The special attraction at the new Museum of Ethnography is Ceramics Space, with nearly 4,000 works of art, where you can see not only the well-known Hungarian examples, but also objects from Africa, South America and the Far East. The exhibition is much more than a colourful cavalcade of different household items and tableware, here you see Bronze-Age bells, a South-American manioc grater, a Hungarian Miska jug and a female statuette from 2,600 BC. The two areas of the exhibition are related to each other like the two halves of the human brain – while the left has a museological approach, the right shows sensual aspects and the diversity of ceramics.

When talking about the Museum of Ethnography, many will first think of Hungarian folklore and items of folk art, even though it has a renowned international collection, which includes not only European pieces but also objects from Oceania.

Moreover, in addition to archaeological finds and ethnographic material, it also displays contemporary objects. And this is why Ceramics Space is exciting, because even though visitors do see ceramics, it still depicts everything the museum does.

Ceramics are one of the most common types of artefact found in the Ethnographic collection. In terms of pure numbers, there are more than 35,000 ceramics from five continents, a slice of which is on display in the free-to-visit visual space. Compared to the overall collection, almost 4,000 pieces appears quite modest, but the items are interesting and merit further investigation.

It’s worth taking a leisurely hour to look at it, because that way you can spot such exciting objects as Haban pottery, tobacco holders decorated with scary creatures, a North-African octopus pot, Hungarian Miska jugs, book boxes, a Mexican tree of life and, a real favourite, a board for cutting csiga pasta.

At first, the amount of plates, mugs, pans, jugs and pitchers may be somewhat overwhelming, but there is a serious system behind the arrangement of colours and shapes.

On either side of the stairs leading to the main exhibitionCeramics Space is divided into two parts, inter-related like the human brain. Just as the left half is responsible for logical systematisation, abstract concepts and the use of language, so this side of the exhibition – Ceramics of the World – you see the organisation of rational museologists. By contrast, the right side, Ceramic Worlds, presents the diversity of ceramics from a sensory perspective.

The items in the first actually shows how museologists think about how exhibition materials are organised, so here, too, the pottery is ranked according to spatial location, function and typology.

Before diving into the pieces of the American Archaeological Collection, it’s worth staying with the first two exhibits that demonstrate this thinking: a 19th-century, 100kg, archaic Indian water container ​​and a tiny, glazed, ornate jug alongside each other. It’s also shown how such objects of daily use became tourist attractions.

The objects in the American Archaeological Collection amaze you as you can hardly believe that such elaborate and finely worked ceramics could have been made without a potter’s wheel, but by hand or a mould, at least before the arrival of Columbus.

Here you find one of the oldest objects in the museum, a tiny female statue, probably from around 2,600 BC, but you can also see various shamanic figures, Mayan pots and clay dolls. These are now mostly made as tourist souvenirs, but originally they were children’s toys that prepared adolescent girls for female roles. After the Discovery of America, pottery also changed, with new techniques, shapes and decorative styles prevalent as they were in Europe.

Using and decorating pottery

Ceramic Worlds presents the relationship between man and ceramics from many aspects, not only the exhibited objects, but also the brain map and a short film to enlighten visitors. László Kovács, a folk craftsman and potter, presents the most common decorations and technical techniques found in the Carpathian Basin.

Pottery is typically a male craft, so female potters, such as the Berbers of northern Algeria or Magyarhertelend in Baranya County were rare. There women made pottery with wheels and sausage-making techniques. Looking at the repository, you quickly realise why there were few: potters did everything from mining the clay to making the glaze. A model of a pottery workshop in Hódmezővásárhely shows the environment in which they worked.

The image of glazed pottery seems eternal, even though it only developed in the 16th and 17th centuries. It spread in the Carpathian Basin in the 16th century, and no matter how beautiful the splendours of blue may be, the colour containing cobalt oxide is the most expensive to produce.

Even more interesting is the black, which is officially called reduction-firing ceramics: this is made by putting various types of incense into the furnace in the last phase of firing, for which the vents are plastered to form soot, which is then absorbed into the ceramics.

We could list far more curiosities on display at Ceramics Space, but it might be more exciting for you to discover yourself the classic Hungarian Miska jugs, the cooking pots, the Japanese and Chinese styles, and the humorous messages people have written on each bottle.

Venue information

Ceramics Space
Museum of Ethnography
1146 Budapest, Dózsa György út/Ötvenhatosok tere
Open: Tue-Wed & Fri 10am-6pm, Thur 10am-10pm, Sat-Sun 10am-9pm