Monumental Terracotta Art and History
Terracotta, terra cotta or terra-cotta a type of earthenware, is a clay-based unglazed or glazed ceramic, where the fired body is porous. Terracotta is the term normally used for sculpture made in earthenware, and also for various utilitarian uses including vessels (notably flower pots), water and waste water pipes, roofing tiles, bricks, and surface embellishment in building construction.
What is Terracotta? Earthenware articles, known as potteries, are known to mankind almost since the beginning of human race. As the name indicates earthenware is the generic name for those that are made from clay. Clay, at the origin, is a form of earth found in river beds. Primarily all articles made from clay need to be ‘fired’ (heated) and then cooled to get tempered as an idol, utensil or in to other animal shapes and show pieces. Terracotta is the Latin for ‘baked earth’. Terracotta is one form of earthenware and is one of the most popular segments of earthenware. Terracotta products are normally not glazed and the exteriors are not ‘fine’ finished. For articles of mass production like utensils, small dolls and common idols, terracotta products are manufactured using moulds instead of manual shaping. Terracotta Art Terracotta art refers to the sculpture work on earthenware. Top of the mind recall is of the idols made for Ganesh Chaturthi in Maharashtra and Durga Pooja in West Bengal. Terracotta idols have a tag of auspiciousness and the idols shaped by human hand lends more credibility to the spiritual minded. Another reason is the visual treat in the beauty and creativity of the terracotta idols. Compared to other forms of sculpture, terracotta art offers a much more economical medium in terms of access to basic materials as also the tools to finish the products. By its very nature, clay offers a medium to mould any shape with ease. Because human hand is the principal tool, the creativity on terracotta is finer and more appealing. Terracotta permits spontaneous work by the artiste. Commentaries have recorded that in 250 BC in China 6000 life-size terracotta statues were put up to guard a palace (picture below) and each of the faces were said to be unique in terms of features and expressions. For many artists, who can’t afford a studio and the tools to mould marble stones or metals, and for many art-lovers, who are price sensitive, terracotta offers a novel alternative to fulfil their aspirations. May be that is the reason the terracotta artwork is prevalent in almost all states of India and also in many civilisations abroad from early days of society living. Smaller details like hair, costumes, culture-specific ornamentation are all finely articulated in terracotta sculpture. Variety of wall decorations and wall hangings are other segments where terracotta art pieces are much sought after. Terracotta History Archaeological excavations in the Indus Valley civilisation sites evidence that Terracotta art is estimated to date back to 7000 BC. It was believed to have been popular in Indian sub-continent first before other Asian regions. These are supposed to be the first expression of creativity with five elements –water, air, fire, earth and ether which are considered auspicious in Hindu tradition. Commentaries have recorded that terracotta art and the artefacts were important trade merchandise of those days. Artefacts of terracotta were also found by Archaeologists in Egypt and Mesopotamia in the 19th Century BC. The Ancient Greeks' Tanagra figurines were mass-produced that seem to have been widely affordable in the Hellenistic period and often purely decorative in function. Greece and Rome had popular bell idols of terracotta in 8th Century BC. Though glazed pottery is in existence since many hundred years, terracotta is also popular throughout India. Terracotta items are commonplace in homes and artisans have kept the art alive through generations. Because of easy accessibility and low costs of manufacture, terracotta offers a viable cottage and household occupation. Since terracotta utensils, lamps and decorative articles are low cost, the products have a large and ready market in both urban and rural habitats. From region to region the product patterns vary depending on the type of clay, customs and culture, the tastes and creativity of the artisans. The art of terracotta is widely prevalent in all states of India. In West Bengal, apart from Durga Pooja idols, Bangura horses are popular products of terracotta. In Tamil Nadu the life-size terracotta horses stand guard in many village entrances. They also stand companion to Village God Aiyyanar in temples. In Haryana several ethnic articles are made of terracotta like smoking pipes, tea pots, flower vase, water pots, animal figures etc. Wall hanging show pieces are another segment of terracotta products popular throughout India. Conclusion In the Indian subcontinent today, while modernity is in full swing with all its mechanical and digital inventions, terracotta art and artefacts have ready market in all parts of India. Terracotta pottery and showpiece objects are exported to several countries apart from a large domestic market.