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Terracotta, also known as terra cotta or terra-cotta (Italian: [ˌtɛrraˈkɔtta]; lit. 'baked earth'; from Latin terra cocta 'cooked earth'), is a term used in some contexts for earthenware. That is to say it is a clay-based unglazed or glazed non-vitreous ceramic, fired at relatively low temperatures.
Usage and definitions of the term varies, such as:
- In art, pottery, applied art, craft, construction and architecture, "terracotta" is a term often used for red-coloured earthenware sculptures or functional articles such as flower pots, water and waste water pipes, tableware, roofing tiles and surface embellishment on buildings. In such applications the material is also called terracotta.
- In archaeology and art history, "terracotta" is often used to describe objects such as figurines and loom weights not made on a potter's wheel, with vessels and other objects made on a wheel from the same material referred to as earthenware; the choice of term depends on the type of object rather than the material or shaping technique.
- Terracotta is also used to refer to the natural brownish orange color of most terracotta.
Glazed architectural terracotta and its unglazed version as exterior surfaces for buildings were used in East Asia for some centuries before becoming popular in the West in the 19th century. Architectural terracotta can also refer to decorated ceramic elements such as antefixes and revetments, which made a large contribution to the appearance of temples and other buildings in the classical architecture of Europe, as well as in the Ancient Near East.
This article covers the senses of terracotta as a medium in sculpture, as in the Terracotta Army and Greek terracotta figurines, and architectural decoration. East Asian and European sculpture in porcelain is not covered.