What is Fritware?
fritware dish fragment illustrated by Gino Ricordi
Fritware (also known as stonepaste) is a type of ceramic that dates back to the ninth century AD. It appears to have been developed in its earliest forms in Iraq. From there it spread to Egypt and other parts of the Islamic world. It consists mostly of silica with a small amount of clay and frit. (Frit refers to a glass or glaze that is poured into water upon being removed from the kiln while it is still hot. When it hits the water, it shatters into tiny pieces. These pieces are then ground up for use in the clay body.) Fritware was probably developed in imitation of the Chinese porcelain that was being imported into this area at that time. Islamic potters did not have the knowledge or technology to make porcelain. Fritware is very different from porcelain but it does provide a bright, white background for decorating like porcelain does. I make my own fritware bodies and glazes, based on ancient recipes and modern research and my own trial and error.
Fritware has been known by many other names, including stonepaste and faience. The term stonepaste refers to the silica in the body, which comes from ground quartz. Stonepaste is the translation of the Persian word for it and this term is used by some archaeologists and others who study its history. Fritware has some similarities with ancient Egyptian faience, especially the fact that it is made mostly of silica, something that makes both of these techniques different from clay-based ceramics. Although it might seem possible that fritware developed from ancient faience, current archaeological research suggests that it was an independent innovation.
Here's a small fritware dish. It has been fired to approximately 1000 degrees Celsius, about 1850 degrees Fahrenheit. (For comparison, porcelain and stoneware are fired to approximately 1300 degrees Celsius, about 2350 degrees Fahrenheit.)
Looking for more information? See my suggested readings about fritware and Islamic ceramics, including a number of online resources.