History of Terra Cotta
The word terra cotta is Italian for “baked earth” and its application around the world has a notable place in history (and is still widely used today).
One of its earliest applications is found in prehistoric art, with some of the most ancient pottery being found as far back as 24,000 BC. These early pieces were considered to be part of the Palaeolithic era, and were figurines as opposed to cooking vessels, as one might expect.
Terra cotta’s most famous use artistically was in China’s Terra Cotta Army— a spectacular collection of terra cotta figures of more than 8,000 soldiers and 520 horses. It was discovered in the First Emperor of China, Emperor Qin Shi Huang’s mausoleum.
Today, the material is ubiquitously preferred for sculpture because of its thick and malleable texture, making it easy to be molded. It’s far easier to work with than say marble or bronze. Additionally, terra cotta is quite often used architecturally— most commonly in brickwork and tiles because of its durability, beautiful color, and its affordability.
Properties of Terra Cotta
Terra cotta is one of the most unique types of clay you’ll find, due to its rich, rusty reddish-orange hue. Its distinct color comes from the clay’s iron content that reacts with oxygen, which then gives it a color that ranges from yellows and pinks to oranges and reds.
Terra cotta is a porous material to work with, which can be glazed or unglazed— according to preference. It only needs a single coat of glaze to make it waterproof.
When terra cotta is glazed, many use bright colors because of their compatibility with terra cotta’s low-firing temperature (about 2,012 degrees Fahrenheit to 1,200 degrees Fahrenheit), which creates a striking contrast with its orange body. These low firing temperatures also mean lower energy costs.