Terracotta is a symbol of humanity's innate desire to create, express, and tell stories. It has been used for centuries in different parts of the world, from the Terracotta Army of China, or the magnificent sculptures scattered in ancient Rome, its versatility and availability, and universality, have bestowed preciousness and earthiness to the unglazed material. Today, it continues to be a source of inspiration for artists and designers alike, a material that combines durability with beauty, and that speaks to our collective memory and imagination.
During the Renaissance period, terracotta reached its golden age, and it was widely used in North Italy and North Germany. Towns had buildings made of that exuded the charm of iron-melded clay. Terracotta surpassed traditional materials such as bronze and marble in popularity, and it flourished as a celebrated material in Italy.
During the 1440s, Luca della Robia, an Italian sculptor, gained renown for his innovations and techniques in crafting glazed terracotta sculptures that could withstand exposure to air and moisture. The popularity of terracotta increased, and it began to be used for various purposes such as building blocks for mansions in England. Italy was one of the first countries to embrace terracotta art, and Italian artisans migrated to other countries to share their skills. This led to the expansion of terracotta art in other parts of the world. However, its use dwindled as Italian workers started leaving the place. Later in the 18th century, the art found its resort in France, where artists started producing figurines.
In addition to architecture, terracotta has also been an important element in sculpting. In Africa, the Nok culture holds a great part of the terracotta architecture, creating intricate human heads, figures, animal heads, bows, arrows, and slingshots that reflect their lives and occupation. Their sculptures have underlying meanings and motifs, ranging from social structures to references to the dead.
India's ancient Indus Valley civilization instilled the skill of making animal figurines, while religious events such as the Vaishnawite movement influenced terracotta sculpting in temples of West Bengal. In states like Bihar and Gujarat, figurines and animals were sculpted for use in temples. The Bishnupur temple in West Bengal is a complex of twenty temples that still stand tall today, embellished with etchings from Hindu mythology.
Terracotta has been widely used across the globe, from embellishments on buildings and monuments to religious sculptures with deep meanings entrenched in mythology and ancient culture. Whether it is through the majestic buildings of Italy or the spiritual sculptures of Africa and India, terracotta has left an indelible mark on our world, a testament to the ingenuity and creativity of humanity. Its enduring legacy is a reminder of the power of art to transcend boundaries and unite people across diverse cultures and backgrounds. So let us celebrate this timeless art form, and let it continue to inspire us for generations to come.