by Italian craftsman, during the 15th century. Some other countries that made use of terracotta were China, England, France, America and West Africa. The Terracotta Army of China (the terra cotta soldiers), The Abduction of Hippodameia (Scene from a Greek mythology, where Hippodameia is abducted by a centaur), and The Town Buildings of Victoria, Birmingham are notable examples of the use of the art around the world.
We see that terracotta artwork surpasses the chronicles of time and its presence deeply runs through the dog-eared pages of history. But what makes the art retain its popularity is its earthen charm, light weight and simplicity of the works. Unlike bronze or stone-works, like marble, terracotta products are easy to install anywhere, because of their light weight. Moreover, the use of reusable mold-making techniques also simplifies the crafting of terracotta items. All these give the art its utilitarian feel and importance. Thus, from intricate murals and masks to elegant grandfather clocks and bells; the versatility of terracotta products today multiplies the look of many contemporary home decors.