THE PIGMENTS OF THE CANOSA VASES: A TECHNICAL NOTE
DAVID A. SCOTT, & MICHAEL SCHILLING
THE CANOSA ceramics date from approximately the third to the fourth century B.C. and were produced in southeastern Italy. These ceramics, which were sometimes known as “magenta ware,” were primarily made for burial in tombs and were not intended for everyday use. The ceramic body was usually coated with a white slip before the application of pigment to the slipped clay. Analytical studies of the white slip were carried out by Rinuy and Schweizer (1978), who used scanning electron microscopy, x-ray diffraction, and thermogravimetry in concluding that the white slip was quite pure kaolinite in the hydrated form and that slip was not fired onto the ceramic body. The Canosa ceramics were decorated by applying pigments and by gluing separately molded ceramic components to the main body. Rinuy and co-workers examined this unusual method of construction and identified two different adhesives that had been employed for these ceramic joins (Rinuy et al. 1978; Rinuy and Schweizer 1978). A white adhesive was determined to be a mixture of calcite with most probably an animal glue, while a second, dark adhesive was probably a plant product derived from tree bark.
The pigments used on Canosa ware do not appear to have been studied, although there are some notable descriptions of the Canosa ceramics, particularly by Higgins (1956). These pigments were not fired on; some of them are very fugitive, and others may simply be abraded from the ceramic by poor handling. The range of colors on extant examples of Canosa ware is white, pink, yellow, blue, purple, and black. The pink colorant is particularly common, hence the term “magenta ware.” Vases and other decorative Canosa products should be handled carefully. In some cases surface consolidation is required to avoid loss of pigmented surface by handling for study or by physical abrasion during storage. The Canosa ware in the Getty collection is typical of these ceramics. Two examples are shown in figures 1 and 2.