Does your family have a garden? Or do you have friends or family members who like to put potted plants on their front porch or around the yard? If so, chances are you already know what terracotta is.
Terracotta is a clay-like earthenware ceramic that can be either glazed or unglazed. In addition to being used for flower pots, terracotta is also often used for water and sewage pipes, bricks and sculptures.
The word “terracotta” comes from the Italian words for “baked earth.” Since terracotta pottery is made by baking terracotta clay, that only makes sense! Terracotta is often used as a color word, too, to describe the natural brown-orange color of terracotta products.
Terracotta can be easily sculpted into all sorts of shapes. To harden terracotta, it must be heated to between 1,000-2,000° F. Once it hardens, it is still a bit porous, which means it can be penetrated by water. However, a simple coat of glaze can make terracotta water tight.
Terracotta has been around for a long, long time. In fact, it was the only clay product used until around the 14th century. Archeologists have found terracotta sculptures that are approximately 5,000 years old!
Perhaps one of the most spectacular terracotta creations ever is the famous Terracotta Army. Also known as the Terracotta Warriors and Horses, the Terracotta Army is a massive collection of terracotta sculptures that represent the armies of Qin Shi Huang, the first Emperor of China.
The Terracotta Army was discovered in 1974 by local farmers in China. It consists of over 8,000 soldiers, 130 chariots, 520 horses and 150 cavalry horses buried in three large pits. This “army” was buried with the emperor around 210 B.C. The emperor believed his Terracotta Army would protect him in the afterlife and be a group of people he could continue to rule over.
It took skilled artists many years to make the Terracotta Army. Although many parts of the sculptures were mass-produced in workshops, each piece was finished with intricate facial features, weapons according to rank and bright paint.
The life-sized soldiers of the Terracotta Army vary in height, uniform and hairstyle according to their rank in the army. The members of the army were placed in pits in such a way as to defend the emperor’s tomb from the people to the east that he had previously conquered.