Sunday, January 10, 2021

Etruscan Bucchero Ware

Bucchero ware, distinguished by its glossy black surface, was produced by the Etruscans in central Italy between the 7th and 5th centuries BCE. The first appearance of a ceramic type that can clearly be classified as bucchero occurred around 675 BCE at the coastal community of Caere (the modern-day Cerveteri), with somewhat later centers of production to be found at Veii and Tarquinia, both cities, like Caere, located in the southern part of the Etruscan heartland. Although the shapes of Villanovan pots provided the basics for the Etruscan potters, they added new types and forms largely inspired through intensified trade with the more advanced cultures at the eastern end of the Mediterranean, in particular the areas of Cyprus, Syria, and Phoenicia, as well as Egypt. Many of the new, exotic shapes were in imitation of the metalwares imported from these cultures. The potters of Etruria were able to offer their customers a locally produced and less-expensive ceramic equivalent to the desirable but costly metal products arriving from the east. Some of the Etruscan potshops even carried metalware imitation to the point of covering the surface of bucchero vessels with thin sheets of silver in an attempt to visually duplicate the luxurious imports. 

Bucchero ware was fired using the reduction method in which the vent holes of the kiln were closed to reduce the oxygen during firing.  In the smoke-filled atmosphere of the kiln, the oxygen-starved flames drew oxygen molecules from the iron oxide of the pottery. This process caused the fabric of the clay to change color from its natural red to black. Thus, in contrast to the black-glazed Campanian ware of the Greek colonists in southern Italy, the lustrous, shiny, black surface of many bucchero pots was achieved by diligent burnishing (polishing) or, occasionally, through the application of a thin slip (clay emulsion).  

Strangely, bucchero ware appeared to develop in reverse from a high level of refinement, known as sottile, from 675-626 BCE, to more Hellenized vessels between 625-575 BCE, and finally to objects referred to as "heavy" bucchero between 575-480 BCE.

As Rome began to nibble away at the territories of southern Etruria, centers for producing bucchero shifted northwards to the cities of Chiusi and Vulci. There, during the Classical period, potters put their stamp upon the bucchero tradition by introducing a new variety of the ceramic known as bucchero pesante, or heavy bucchero. In this final phase in the history of bucchero pottery, vessel walls become thicker and proportions squatter. The decoration of bucchero pesante ware typically consisted of mold-formed figures applied to the still-damp surface of the pot. By the beginning of the fifth century B.C.E., in part due to the growing availability of the elegant pottery of Greece, the demand for native bucchero ware was in a steep decline. Bucchero no longer was exported and, at home, consumers preferred the colorful pottery of the Greek artisans with their narrative and figurative panels so Etruscan potters devoted their attention instead to the production of provincial imitations of Greek red-figure vases.

In the 18th and 19th century in Europe a particular type Pre-Columbian pottery in a black color became popular among collectors. At the same time, in Italy, 'etruscheria' (Etruscan-style artefacts) was in high demand, too, and major digs were organized in Tuscany and Umbria in the quest for Etruscan antiquities. Because of the similarities with the popular South American ceramics, many excavated by the Portugese, the striking black pottery that was found in Etruscan tombs was called 'bucchero' derived from the Portuguese word búcaro, meaning "odorous clay", because this type of pottery was reputed to emit a special odor. 

Read more about it in Mark Cartwright's excellent article:
See even more examples at:
Etruscan cup in the form of a pig at the Metropolitan Museum of Art

Kyathos in bucchero with man among lions, from tomb 1 of the mound of S. Paul, 670-650 BCE now National Etruscan Museum in the Villa Giulia in Rome courtesy of Wikimedia Commons contributor Sailko

Etruscan oinochoe with molded decoration, 550-500 BCE courtesy of Wikimedia Commons contributor Sailko

Foculum (Serving Tray) with Jars and Implements Etruscan from Chiusi A Tomb Group 550-500 BCE at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City

Focolare, also known as a Foculum (serving tray) from Chiusi, Etruscan, 6th century BCE that I photographed at the Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology

Fragmentary figured bucchero amphora with stylized chariot, from Calabresi tomb, Cerveteri, 650-600 BCE, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons contributor Sailko

Vessel with human figure on the handle, 610-590 BCE, at the Museo Archeologico, Florence courtesy of Wikimedia Commons contributor Sailko

Focolare, Etruscan, 580-510 BCE at Museo Archeologico Nazionale (Florence) courtesy of Wikimedia Commons contributor Sailko

Pesante bucchero hydria with molded decorations 6th century BCE courtesy of Wikimedia Commons contributor Sailko

Etruscan bucchero ware with bovine protomes at the Gregorian Etruscan Museum in Vatican City courtesy of Jérémy-Günther-Heinz Jähnick.

Bucchero rhyton from the Necropolis of Cucifisso del Tufo at the NAM Orvieto 6th century BCE courtesy of Wikimedia Commons contributor Wolfgang Sauber

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