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Sgraffito decoration in St. Mary the Virgin's Church, Rattery, Devon, England, in the United Kingdom
A ceramic bottle from Ciudad Real, Spain, with a sgraffito in the form of the tree of life


Borrowed from Italian sgraffito, which derives from the Ancient Greek γράφειν (gráphein, to write or scratch).


  • (UK) IPA(key): /sɡɹəˈfiːtəʊ/, /skɹəˈfiːtəʊ/
  • (US, Canada) IPA(key): /sɡɹəˈfiːtoʊ/, /skɹəˈfiːtoʊ/
  • enPR: sgrə'fītō
  • Hyphenation: sgraf‧fi‧to
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sgraffito (countable and uncountable, plural sgraffiti or sgraffitoes or sgraffitos)

  1. (art, uncountable) A technique in ceramics, art and wall design, where the top layer of pigment or slip is scratched through to reveal an underlying layer.
    • 1992, Dēmētra Papanikola-Bakirtzē; Eunice Dauterman Maguire; Henry Maguire, Ceramic Art from Byzantine Serres (Illinois Byzantine Studies; III), Urbana and Chicago, Ill.: University of Illinois Press, →ISBN, page 17:
      Through color and tone Byzantine potters gave to sgraffito pottery qualities that go beyond the contrasts possible in metalwork. And the history of the colors in their use on Byzantine sgraffito ware again takes us back to Tang China.
    • 2008, Maureen [Elizabeth] Mills, Surface Design for Ceramics, New York, N.Y.: Lark Books, →ISBN, page 100:
      Sgraffito is a valuable design technique for working with slips [], but did you know that this technique has other applications? With leather-hard clay you can incise (cut into) the clay surface. [] To make smooth lines in a raw-glazed surface, first cover the area with liquid wax. Then, using any sharp-edged tool, scratch through the wax and into the glaze, pressing deeply enough to reveal the clay body underneath []. When the piece is fired, the wax will burn off and the glaze will pull back from the sgraffito scratches to reveal the underlying clay.
    • 2012, Colum P. Hourihane, editor, The Grove Encyclopedia of Medieval Art and Architecture, volume I (Aachen to Cecco di Pietro), Oxford: Oxford University Press, →ISBN, page 498:
      Sgraffito is not only weather resistant but also requires less artistic skill than alfresco painting. Although scratch work was used in Germany from the 13th century (e.g. Magdeburg Cathedral, cloisters), true sgraffito developed in Italy and spread from there. Decoration of a plastered façade with simulated regular stonework existed in Florence from the late 13th century, two-tone decorations from the 15th century. The early sgraffito decorations follow on from the medieval practice of using overlay and ornamentation on buildings and reflect the way in which stone is worked.
  2. (art, countable) An instance or sample of sgraffito.
    • 1907, [Marc] Aurel Stein, Ancient Khotan: Detailed Report of Archaeological Explorations in Chinese Turkestan Carried out and Described under the Orders of H. M. Indian Government, Oxford: Clarendon Press, OCLC 555072586, page 432:
      [I]n the corner room a sitting platform, 3 ft. broad, as well as a large fireplace, were brought to light, while in the hall (E. iii.), open towards the south, the rough plaster surface of the partly well-preserved east wall proved to be covered with sgraffiti both Tibetan and Chinese.
    • 1985, Leonardo Ginori Lisci, The Florentine Palazzi: Their History and Art, volume I, Florence: Giunti Barbera, OCLC 38671997, page 53:
      The few surviving examples of early sgraffiti are thought to be late 14th century and have a mediaeval quality about them. Ugo Procacci points out that the technique of two contrasting colours was seldom used and most of them are pure and simple sgraffiti.
    • 1994, Hilda Kirkwood, Between the Lines, Ottawa: Oberon Press, →ISBN, page 71:
      I did murals there as well, designs for windows, bas relief and otherwise, sgraffitoes – a very special technique cut in stucco.
    • 2001, Raúl García i Aranzueque, Barcelona and Gaudí: Examples of Modernist Architecture, Spain: Kliczkowski Publications, →ISBN, page 61:
      [Josep] Puig [i Cadafalch] wanted to emphasize the ornamentation of the stone window frames of the facade by contrasting it against the white stucco sgraffitos.
    • 2015, Paul F. State, Historical Dictionary of Brussels, 2nd edition, Lanham, Md.: Rowman & Littlefield, →ISBN, page 389:
      SGRAFFITI. Artwork painted on the exterior of private homes, sgraffiti emerged at the end of the 19th century, when city officials encouraged urban beautification by organizing competitions for decorating house fronts. Several techniques developed; the most common one involves applying a light-colored base to the surface, after which portions of the base are scratched away while still wet, leaving the support medium to show through in displaying a drawing.



sgraffito (third-person singular simple present sgraffitos or sgraffitoes, present participle sgraffitoing, simple past and past participle sgraffitoed)

  1. (art) To produce a design using this technique.
    • 1972, Ceramics Monthly, volume 20, Columbus, Oh.: Professional Publications, OCLC 1553732, page 31:
      Use a ceramic tool or any pointer to sgraffito the lines in the enamel powder.
    • 1983, Ceramics Monthly, volume 31, OCLC 1553732, page 5:
      A West African woman sgraffitoes a traditional pattern []
    • 1998, John A. Burrison, “Talking Jars: Dave and Larger Traditions of Pot-Poetry”, in Jill Beute Koverman, editor, I Made this Jar ... The Life and Works of the Enslaved African-American Potter, Dave, [Columbia, S.C.]: McKissick Museum, University of South Carolina, →ISBN, page 65:
      The last gasp of the British inscribed-pottery tradition is represented by the "motto wares" that became a specialty of South Devon potteries such as Aller Vale in the late 1800s. Homey and comical sayings, sometimes poetic or in stereotyped West Country dialect, were sgraffitoed on wares for tourists on holiday in the coastal town of Torquay.
    • 1999, Michael Eden; Victoria Eden, Slipware: Contemporary Approaches, London: A & C Black; Philadelphia, Pa.: University of Pennsylvania Press, →ISBN, page 53:
      I paint or pour onto the piece, [] and then use the spaces to play with either trailing, using the slip trailers to flick, or thickly spurt the colours onto the piece, sgraffitoing and painting and using slip trailers in a more restrained fashion to draw with. I think I am guided by intuition or my own response to each piece as I decorate it, rather than by any conscious outside influence.
    • 2008, Denise Wilz, “Pennsylvania Redware”, in Anderson Turner, editor, Electric Firing: Creative Techniques (Ceramic Arts Handbook Series), Westerville, Oh.: American Ceramic Society, →ISBN, pages 41–42:
      I use a calligraphy pen with a rounded scratch nib and a stylus for my sgraffito work. Deciding when to sgraffito the piece depends on how wet you like the slip. I prefer a leather-hard surface but some potters prefer to sgraffito right after the slip has been applied and others like to sgraffito when the slip is bone dry.


Derived terms[edit]




sgraffito m

  1. sgraffito (A technique in ceramics, art and design)



sgraffito m (plural sgraffiti)

  1. Alternative form of esgrafito