The ancient origin and stable regional characteristics of Bulgarian pottery-making can be seen in the shape, decoration and technique of folk ceramics.
In Antiquity the potters' work was intended to bring life to the raw material and drive away all evil influences from it. Only then the clay became fit to be used by man. This is perhaps the reason why in the mythologies of many peoples (e.g. India, Egypt, Mesopotamia) God is a potter or a hero who creates human beings out of clay and water. The same myth is part of the Biblical legend about the creation of the world and it is also related to beliefs in the magic power of the blacksmith who handles the purifying force of fire.
According to Bulgarian folk mythology, the potter's work is sacred. It was believed that the mastering of this craft was a mystery, jealously kept within the family. As late as the 18th-19th centuries this commonly accepted rule was broken and "aliens" were admitted too.
By the beginning of the 19th century, against the background of the generally spread pottery making, there were already several major ceramics centers. Towards the mid-19th century this craft reached its zenith in the towns of Troyan, Gabrovo, Berkovitza, Razlog, Aitos, Chiprovtzi, the village of Boussintzi, and the district of Sofia. The well-organized market in all parts of the country resulted in an interaction of techniques and artistic principles. Still, some of the regions retained their specific preferences for particular shapes, patterns of decoration and colours.
Functionally, earthenware adhered to the specific characteristics of copper vessels, very often with an identical form. Special-purpose pottery included the wedding wine-vessels (krondiri), wedding brandy flasks, carried in the waist-band, rukatki (vessels for carrying food to field toilers), etc.
Apart from pottery for everyday usage, potters used to make objects connected with Christian cults: baptismal fonts, holy water bowls, censers.
Some ceramics are undecorated and without glaze. Others, however, like pitchers, dishes, krondiri, bowls are genuine works of art. They were decorated using mineral dyes already known in the Middle Ages: yellow, green, brown, red. Ceramics from Chiprovtzi are executed in the different nuances of yellow and green, while the Troyan pottery technique consists in letting drops, in white and brown, trickle down the pot surface. During the Revival the medieval decorative technique of sgraffito ceramics was still alive in the Turnovo region. By means of some pointed object - a stick or a needle - geometrical and vegetal motifs, or less frequently - zoomorphic figures, were drawn on the still wet surface of the white engobe of the pots. The natural colour of the clay was preserved. There are also some specimens with plastic decoration. In this case the ornament is separately stuck to the body of the pot. The designs complied with the general folk traditions deeply rooted in folk beliefs. The magic function of ceramics was performed both by the representations of snakes, rosettes, concentric circles or crosses and the colours used. Thus, for example, charms could be made only in a green bowl, while people suffering from "samodival illness" used to drink water only from a little green krondir.
Presented here is sgraffito ceramics in the tradition of the Turnovo school.
Note: This text is based on a publication of the National Ethnographic Museum, Bulgarian Academy of Sciences.
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