The history of Horezu’s ceramics is closely entwined with that of the nearby Horezu Monastery, which was built by Prince Constantin Brâncoveanu in 1690. The name Horezu probably comes from huhurezi, the plural for the call of an owl, of which apparently there were many in the forest surrounding the monastery. By inviting artists and craftsmen from all over the world to apply their skills to building his monastery, the prince introduced a variety of new influences to rural culture. Local artisans were also affected by this active international cultural exchange: for instance, even though the pottery was produced in the village, it was finished in the monastery. Oriental influences are clearly present in the slip-glaze technique and use of concentric circles reminiscent of sunbursts decorating the vessels. Apart from these international references, there are also regional, traditional design elements, such as the rooster, known as the Cocosul de Hurez, which is the village’s most famous motif. Other symbols, such as snakes, the tree of life, wavy lines, concentric circles, wheat ears and stars are strongly reminiscent of Romanian embroidery, which shares similar decorative elements.
The colours used are mostly natural, made from local clay. The predominant colours are brown, orange-red, green, blue and ivory. To this day they are applied with a goose quill and drawn through with a fine stick, a technique known as jirăvirea. Each piece is shaped traditionally on a kick-wheel, and subsequently left to dry. Once the clay has hardened, finishing touches, such as holes to hang the vessels or a signature, are applied. Subsequently, the objects are painted before being kilned for the first time, and then painted in a transparent glaze before being fired again. Wood-fired kilns, which are not that uncommon, give it a particularly vivid appearance due to the irregular distribution of heat from the flames.
While the men were responsible for preparing and shaping the clay, the women were in charge of its decoration. Today, it is unlikely that the roles remain this clearly divided.
Incidentally, not far from Horezu, in the valley of the Olt River lies one of the oldest settlements in the country, the small town of Ramnicu Valcea, also known as “Hackerville”, which is quite affluent by Romanian standards. International online and credit card fraud are carried out here on a grand scale – by Romanian standards – which in turn has led to an explosion of numerous Italian restaurants, which don’t just offer pizza but the finest antipasti, night clubs, expensive cars and boutiques … as well as a host of Western Union branches. I thoroughly recommend staying here for a night.
Right: Photo 1-5 Pottery from the real pottery village Satul Olari, above Horezu in the mountains. Photo 6. Old ceramics from the hungarian village Corund. Found in the ethnographic Museum of Cluj-Napoca, Transylvania.
Left: The potter Ioana Mischiu and her daughter Nicoleta Pietraru. Here you can see the single steps of the work. Nowadays this old manual oven is more or less history. Fotos: Monica Botez