Unknown maker, circa 1500-1525 (Portuguese, 16th century)
Lusterware Plate with Animal Shield, circa 1500-1525
Earthenware with tin and metallic glazes 2 3/8 in. x 16 1/4 in. diam. (6.03 cm x 41.28 cm)
Crocker Art Museum, gift of Ralph C. and Violette M. Lee1960.3.111
Lusterware was made as early as the 9th century in the area that is now Iraq and soon spread throughout the Arab-speaking world. In Spain it was first made in the mid-14th century near the town of Valencia which, along with neighboring towns, especially Manises, was open to craftsmen who came north from the Arab-ruled parts of Spain in search of a larger market for their wares. Simulating metallic decoration and used at the highest levels of Arab-speaking society, lusterware appealed to nobility and royalty across Europe, whose own coats of arms often occupied the central medallion surrounded by Arabic decoration.
This brasero, or plate for carrying water, dates from the early 1500s, when single animals in the central medallion began to be replaced by coats of arms. The shimmering orange-gold of the luster is due to the addition of copper and silver during the third firing. Most lusterware is fired three times: once unglazed to fuse the clay; the second time, also at a high temperature, to adhere the white glaze; and a third time at a lower temperature after the addition of metallic compounds suspended in a glaze. The lustrous effect is achieved in the partial absence of oxygen and at certain temperature ranges, meaning only a fraction of the pieces from any batch are perfect. The town of Manises, where this plate was made, produced some of the finest wares during the period. After the 16th century, lusterware became progressively rarer, surviving as a local handicraft until it was revived in the 19th century.