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Pottery Terminology

The Provence region, located in southeastern France and part of the Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur region, is home to many French pottery and earthenware, with such famous towns as Vallauris, Aubagne, Biot, Moustiers…  Such places have been harboring prominent pottery ateliers and factories for centuries, and to this day these places and the many tiny villages around keep producing an ever-evolving array of Provence pottery, suited to today’s lifestyle and taste.
However, there is nothing better than owning some of the unique antique pieces that are prized by collectors the world around. Incorporate them into your contemporary décor, use them as originally intended, or let your imagination take the reins and repurpose an object in a whimsical or classy way (e.g. an antique Provence pitcher as a beautiful vase for a bouquet of freshly cut flowers).
Some common “terms” explained:


Called the “French town of ceramics”, Vallauris welcomed Picasso in 1948 as one of its inhabitants for several years. During this time, he contributed to the renaissance of the Vallauris pottery industry in the 1950s, as well as creating many famous sculptures and paintings. This was a legendary golden age when many were potters.


A pottery town for centuries, Aubagne is particularly known for its “Santons”: terracotta figurines sculpted for nativity scenes after the Revolution.  It is home to some of the most prominent names in Provençal pottery (e.g. “Faïencerie Louis Sicard” since 1890, “Poterie Ravel” since 1957).


Has been producing iconic terracotta pottery since the 16th century. Handcrafted using the ancient technique of rope thrown pottery, the “Biot jar” was used to preserve and transport olive oil.  Biot pots are glazed only on the neck and rim (to prevent insects from climbing into the oil inside).


Ever since the 17th century, Moustiers has been the capital of earthenware.  In particular the tin-glazed porcelain/faïence produced by its factories from the mid 17th century until the 19th century which started with blue decoration to imitate that of the Chinese porcelain (when Louis XIV had forbidden silver-plate).  Their refined designs of typically blue, greens, gold (sometimes pink) birds, butterflies and flowers on a white background are also widely reproduced on table linens.


Loosely translated as “basin”, the tian refers to a clay/terracotta dishware, used to either cook meals in or wash/rinse vegetables (or even dishes, in the case of an oversize tian).  The word itself comes from the “Occitan” language originally spoken in the whole South of France, and of course Provence.


Cooking item/pot from the Vallauris region.  Was used on the stove or wood/charcoal fire, hence the commonly blackened bottom.


Clay pot used in the Mediterranean regions (France, Spain) to hold water or wine.


Typical jug from the Southwest of France, used for water or wine.


Irregular streaked effect/marbled effect (polychromic arabesques) produced by mixing different colored soils.


Ceramic slip, or a mixture of clay and water used for moulding or decorating pottery (in the 19th century this process was used to apply three-dimensional décors on porcelain/ceramic).


A white or colored clay slip coating applied to a ceramic body to give it decorative color or improved texture. A clay slip, colored with metal oxides or stains, is used for coating the surface of a pot either before or after bisque firing.  Engobes are used for decorative or functional purposes.


Cooking pot.