Engobe, noun


Isn’t this visage bowl adorable? It’s a glazed ceramic piece from 1955, by none other than the Spanish master himself, Pablo Picasso (1881-1973). It was also Lot #237 in Skinner’s 20th Century Design Auction held December 15th in Boston, Mass., where it had an estimate of $1,000-$2,000 (it sold for $2,829). It was described in Skinner’s catalog thusly: “Madoura round cup of white clay hand-decorated in engobes, black, green, and brick red underglaze, marked Edition Picasso Madoura, ht. 2 1/2, dia. 5 1/8 in.” Wait: engobes? What, pray, are engobes?

Well, engobe is a term given to a coating of slip applied to the surface of a vessel (or, in this case, a bowl), often for the purpose of hiding an imperfection. Think of touch-up paint on a car someone’s looking to sell, to give it that perfect, showroom look. This isn’t to say the Picasso bowl had anything to hide or cover up. But the lot description had no condition report, just a caveat to bidders: “The absence of a condition statement does not imply that the lot is in perfect condition or completely free from wear and tear, imperfections or the effects of aging.”