Terracotta (It., baked clay), an earthenware employed by the ancient Greeks and Egyptians in the manufacture of moulds, architectural ornaments, statuary, utensils, sarcophagi, and various other objects. An important use of it among the Assyrians and Babylonians was for the preservation of records, which were stamped upon terra cotta slabs and cylinders. The material is clay of considerable purity, and the articles are generally slack-baked, or merely hardened by continued exposure to the sun. The color is usually a red or buff, and the vases are often ornamented with designs of leaves, vines, etc, painted in black or other colors. While these adorn the rim, neck, and stand, the body is sometimes covered with allegorical representations of gods, men, and animals. The Romans employed finer materials for their terra cottas, and moulded these into lamps, urns, etc, which they ornamented with depressed or raised figures. From the 12th to the 17th century terra cotta was much used in Italy for architectural decorations, and Michel Angelo and other sculptors employed it for their models and clay sketches. The manufacture of decorative works in terra cotta has been an important branch of industry in England since the latter part of the 18th century.

The mixtures employed are of pure clays and fine quartz sand or calcined flints with pulverized potsherds or old pottery. The coats of arms seen over many of the shop fronts in London are moulded and baked in this material. It is also used for statues, baptismal fonts, fountains, and ornamental pieces of various forms in different parts of buildings. The ware is much more firmly baked than that of the ancients. Of late years it has been extensively employed for elaborate architectural ornaments, such as are ordinarily carved in stone, and also for architectural models. Drain tiles and similar ware are made of it. It is also an important manufacture in France, and there was a remarkable display of terra cotta statues and other objects in the Paris exhibition of 1867.