Earthenware bowl with red painted decorations
Spanish Lustreware Bowl
  • Material – Earthenware
  • Place of Origin – Spain
  • Date – 13th-17th century
  • Location – Collections

This ceramic type combines the techniques of glazing with lead containing tin oxide and decorating with metallic oxides that were brought to Spain from North Africa by the conquering Umayyads. Production centered first in Malaga, Andalusia in southern Spain as early as the 13th century. Later, the ware was produced by moriscos, Muslims who were forced to convert to Christianity, after the Christian Reconquista. In the early 14th century, morisco potters migrated to Mainses and Paterna, municipalities of Valencia, which became the most important center of Spanish lustreware manufacturing. Production of the ware expanded to Catalonia and Aragon in the 15th century.

In the New World, fragments of this ceramic type are generally found on archaeological sites in Spanish colonies. Nevertheless, sherds of at least six Spanish lustreware bowls, or escudillas, were recovered from ca. 1608-1610 James Fort contexts.  Neutron Activation Analysis of the clays determined that some were produced in the Barcelona area, in Catalonia, and others were made in Muel, the major pottery production center in Aragon. In 1610, the morisco potters were expelled from Muel, and the industry collapsed there.  This date coincides with the terminus post quem of the deposits of Muel lusterware at James Fort. Catalan and Muel lustrewares are uncommon in Northern European archaeological contexts, which may suggest the James Fort bowls were obtained by the early Virginia settlers when they stopped for provisions in the Canary Islands or the West Indies.


Fabric: The fabric is chalky, compact, and a mottled light to dark salmon pink. Occasional hematite inclusions, some quite large, and sometime quartz sand, are visible.

Glaze: The vessels are covered entirely with lead glazes containing tin oxides, which appear matte off-white to pale pink.

Decoration: Hand-painted with copper oxides, motifs appear metallic pinkish-purple to pinkish-brown.  Decorations on one example from James Fort, made in Barcelona, include a simple flower pinwheel in the center; pale traces of vertical lines remain on the interior wall. Another, made in Muel, is decorated in the center with a bird, and the interior wall decoration consists of alternating stylized geometric and floral designs. Painted on the exterior walls of all the vessels are a few thin horizontal lines. Stylized foliage motifs remain on the top of some of the handles.

Form: From features dating ca. 1608-1610, fragments of at least six small double-handled bowls or escudillas from Muel and Barcelona have been found at James Fort. They are wheel-thrown and they have thick bases that are slightly convex on the exterior.  Knife-trimmed above the base, the exterior walls gently flare outward and taper toward the vertical, v-sectioned rim. Two press-molded handles with foliated edges were applied horizontally on opposite sides of the exterior rim.

related images


Gutiérrez, Alejandra (2000) Mediterranean Pottery in Wessex Households (13th to 17th Centuries). BAR British Series 306. J. and E. Hedges, Oxford. 

Hurst, John G., David S. Neal, and H.J.E. van Beuningen (1986) Pottery Produced and Traded in North-West Europe, 1350–1650. Rotterdam Papers 6. Museum Boymans-van Beuningen, Rotterdam. 

Straube, Bly (2017) Jamestown, Virginia: Virginia Company Period. In Ceramics in America, Robert Hunter and Angelika Kuettner, editors. University Press of New England for the Chipstone Foundation, Hanover, NH.