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THE PROFESSIONALISATION OF POTTERY IN VILNIUS FOURTEENTH – SEVENTEENTH CENTURY

Gediminas VAITKEVIČIUS

 

One of the incentives for the creation of cities was the strengthening of the political and economic power of the ruler. The effectiveness of the economic organisation of the city lies in the professionalisation of human activities and in the corresponding organisation of production and society. This article explains when professional trades became established in the economic organisation of Vilnius and when an urban economic structure was formed in Vilnius. In order to comprehend the depth and significance of the processes that have taken place in the past, it is necessary to evaluate the connections of the trades that existed in the city with their environment, i.e. what were the areas of the life of the that time and how deeply did they influence the professional trades, highlighting in what way the town trade differed from the pre-town trade or how and why it was the trade in the city that became the incarnation of dynamic development.

Pottery, as an area of production having several specific features, which make it especially attractive for the study of urban socio-economic structure, was selected for study. One of these features is that ceramic production was accessible to a broad circle of people, which caused the late separation of pottery from the agrarian sphere. In this way, the appearance of professional pottery in the production structure of the medieval city reflects the establishment of the professional trade in the urban production sphere.

Chapter I: Raw materials

In evaluating the technologies, the quality of the local raw materials was taken into consideration. In this respect, the data from the study of the raw materials showed a more complex position of ceramic production than had been understood up until now; it was established that average quality clay raw materials still existed in the capital and its environs. This means that the old producers oriented themselves to technologies with minimum production risk and did not have broad possibilities for improvisation. To a certain extent, this explains the technological stability of early historical ceramics during the entire period of their existence and highlights the role of professional skills in the development of ceramic production.

Chapter II: Ceramics are divided according to their morphological features into:

Early historical ceramics, which are visually indistinguishable from the tenth-fifteenth century ceramics found at other Lithuanian archaeological sites, are not datable using the typology method because there were no fairly clear visible changes during the several centuries of their production. The monopolistic period of their existence in Vilnius continued until the mid-fourteenth century and they disappeared in the first half of the fifteenth century; Gothic ceramics, named for the chronological era and culture, are artefacts reflecting the cultural traditions and economic organisation of the city. Gothic ceramics are divided into two stages of development: early gothic (mid-fourteenth century – first half of the fifteenth century) and gothic (first half of the fifteenth century – turn of the sixteenth century). Early gothic ceramics mark the beginning of utilitarian specialisation in pots and the use of a controlled firing atmosphere (oxidation); they differ from early historical ceramics by a more distinct vessel profile, a smoother product surface, and ornamentation that is made relatively carefully. The early gothic stage is defined as being from the appearance of new technological and vessel morphological trends until their establishment in the pottery and practice of Vilnius. The gothic stage was a period of further growth in technological complexity in this direction and the development of vessel specialisation. In the first half of the fifteenth century, the reduction firing of ceramic wares began to predominate, improved ceramic recipes spread, and the diversity of the pots grew rapidly in gothic ceramics.

Sixteenth-seventeenth century renaissance ceramics, named for their chronological and cultural context, are divided according to their technological features into 'coiled', i.e. formed by fusing rolls together, and 'thrown', i.e. formed by throwing it onto an inertia pottery wheel. At the turn of the sixteenth century, essential changes occurred in the ceramic production, market, and use of Vilnius. In ceramic technology, the throwing technique predominated, which hastened other technological changes and required greater professional skills, which in good part prompted changes in the trade organisations. New kinds of vessels rapidly spread in the daily life of Vilnius residents, ending the era dominated by pots. In the first half of the sixteenth century coiled ceramics were pushed out at least somewhat from the area of service vessels. During the sixteenth-seventeenth centuries a relative decline in coiled ceramics is seen in kitchen ware. The only kind of vessels, in which coiled ceramics predominated the entire time were vessels intended to be containers. In their place, various kinds of specialised thrown vessels became established in the daily life of Vilnius residents.

Faience is light-firing, crazed ceramic ware covered with opaque tin glazes. These were exceptional tableware and decorative ware.

Chapter III: According to technological research data, four technological types are traceable in Vilnius pottery during the fourteenth-seventeenth centuries.

In the first, the most archaic technological type was used in early historical ceramics. Its principle technological characteristics are: 1) a good deal of thinning with sharp-edged, course-grained ground granite admixtures; 2) the creation of vessels by fusing clay rolls; 3) a low firing temperature (720–820°C) without achieving an intensive firing temperature of 830°C with the local clay; and 4) an uncontrolled firing atmosphere. The technological parameters allow one to state that the producers, who were using the first technological type, were oriented to small production volumes, technological simplicity, and the minimalisation of production risk. The raw materials used, the composition of the ceramic mass, and the means of production reflect circumstances, in which the producer cannot (or does not know how to) invest resources and energy into the improvement of his tools, production process, or products. It is possible to connect the first technological type to the production of non-professional homeworkers, for whom pottery was possibly a sideline or whose production was intended mostly to satisfy their own needs.

Attention is paid to those factors which characterise professional, progressive production such as the orientation of the producer to the consumer and the nature of the producer's knowledge.

Primitive practice is content with universal tools. More developed user needs can be satisfied by correspondingly improved instruments adapted to perform more subtle functions, i.e. a tool must be more specialised. In early historical ceramics, universal pots absolutely predominated, had relatively poor mechanical and thermal resistance qualities, satisfied consumers with ordinary, even primitive, raised and surface decorations, and showed no visible signs of improvement. This testifies to the conservative and undeveloped needs of the users of early historical ceramics. This is a characteristic relationship between producers and consumers in an insular society.

Knowledge is the foundation for the development of production activities. We are interested in what kind of technological knowledge the potters had and whether their knowledge was in any way directed towards improving their production, which is characteristic of a professional trade. The production parameters show that the knowledge of the materials and technologies of the ceramics of the first technological type was balanced by the limits for satisfying the minimal technological conditions, which were met in the most ordinary ways. No efforts to use any of the technical possibilities, which were possible, are seen, not to mention any efforts to improve them.

In early gothic, gothic, and renaissance coiled ceramics, the second technological type was used: 1) medium quantities of medium-grain and course-grain mineral admixtures which do not exceed the limitation values for the intensive shrinking of the mechanical resistance qualities of the ceramic mass; 2) the creation of vessels by fusing rolls; 3) the firing temperature (800–900°C) in the majority of cases does not reach the lower interval for the intensive firing of the local clays; and 4) a controlled firing atmosphere. The technological parameters allow one to state that those producers, who were using the second technological type, were oriented towards more efficient and better quality production, regardless of the growing complexity and the need for specialised equipment and better skills. Changes further pursued in respect to technological development are visible in the production of black ceramics. Clear efforts to learn how to create unblemished ceramic masses, which were essentially close to thrown ceramics, are already visible in fifteenth century black ceramics.

In the second technological type is seen a qualitatively new dependency of individual producers on the consumer, which is manifested in the appearance of a need for a greater quantity of work and in the improvement of the production quality and aesthetic appearance. The technological factors which improved the practical qualities of the ceramic wares are connected with the preparation of the raw materials, the recipes for the formation of the masses, and the firing, which developed in parallel with the improvement of the production. The beginning of a reorientation from universal pots to specialised pots is seen from the mid-fourteenth century.

Those potters, who used the second technological type, manipulated the lubricity of the clay raw materials, harmonised the various admixtures, widely used firestone, had a better knowledge of how to grind clay raw materials, etc. But we are more interested not only in how much knowledge they had but also the changes in the direction of their knowledge. If the knowledge of those using the first technological type was mostly oriented towards the selection of materials, then the latter was oriented to the search for new resources and the adaptation of the technologies in order to use them. In the fifteenth century this tendency became even more distinct. A parallel tendency in the deepening of their knowledge is the development of technologies to improve the quality of the products and to achieve new possibilities. Another of the factors which expanded the knowledge of the artisans of that time was connected with the improvement of the needs of the user, i.e. a potter had to know the instrumental qualities of the wares he produced.

The change in the ceramic production technological types that took place in Vilnius in the fourteenth century marks the transition from the traditionalism characteristic of an agrarian life style to economic rationality based on an urban life style (F. Rapp, 1998, p. 357). The resilient dependency of the producers and consumers, which formed at that time, already began to stimulate progressive professional artisan production, the technological and consumer aspects of which developed in later centuries.

Technologically optimised thrown pottery produced on an inertia pottery wheel comprises the third type. It is characterised by: a) small quantities of clastic material; b) the principle admixtures being small fraction minerals; c) a high (920–1000°C) firing temperature; and d) an oxidative, rarely reductive, firing atmosphere. In sixteenth century Vilnius ceramic recipes, it was characteristic to artificially mix in sand but already from the second half of the sixteenth century a tendency is seen to reject this admixture and they began to be content with the clastic material found in natural clays.

In respect to the satisfaction of the consumer's needs, the diversity of the types of pots declined which was compensated for by specialised vessels: plates, platters, bowls, pitchers, pans, etc including those for which we have no modern-day equivalents. There was a marked increase in both the assortment and the percentage of serving and service vessels, which were distinguished by especially minute surface and raised decorations, the thinness of their walls, their good ceramic qualities, and other elements requiring a great deal of skill, in the general mass of the production of the potters. Perhaps the most important innovation, which influenced the practical qualities of household ceramics and which became widespread with thrown ceramics, was the use of glazes.

The fourth technological type is the production of lime faience. It is characterised by: a) a high carbonate formation mass; b) minimal quantities of clastic material; c) the principle admixture being firestone; d) a maximum firing temperature, minimally approaching the melting temperature; e) an oxidation firing atmosphere; and f) glazing with opaque tin oxide glaze. This ceramic production requires the maximum of technological professionalism. Attention needs to be especially paid to the proximity of the firing temperature and the clay's fire resistance temperature; these parameters differ by less than a hundred degrees.

Conclusions: The research data allows one to answer the principle questions formulated in the introduction: it is possible to answer the first question briefly and concretely 1) professional pottery became established in the economy of the city of Vilnius in the second half of the fourteenth century, marking the formation of a urban economic infrastructure; 2) the professionalisation of pottery was accompanied by: a) the deepening of the producers' technological knowledge; b) the appearance of a new relationship with the consumers, which spurred a change in the consumption culture; c) an improvement in the technologies, which, although it did not occur not at a speed found in an industrial society, did begin a dynamic process; and d) the formation of a new society. The pottery studios of Vilnius highlighted the factors influencing the city's production: this was a heterogeneous social environment, promoting an instinct to improve, which was founded on the pursuit of self-expression and an openness to innovation in practice and technologies. Cities, in respect to their economy and society, become full-fledged cities when they achieve a level of a societal division of labour, in which economic and technical development laws begin to operate. Then progressive technologies began to rapidly accumulate and an adequate production organisation to form in them, which made cities the main centres for integrating the development processes.