Fragmented customs from Sokol Tower

Fragmented customs from Sokol Tower

The fragments of ceramic objects and vessels found at the archaeological sites, considering their quantity, generally far surpass the glass, stone, and metal finds. Apart from the straightforward aesthetic value of the original object, which is evident at first glance, they also keep and project a variety of hidden messages. This provides us with an answer to many questions, which helps us understand the character of the location and the meaning behind the creation of the objects found there.

Late Medieval and Modern Period glazed pottery is luxury tableware used to preserve and serve food, created in the period from the 14th to the 17th century. In Europe, this is the period when glazed pottery was at its peak. Glazed tableware was imported to the eastern coast of the Adriatic mostly from the manufacturing centers in Italy and Spain, and it reached our coast through maritime and merchant routes used since classical antiquity. Certainly, the Republic of Venice also had an important role in the exchange of such luxury goods, and these types of products were most commonly seen during their dominance in the Adriatic. During the archaeological research in 2012/2013 and in 2015, at the Sokol Tower site, a considerable amount of glazed pottery was found.

Fragmented customs from Sokol Tower

Reconstruction of the invetriata pottery, 15th c., OA-910

Namely, from 1423 until 1667 Sokol Tower was resided by Dubrovnik soldiers, the chaplain, the quartermaster, and the castellan with his servants. The castellan, or the commander of the tower, was one of the noblemen from Dubrovnik. The repertoire of secular, late-Medieval, and Early Modern Period glazed pottery is the reflection of castellans staying at the tower. In the second half of the 16th and the early 17th century, the fort was more commonly commanded by vice-castellans or citizen captains. Considering their outward appearance, we can divide the pottery into non-glazed and glazed pottery (rivestita). Glazed pottery (rivestita) found during archaeological research at the location Sokol Tower, according to its make and decoration techniques, can be divided into three basic types. Those are enamelled pottery (invetriata), engobe pottery (engobiata), and maiolica (smaltata).

Apart from the basic clay raw material, pottery is made with various additives like degreasers, fluxes, and coatings. One of these coatings is enamel, which is used to protect the surface, keep liquids from the pottery, and from the aesthetic point of view, it makes the vessel more visually pleasing and glossier.

The procedure for making the enameled pottery was complex, because the vessel had to be fired two or three times, which required a considerable amount of wood, and accordingly made the pottery more expensive. The vessel would first be shaped, then dried, and fired for the first time. Then it would be decorated, followed by a colorless glaze coating at first, or later a colored one, then it would be fired for the second time. However, a problem appeared with decoration attempts, considering that a high melting temperature destroys the colors, so they would often disperse. In order to avoid that, the craftsmen would place an additive (flux) to the mixture, which would lower the melting temperature. Initially, lead was used for that purpose. However, unlike all other metals, when lead combines with the stomach acid the mixture becomes poisonous, which was the cause of death for many people at the time.

Fragmented customs from Sokol Tower
Reconstruction of pre-renaissance sgraffito bowl, the first half of the 15th c., OA-909

The next technique in the evolution of pottery decoration is the use of engobe. Engobe is a water solution of especially fine light clay (ingobbio) applied to a part or to the entire surface of the vessel, to achieve a light surface that is suitable for decorations made by painting or carving. After the decoration process, the vessel would be coated with transparent or colored enamel. Engobe vessels, i.e. vessels with engobe and enamel, could be decorated by carving and painting with the use of up to three colors. The first two were green and brown, while the third color (cobalt – blue) appeared in the later stages.

In order to avoid using lead, the craftsmen started experimenting. That is how maiolica – opaque white-colored pottery with tin base was invented. Considering that the tin coating is expensive and could not be found in most European regions, including Italy, it was initially used only to make luxury tableware which was often used only for decoration.

Unlike earlier techniques of decorating pottery under the glaze, the decorations on maiolica are above the glaze. Once the vessel is fired and the thick white coating has been applied, decorations are drawn on the coating, using the same mixture as for the white coating, only mixed with various colored pigments, and the vessel is fired again after it is painted, but this time at a lower temperature, which enables the use of an unlimited color palette. Furthermore, this means that the vessel does not require additional coating with enamel, because the first smalto glaze takes over all the properties of the previous enamel, i.e. its impermeability and sheen.

Fragmented customs from Sokol Tower
Reconstruction of geometric-floral type maiolica vessel, the second half of the 16th c., OA-907

At the Sokol Tower, the most numerous and most varied fragments were manufactured in Italian workshops from northern, central, and southern Italy: Veneto, Emilia Romagna, Marche, and Apulia. While only the smaller number of fragments is from Spain and Turkey.

Late-Medieval and Early Modern Period glazed pottery from Sokol Tower present to us a high culture, as well as the considerable economic power of the Dubrovnik Republic. Considering that in their inventory they had such prized and expensive tableware. Shortly after the great earthquake in Dubrovnik in 1667, the Sokol Tower was abandoned, which is additionally confirmed by the glazed pottery, none of which was found after that period.