Lustre Pottery





By lustre I mean reduced pigment or clay paste lustre. Commonly called “Arabian”“Persian”, or even "smoked lustre", its origins can be traced to the Middle East and the 9th century AD. It is thought that the technology may have developed from glass workers who had discovered that metal oxides could be used to stain glass.  The alkaline and lead based glazes used at the time are receptive to the formation of lustre, as were the naturally reducing updraft kiln designs but it still required the discovery and development of a specialized firing technique to advance the technique.

Abbasid Lustre Bottle 10th Century Iraq

The earliest lustre are believed to have been made in or around the region in what is now known as Iraq in the early 9th century. Beginning with experiments with polychrome lustre, then bi-chrome lustre in the mid to late 9th century and finally to a distinctive monochrome yellow gold lustre in the 10th century.  A time of shifting Caliphates and centres of power as well as the rise in demand for luxury goods (including stoneware and porcelain ceramics imported from China) contributed to a climate where pottery workshops were experimenting and developing new techniques including tin-opacified glazes, underglaze painting, on-glaze enamels (minai), gold leaf on-glaze decoration (lajvardina) and lustre ceramics. The lustre technique was the most difficult to control, its first makers having inherited knowledge from glass workers using the oxides of silver and copper to apply line decoration and colouring glass. This knowledge of decorating glass was likely responsible for the discovery that lustre may also form on a receptive ceramic glaze.


Lustre Bowl, Kashan, Iran Seljuk period 12th Century AD

As the centres of power shifted through the capitals of the Middle East, tin glazed ware (maiolica) and lustre spread into Europe via the Iberian peninsula (modern day Spain) possibly as early as the 11th century. Major production centres included Malaga and later Manises.


Manises Spain 1550-1610

In the 14th and early 15th century, lustreware from Spain found a receptive market in Italy and was soon being made in the ceramic centres of Deruta and Gubbio, amongst others. Deruta was most probably the first town in Italy to begin to use the lustre technique through its connections with the Vatican and the lustre potters of Valencia. The Renaissance potters used the gold and red lustre colours in their magnificent istoriato paintings. The making of maiolica spread into other European countries, in France coming to be known as faience and in the Netherlands as delftware.


Special mention must be made of the workshop of Maestro Giorgio Andreoli of Gubbio that prospered until 1536 when he handed it over to his son. Much of the work was made by others and elsewhere but lustered in his workshop.  At its best, the deep ruby red lustre has to this day never been bettered.


Perhaps because it is such a difficult and unpredictable process or perhaps because of a change in taste or fashion, the making of reduced pigment (clay paste) lustre fell into decline.


Driven by a desire to copy the masterworks of the Renaissance cinquecento, a revival in the making of lustre took place in the late 19th and early 20th centuries in locations such as DerutaPesaroGualdo Tadino and Gubbio.

Paolo Rubboli "Massinissa in the Palace of Sophonisba"(1875-80) Gualdo Tadino

It was also given new life in individual studio workshops by men such as William De Morgan (England) Pilkingtons (Royal Lancastrian Pottery)(England), Vilmos Zsolnay (Hungary) and Clement Massier (France). These workshops also experimented with resinate lustre (a predictable form of lustre that may be fired in oxidation and suited to large scale production) and in-glaze lustre. Resinate lustre because of its predictability came to dominate production lustre making.

Alan Caiger-Smith "The Dance"  1998 Aldermaston England

Alan Caiger-Smith and the Aldermaston Pottery in England played a pivotal role in re-introducing pigment lustre to the English speaking world. His book "Lustre Pottery: Technique, tradition and innovation in Islam and the Western World" remains important in explaining in practical terms how it is made and charting its history.


In Australia, Alan Peascod following a chance meeting with an Egyptian potter from Fustat, Said El-Sadr, began to use the technique and in his role as teacher, innovator and as a maker of lustre, advanced the tradition.

Alan Peascod 1994 Wollongong Australia

Scattered around the world, there continues to be a handful of potters that use this most challenging of ceramic techniques, that of reduced pigment or clay paste lustre.


It is the technique I use in my work. A description of the technical aspects follows on the next page with additional information and images at


John Kuczwal "Moonlight" Reduced Pigment Lustre on porcelain 2017 



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