The Ancient Art of Mexican Pottery and Ceramics

Discover the rich history of Mexican pottery, an ancient art form deeply rooted in Mexico's culture, and learn how the craft has evolved from pre-Hispanic times to the present day, retaining its timeless appeal.

The Ancient Art of Mexican Pottery and Ceramics
An artisan's skilled hands breathe life into clay, creating vibrant and intricate Mexican pottery.

Mexican pottery is a time-honored craft that dates back to pre-Hispanic times. The profound impact of this ancient art form on Mexican culture is undeniable, and it continues to be an essential part of the country's rich history. The Codex Matritense of the Royal Academy of History, a 16th-century document penned by indigenous informants of Fray Bernardino de Sahagún, describes zoquichiuhqui, or the potter, as "the one who gives a being to the clay." The potter was revered as a skilled artist who could mold clay into living, breathing creations.

Moctezuma's Lavish Palace and the Art of Pottery

The exquisite quality of pottery in ancient Mexico is best exemplified by the descriptions of Moctezuma's palace. The palace was adorned with high-quality dishes and vessels reserved for the exclusive use of the tlatoani, or ruler. Some accounts even suggest that Moctezuma used these dishes only once, although this claim may not be entirely accurate. Regardless, the intricate and vibrant designs of the earthenware displayed the remarkable talent of Mesoamerican artisans.

The Spanish Influence on Mexican Pottery

The Spanish conquest brought about significant changes to the world of Mexican pottery. Despite acknowledging the beauty and quality of Mesoamerican craftsmanship, the Spaniards deemed the local technology as "rudimentary." They introduced the potter's wheel to Mexico, a tool that was largely ignored by native artisans who preferred the more advanced techniques of using molds and direct modeling.

The Spanish influence also led to the development of glazing techniques in Mexican pottery. However, indigenous and popular techniques, forms, and decorations remained predominant in the craft long after the 16th century.

The Spirit of the Ancient Potter

The ancient art of Mexican pottery is characterized by a deep connection between the potter and the clay. The Codex Matritense describes the skilled potter as someone who "puts care in things, teaches the clay to lie, dialogues with his own heart, makes things live, creates them, and knows everything as if he were a Toltec." This intimate relationship between artist and medium has been the lifeblood of Mexican pottery for centuries.

The Timeless Appeal of Mexican Pottery

The ancient art of Mexican pottery has persevered through the ages, leaving an indelible mark on the country's cultural identity. From the opulent vessels of Moctezuma's palace to the modest earthenware used by everyday people, the spirit of the ancient potter lives on in contemporary Mexican ceramics. Today, artisans continue to create vibrant and intricate designs that pay homage to their rich heritage, ensuring that the ancient art of Mexican pottery remains a timeless craft.

In-Text Citation: Artesanía Mexiquense, La Magia De Nuestra Gente. 1st ed., Mexico, Gobierno del Estado de México, 2006.