The Story behind Terracotta

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Terracotta is a type of earthenware, clay-based unglazed or glazed ceramic where the fired body is porous. Terracotta is the term normally used for the sculpture made in earthenware, and also for various utilitarian uses including vessels (notably flower pots), water and wastewater pipes, roofing tiles, bricks, and surface embellishment in building construction. The term is also used to refer to the natural, brownish orange colour, of most terracotta, which varies considerably.

It has been employed as an art medium since ancient times in cultures throughout the world. The natural clay of its composition gives the terra cotta its characteristic orange-brown or reddish-brown colour. Depending on the clay, the colour will vary, but it may also be readily found in yellow, gray, or other shades. Terracotta is fired upon drying in order to harden for use. Though not inherently waterproof, terracotta, even during the period of antiquity, could be waterproofed by burnishing its surface before firing and later applying a glaze which allows the item to become completely waterproof.


As a pottery material, terracotta has a long history that stretches back to the period of 3000 B.C. to the ancient site of Mohenjo-Daro and areas of Mesopotamia. Though the earliest bricks made of clay were left to bake in the sun, objects were eventually fired as a true ceramic for a variety of uses that include functional items like pitchers and pots to funerary statues that were placed in tombs. Though widely used in Mesopotamia and later by Europeans and Pre-Columbian peoples of the Americas, the Chinese used terracotta extensively. In addition, some of the earliest plumbing piping was composed of terracotta. While a telltale material for making garden pots today, terra cotta has long been used as a roofing material; the ancients used terra cotta to make roof tiles. Advances in terracotta production made it appropriate for use in architecture; unglazed terracotta was a popular architectural material for making facades during the Victorian period for example. Even since the ancient period in many parts of the world terracotta was used for ornamentation, particularly as relief sculptures. Free-standing sculpture was also widely used among historical artisans.

As an art medium, terracotta has long been favoured as a sculpting and ceramic material because it is easy to mold and is an easily procured natural material. Though a staple of ancient art design, terra cotta is still widely used around the world as an art medium today.



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