The word "terracotta" is derived from the Italian and Latin,  meaning cooked or baked earth. And that is exactly what it is - natural and refined clay soil which has been formed either by sculpting or molding and then fired in a kiln. The often reddish hue is due to the iron content in the clay reacting with oxygen during firing. When glazed, the porous terracotta becomes watertight. 

This cheap and durable material has been in use for tens of thousands of years by different cultures around the world.  There are many uses including in architecture as in bricks and tiles, in artwork like figurines, in gardens, cooking vessels and so on.

Indian artisans have been making natural jewelry for a long time.  Not only is the jewelry naturally derived but is great for those who are metal allergic. The process takes a long time because the clay needs to be thoroughly dried before firing.  After glazing, the pieces are then carefully hand painted and varnished. 

Check out the gorgeous terracotta jewelry from New Delhi based Serai Vassist of Avismaya.  These artisan made pieces shows how versatile the medium is and how skilled they are in making and painting them. The use of antique gold and silver pigments to simulate metallic elements just makes it hard to believe these are made of terracotta. 

The designs are largely traditional but yet of universal appeal.

The Terracotta Army

On the other end of the size scale is the Terracotta Army from Ancient China. It was one of the greatest archeological finds of the 20th century after farmers stumbled upon the site while digging for wells. Thousands of these mostly warrior terracotta soldiers (life sized horses and chariots) were made to protect the First Emperor of China, Qin Shi Huang (259-210 BCE) in the afterlife. 

Pit 1 Terracotta Army Picture source : jmhullot

No two soldiers are alike. The artisans created the figures in pieces which were then assembled using lute( wet clay slip or slurry) as the adhesive. The warriors' legs were probably built the same way as drainage pipes were back then. Molds as many as 10 were used to form the faces with artisans adding more clay to create individuals.

Warrior group Picture source Gremelm

They were also brightly painted in different colors but the paints largely didn't survive 2,200 years of burial and exposure to air causes the pigments to disintegrate. 

Recreated painted terracotta soldiers Picture source : Charlie

Watch this video from the excellent channel, Weird History which covers more fascinating facts about the Emperor and his Terracotta army including his fear of dying and obsession with immortality.  

Are there more terracotta artifacts? Treasures?   Nobody truly knows because the massive Emperor's tomb has never been excavated, and there are no plans to do so - for a very good reason.  An ancient scholar wrote that his tomb contained "a hundred rivers simulated with liquid mercury" as well as treasures and crossbow booby traps. Soil samples around the tomb have revealed high levels of toxic mercury which lends credence to the old story.

Before You Go :


This blog may contain affiliate links. I do receive a small fee for any products purchased through affiliate links. This goes towards the support of this blog and to provide resource information to readers. The opinions expressed are solely my own. They would be the same whether or not I receive any compensation. 
Original Post by THE BEADING GEM