God said to Noah and to his sons with him, “I am now setting up my covenant with you, with your descendants, and with every living being with you-with the birds, with the large animals, and with all the animals of the earth, leaving the ark with you.” ~Genesis 9:8-10 CEB
The Flood, ceramic tile, 1550, Masséot Abaquesne, c.1500-1564
Commentary by Hovak Najarian
Clay often is regarded to be a lowly substance. It is formed by decomposed rock and organic matter and is used to make bricks and drainpipes. It is underfoot as pavers, and in art it is a material associated with pottery and the crafts. It is not used regularly by artists as a surface on which to paint. Masséot Abaquesne’s “The Flood,” depicting the landing of the ark, is an example of the problem with categories when art is shoe-horned into being either “fine arts” or “crafts.” Abaquesne used tiles, glaze, and metal oxides to create a painting on clay; not on wood panels or canvas.
Abaquesne had a successful ceramics business in Rouen, France. His studio specialized in majolica (muh-JAHL-i-kuh) and faience (pronounced fay-AHNS – French for Faenza, a major ceramic center in Italy), and he was influenced generally by Italian art. For The Flood, Abaquesne used a tiled surface instead of a large single flat piece because clay shrinks when it is fired and in the process, large pieces tend to warp and not remain flat.
To make “The Flood,” a majolica technique was used. The earthenware tiles were fired at a low temperature then covered entirely with a white glaze but not fired again until after Abaquesne created his painting (on the unfired white surface) using coloring pastes made with oxides: cobalt for blue, iron for dark reddish brown and antimony for yellow. It was then fired in the kiln a second time. The work shown here is one of three created by Abaquesne on the subject of the flood. [Building the ark and boarding it are the subjects of the other two works.] This scene depicts the flood after the water has subsided and the ark has landed. In a dramatic depiction of the aftermath of the event, drowned figures are strewn about and a carrion-eating bird is dining on a dead horse. On the right side of the sky, a dove is returning to the ark with an olive branch and God is in a cloud on the left side observing everything below.
Majolica ware originated in Spain and during the Renaissance it became very popular throughout Europe. The name is believed to be derived from the Spanish island, Majorca.
In addition to a glazing technique,” faïence,” is a term given to a low fired non-clay material used in ancient Egypt for crafting objects such as small blue scarabs and hippopotami. When archeologists discovered these objects, the color reminded them of the blue glaze that was made famous in the town of Faenza, Italy. They referred to the material as “faience.” Although Egyptian faience is not glazed clay, the term has remained in use.
Hovak Najarian © 2013