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The Art of Ceramic Mastery: An Age-Old Tradition of Fes

by ali on January 27, 2019

Fes, the illustrious city of Morocco, is recognized for its significant contribution to Moroccan ceramics. The ceramics of Fes, dating back to ancient times, are distinguished by their cobalt-blue dominant decor, the city's signature color, along with designs that masterfully blend green and gold hues. The master potters of Fes, true artists in their realm, have for centuries developed a subtle sense of enamelled ornamentation. Even today, the workshops of this imperial city remain unrivalled in the elegance and refinement of their production. Fes continues to be the undisputed capital of faience, blue or polychrome, on a white background. The master potters of this imperial city compete in talent to create finely crafted and decorated ceramic pieces.

Fes is the birthplace of enamelled and glazed ceramics. In 814, Idriss II welcomed thousands of immigrants from Cordoba into his new capital. Among these men were experienced craftsmen who brought with them techniques then unknown in Morocco. Pottery became more than just utility, the pieces evolved into works of art and established the city's reputation across North Africa. During the Almohad era, in the 13th century, no less than 180 potters were recorded in Fes. Even today, there are about fifty master potters, each employing four or five workers and apprentices.

Potters traditionally prepared their own colored oxides, which remained their closely guarded secrets, particularly the ancient greens and blues of Fes that enthusiasts quickly recognize. Pottery pieces never contained more than five colors; the base was white enamel, supplemented with brown, green, gold-yellow, and blue. While the first four colors have changed little over centuries, the blue evolved from 1853. This color was obtained from cobalt ore, which contained nickel. Once the ore was refined, freeing it from the nickel, the blue became deeper and grayer, eventually turning into a cobalt blue.

The patterns on Fes ceramics are always sophisticated and varied. Floral motifs are common, featuring palm fronds, acanthus leaves, vine scrolls in bouquet form, olive kernels, almonds, marjoram, and jasmine. The motifs can also be epigraphic with very stylized Kufic letters. Geometry appears in the form of multi-pointed stars and star-shaped polygons in the form of a central medallion. Other frequently found motifs are marine motifs with depictions of caravels and tortuous interlacings with festoons, hoops, and small circles.

However, since the 18th century, not only have the colors evolved, but also the decoration of ceramics. Nowadays, glazed and stamped ceramics feature polygonal stars and small floral elements. Modern ceramists have retained some traditional forms such as lidded pots and bowls (often adorned with vibrant colors and dotted patterns, drawn with an index finger dipped in tar) - and have created more contemporary forms - tea sets, salad bowls, vases, cups. The shapes remain beautiful, and their quality is impeccable. Current Fes ceramics are perfectly smooth, and their decoration, applied over the entire surface of the pot, does not seem superimposed.

Join us in appreciating the timeless beauty and elegance of Fes ceramics, a tradition that has enriched the artistic landscape of Morocco for centuries.