Module 4: Prop Ceramics and its relevance in feature films, advertising materials and photographs


In each movie as well as in advertising films setting and equipment are not just extras, but protagonists as well – this applies to the prop ceramic. Both, movies and commercials reflect
the social changes best. Stylistic empathy for social groupings and different epochs is expressed by stage setting and décor. In showing living-situations the use of ceramics is helping to draw images with socio-cultural messages. The selection always carries a message, stands as a symbol for status, taste and style – or the opposite of it.


Porzellanikon – Staatliches Museum für Porzellan in Hohenberg a. d. Eger / Selb

Staffordshire University, Stoke-on-Trent

Rīgas pašvaldības kultūras iestāžu apvienības Rīgas Porcelāna muzejs


1st December 2014 – 31 May 2018

Prop Ceramics and its relevance in feature films, advertising materials and photographs – Research Project

No other continent on earth combines such a wide variety of cultures in such a small space as Europe. Culture – as abstract and rich as this term is – takes place in coexistence and helps people, regions or groups to define and identify themselves. The practical expression of culture also includes for example language, theatre, literature, music and traditions. An also very significant vehicle to pass on, to live out and to deal with culture can be found in film and advertising. These media channels accompany and shape everyday life. They surround people around the world and around the clock. But there is another substance that intensively shapes the life and cultural identity of everyone, but every so often is not consciously noticed: Ceramics. Not many products affect daily life in such an all-embracing way.

Movies entertain, explain, ask questions and contribute to develop opinions. Moreover, advertising and film, in their many different forms and manifestations, act as a fertile platform for presenting and discussing cultural life in all its facets. They can be found on posters, pop-up windows, tablets and smartphones, TV and Cinema screens, projected on walls, at home or away, offline and online. Films and advertisements tell stories about people and their environment – and ceramics are part of that. Meals are prepared on ceramic plates, houses and apartments are decorated with ceramic objects and bathrooms are lined with ceramic tiles. Plates, cups, figures, sinks and tiles shape and simplify everyday life. They are also part of the tradition that is especially celebrated and lived out at festive holidays. The variety of ceramic materials offers cultures, societies, communities or individual persons an opportunity to realise and express their identity. To analyse media such as film and advertising gives the opportunity to open up and explore new perspectives on ceramics as props.
Movies, commercials and advertising photographs from 11 different European countries starting from the 1930s until the present day were subject to the following questions:

  1. Do ceramic props have any purpose regarding the dramaturgy or storytelling?
  2. Are ceramic props being used to describe a character or his background story?
  3. Do ceramic props represent a lifestyle or certain social milieus and cultural or national European identities?
  4. Do ceramic props emphasise, symbolise or describe stereotypes of countries or cultures? Do they therefore work as a “cultural code”, which is widely understood by the viewers?
  5. Is a certain meaning ascribed to the ceramics used on set to convey a desired message?
  6. Do ceramics products reflect or help understand certain trends e.g. in dining culture, home furnishing or decoration?

All in all, the basic question is:
What specific roles do ceramics play in films, commercials and advertising photographs?
The EU-Project-Team from 11 different Countries took on this challenge. Movies and commercials have been evaluated for their relevance to peoples’ perceptions of ceramics. Basic parameters were defined and discussed with the project partners in reference to the key theme. From a great number of researched movies and commercials up to 384 movie sequences and advertisement clips as well as advertising posters have been analysed and included in an online database, which is part of the website. Team Members came from:
Czech Republic, Estonia, Finland, Germany, Ireland, Italy, Latvia, Serbia, Slovenia, Spain, United Kingdom. Some countries like Slovenia for a period of time in their history did not have commercial clips. To explain why and how this came about a short essay was written.

As announced in the project submission a preview of the achievements was put together and made available through a hands-on media station, which was added to the touring exhibition “European Cultural Lifestyle in Ceramics – from Baroque until Today” as well as to the project’s congress “CERAMIC VALUES: Can Ceramics make a difference?” During the duration of this 4-year-project visitors of a variety of museums in many different countries like Italy, UK, Estonia, Latvia and many more at the Congress “Ceramic Values: Can Ceramics make a difference” could get in touch with this topic through a hands-on, interactive media station filled with almost 100 movie and advertising clips as well as newsreels and advertising photographs. Even an augmented reality presentation was included into the Media Station, which allowed the user to take a closer look on how big the variety of ceramic props actually is. The media station „Prop Ceramics – Silent movie stars“ venues were:

The International Museum of Ceramics in Faenza, 23 April – 11 November 2016

The Potteries Museum & Art Gallery, Stoke-on-Trent, 1 October 2016 – 6 January 2017

The Estonian Museum of Applied Art and Design, Tallinn, 22 January – 26 March 2017

The Association of Culture Institutions of Riga City Council – The Riga Porcelain museum, 6 April – 25 June 2017

The Potteries Museum & Art Gallery/BCB, Stoke on Trent, 5 October – 5 Novmeber 2017

To find out more about the reception of ceramic props a big public survey was also conducted with over 4000 questionnaires being filled out by an international audience. Based on this public opinion poll a scientific study was finalised in 2017 – the first one of this kind.

Furthermore, on the final project’s website visitors can now learn a lot about the relevance of ceramics – especially ceramic props – in movies, commercials and advertising photographs online. Based on the success of this module and the huge interest the public expressed, a special exhibition is being held at the Porzellanikon, Selb from the 27th of July 2019 until the 26th of January 2020 titled: Silent Stars – Ceramics in Film and Advertising.