lustre final - David Grauer ART 232 Heat and Inorganics The...

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David Grauer January 15, 2008 ART 232 Heat and Inorganics: The Technical and Stylistic Development of Islamic Lusters Examined Through the Lens of Chemistry Whether or not the typical artist would like to admit it, the beauty of their respective works relies on the principles of chemistry. Whether it is the painter with his various pigments or the sculptor with his various alloys, pursuing ever-finer color, durability or malleability necessitates a strong bond with chemistry. Perhaps there is no medium more deeply engrained with the discipline than ceramic lusters. These thin layers of extraordinary colors developed in eighth or ninth century Iraq. This paper will examine three dimensions of this interchange between science and art as it relates specifically to Islamic luster – the general technique of creating luster, the development of that technique and end with an examination of the chemical principles that govern its creation. Before proceeding, however, it is necessary set a foundation for luster in nomenclature and description. One must be sure not to confuse a luster with a glaze. A glaze, a much older technique developed centuries early, is much different than a luster. The glaze is applied to a recently fired ceramic piece. Glazes are typically made from equal parts ground quartz (SiO 2 , sand) and the ashes of a common desert plant which contains a high proportion of alkaline salts. 1 To this mixture, metallic oxides are then added which, upon firing, will become reduced and create colors. In essence, a glaze is a very thin layer of glass applied to the surface of a ceramic. Consequently, glazing techniques and technologies have closely mirrored glass blowing. 2 1 Watson, Oliver. Persian Lustre Ware . London: Faber and Faber, 1985. (pp. 31-32) 2 Caiger-Smith, Alan. Lustre Pottery: Technique, tradition and innovation in Islam and the Western World .
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A luster is always applied after firing the glaze; the piece is then fired a second time. The luster acquires color both from its own metallic components, mixed in with the other starting materials, as well as the underlying glazes. Physically, a luster appears as a shiny, often iridescent layer of either metallic or drab color. If fired correctly, the color comes from a layer only atoms thick (between 500 and 500,000 atoms). Unlike a glaze, which is a type of glass, this layer is a pure metal or alloy that has physically sunk into the glaze itself. The tricky part is getting only the metal in the luster application to stick, leaving the rest of the materials behind. Thus the content of the underlying glaze is also extremely important to the success of the luster. Typically, there is only one color of luster on a piece as the technique required to produce a glaze depends on the starting mixture composition, the temperature of firing, the duration of firing and the composition of the underlying glaze. Thus adding more variables to this already dynamic process would only serve to complicate an already complicated situation.
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