What is Lustre?
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 had developed from glass workers who had discovered that metal oxides could be used to stain glass. The alkaline and lead based glazes in use at the time in the Middle East were receptive to the formation of lustre.
A Living Tradition
I think of the journey of lustre as a living tradition, that like a river, may ebb and flow, sometimes seemingly to disappear only to re-appear at some far distant point, but carried ever forward by some unseen force. These forces are creativity and imagination. For when they stall, like a river when its waters begin to slow and stagnate, it awaits the right circumstances to arise again to burst its restrictions and like that river, begin to flow once more.
Lustres origins can be traced to the Islamic world in the 9th century, its knowledge passing from region to region , moving from the Middle East into Europe through Al-Andalus (modern day southern Spain) and even into Renaissance Italy. Lost and then seemingly “re-discovered” elsewhere time and time again. This “re-discovery” of course, has at its core, not only the transmission of past knowledge, processes (or in some cases the migration of potters escaping turmoil or persecution), but also the grafting of native creativity and experimentation, keeping the tradition alive and producing another flowering of imagination.
What mattered then was not so much the handing down of a formula or a glaze recipe, but how the knowledge was used and this remains as true today as in the past.