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What is Faience?

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  • Written By: Malcolm Tatum
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 08 December 2016
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    Conjecture Corporation
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The art form of faience has to do with the creation of pottery that is distinguished by the use of tin-glazed facades that are placed on a pale body. Originally applied to pottery that was classified as earthenware, the term has come to be identified with some forms of ceramic and china creations as well. Here is some background on the history of faience, and how the technique continues to command a place in the world market today.

The tin-glazed earthenware is generally thought to have made its first appearance in the Middle East around the ninth century BCE. However, there is some debate on this point, as some experts maintain that there are examples of Egyptian faience in the form of earthenware beads that are dated around 1200 BCE. The discovery of kilns in the area of Crete that date from the period seem to suggest that it was possible to create a firing environment that was ideal for the creation of faience.

There is evidence that the technique used for all sorts of applications from household crockery to statues that were used in public buildings and even images that occupied hallowed places within religious temples. Over time, faience became a popular technique in many areas of the Mediterranean, as well as France. At times, quartz has been introduced into the process of faience as an element that works in conjunction with the tin oxide to create the unique glazing.

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While faience remained popular through the Middle Ages, the appearance of cheap porcelain around the latter part of the 18th century began to lessen the demand. By the middle of 19th century, stoneware had also eaten the market for faience, leaving the art form more or less a thing of the past. However, some small markets for faience that was of lesser quality remained.

The renaissance of faience began to develop on the latter 19th century, with the creation of highly desirable designs that were fired and maintained with the use the tin glazed look. Such notables as Minton and Wedgewood reintroduced faience to a market that was often composed of the well to do classes of Europe and the United Kingdom. The movement gained a great deal of momentum during the 1870s and spread to the United States by the turn of the century. While faience has never quite recaptured the mass appeal of times past, the technique remains in use today, and is often considered an ideal option for family china and other types of earthenware, such as figurines.

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