A brief history of the art of Majolica

Majolica is a decorated tin glazed earthenware, low fired and decorated over an opaque tin oxide glaze.  The firing temperatures allow for the brilliance of colors, however they also contribute to fragility.  This ware is made throughout the Mediterranean basin, a region which enjoys a warm climate and arid terrain.  This is traditionally a region where fuel sources were limited, prohibiting the production of more resilient wares such as porcelain or stone wares which require much higher firing temperatures.

This type of earthenware was first introduced to Italy in the 14th century by Majorcan merchants who traveled the region selling these wares, hence the name.  The first majolica to arrive was hispano-moresque lusterware and the stylistic influence is still prevalent in many of the designs present in today production.  Further stylistic developments matured in Italy during the Renaissance and then later with the popularity of Chinese export porcelain. This type of pottery is often referred to as Faience, the French term for wares exported from the Italian center of Faenza

The rise of Majolica in Italy paralleled the enormous wealth amassed by the nobility and the merchant class whose patronage was critical to the pursuit of excellence in all arts during the late 15th and the early 16th centuries. This was a fertile artistic time throughout central Italy. As mobility increased with wealth, artist and artisans collaborated for the great cathedrals, courts and palazzi.

Most of the ceramic villages are located along the riverbanks where there are natural clay deposits and this clay makes the product special and of finer quality then other kind of ceramics. Taste of Florence imports from workshops located in centers along the Tiber in Umbria and the Arno in Tuscany.  Each Ceramic region has an intrinsic style and history.

Unlike many other stores in the U.S. we like to be transparent with our customers.
We don't have our workshops or private production; like all others we import.
Our goal is to bring you the finest quality at a better price. Our prices are better than our competitors on the West Coast and in the unlikely case that you find the same quality item at a better price (regular prices only), we will match that price.

Deruta is located near the important Ghibelline city-state of Perugia and became a principal center during the Renaissance when Majolica was considered as important as painting and sculpture.  The pinnacle of majolica production in Italy was at the end of the Renaissance from 1550-1600.  Deruta was renown for its Bella Donna plates, a favorite commission of the Italian nobility, other intricate wares decorated with Luster and, of course, Ricco Deruta and Raffaellesco designs.
Deruta is now considered the finest school of Majolica in Italy.

Gubbio and Gualdo Tadino are centers renown for the third firing techniques of Luster and Rubino. Artisans throughout central Italy would bring their wares to these town for application of this highly prized and guarded secret technique. It was achieved by fueling the kiln with wet willow reeds which caused smoke to build up in the chamber.  This oxygen reduction firing caused a chemical reaction causing glazes to simulate gold (luster) and rubies (rubino).  Imagine how popular they were with the wealthy patrons of the Renaissance.

Orvieto and Siena,  contrary to the impressions of some of our traveling customers, there has been no ceramic traditions in these cities.  Most of the ceramics found in these towns are produced in Deruta and Montelupo Fiorentino.  Orvieto was known for three motifs: Archaic, a motif based on medieval primitive pottery, Etruscan, copies of Etruscan artifacts found throughout this region and Dame plates decorated with court figures.  The Orvieto palette was limited to Magnese (a deep purple brown made from Magnesium) and verde Ramina Green made from copper (oxide found on the church bells)  Siena's signature style in ceramics was an unappealing black and brown design graced with deer.

Firenze and Sesto Fiorentino  The Medici Tradition of patronage and competitive struggles amongst the aristocracy for prominence in their city-state created a great environment for all artistic endeavors during the Renaissance.  This period brought together the greatest painters, sculptors, architects, metalworkers, weavers and ceramists in collaborative ventures.  Consider Brunelleschi's Ospedale Degli Innocenti with its facade graced with signature tondi designed by the Della Robbia Workshop. This is an example of  creative collaboration at its best.
The Medici�s are an example of a merchant and banking family, lending money to the most powerful countries (such as France and England), rising to power without being aristocrats.  During this rise their cultural and consumerist tastes were continually refined and they supported all the arts, including the art of Majolica.

Montelupo Fiorentino  is an important Majolica region located on the Arno, east of Firenze.  This region has enjoyed prosperity through post-war exports and buyer influence.  The artisans are excellent at adapting ideas to market tastes and are fluent in the historic motifs of Majolica.  You can see that the premier workshops have studied the important collections of Italian Majolica  for inspiration which they have incorporated into their production with flare and elegance.
Fine examples of antique Majolica can be seen at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Victoria and Albert in London and other world-renowned museums.
This region is brimming with creativity of all kinds,  ranging from Majolica to fashion and food.
Located off the famous Chiantigiana (the wine Road of Chianti), this is a wonderful region.

Urbino, Pesaro and Casteldurante, it was the Montefeltro Family whose Ducal Court at Urbino provided major support to artists including Raphael, whose father was Court Poet and Painter.
The use of Grotesques (like Raffaelesco) is intrinsic to this region's ceramics. The adoption of this imagery has an interesting historic antidote.  During this period at Nepi, near Rome, a frescoed Etruscan site was uncovered. Since the wall painting contained grotesques it was widely believed that the entrance to Hell had been discovered.  Many of the Renaissance painters made pilgrimages from their studios (Rafael from his commission on the Stanze) to witness this new wonder.  It made such an impression on Raphael he had his artisans decorate all of his frames with this motif.  Raphael was apprenticed to the master Perugino and he often worked on commissions in Perugia.  His work was known by, and had an influence on, ceramists of the entire region.

Faenza was a city-state and houses one of the world's most comprehensive ceramic museums.  This was the family seat of the powerful Della Rovere Family.  One of the signature design motifs of this region is an acorn pattern based on the family's crest.  This is also the region that produced the Garofano (Carnation) pattern. First produced in the 17th century in the workshop of Count Fermiani, this design took its inspiration directly from Chinese porcelain seen by the Count on his travels through the Orient.
The Italians, as a society, have always been entrepreneurs with a great sense of creativity and style.  Italy is a country with not many natural resources, so wealth has been built on the ability to process, refine, package and design.

Chronology of pottery making in Italy

7th C B.C. - 5th C B.C.
 Items from the Etruscans are found. The Etruscans were an ancient population of  Tuscany. In fact,  part of modern day Italy's Tuscany, Umbria and northern Lazio is called Etruria. The ceramic pieces found are not those of ancient man. They are works of art beautifully shaped and artfully decorated; this ceramic, called �bucchero� was usually black and very thin.
5th C B.C.
 The Romans are on the scene; their pottery is utilitarian with a red gloss, sometimes decorated. As the Romans legions move and set up camps, they set up potteries. Because their armies are so large and the areas near their camps often grow into cities, they develop mass production of pottery. Their form and styles spread all over Europe and England.
30 B.C. - 70 A.D.
The best red gloss ware (Arrentine) is produced in Arezzo (Tuscany).
400 A.D. - 800 A.D.
Colors of green, white and brown found most often; light blue and yellow occasionally.
800 - 1000
Dark green and yellow glazes begin to be seen.
Roman type of pottery continues. Decorations are simple lines etched into items or pellets of clay added to them.
Chinese influence on Muslim potters is seen in Sicily.
1200 - 1400
Chinese influence continues as Venetians trade with that country. The use of glazes begins in Sicily; then moves northward.
The first color used is a copper green which is applied to large areas; outlines of a brownish magenta are used as decorations.
1400 - 1500
Renaissance begins in Florence, decoration for art's sake begins to be seen.
Decorative influences from northern Europe and Spain are seen. Majolica becomes well established. Faenza begins to produce distinctive patterns, known in France as faience. Blue glazes begin to be seen.
 Luster ware develops in Deruta by Moorish potters fleeing Spain.
1500 - 1700
Majolica continues to develop and grow.  Majolica is first defined as tin glazed earthenware. That  type of decorating had come from the Arabs to Spain during their conquest.
Current definition: Majolica refers to an item made by hand of  European clay, fired in a kiln, covered with white under glaze, decorated with mineral oxides and fired again to produce the colors of the minerals.
Most colors are in use; no reds. In central Italy, motifs from masters are copied and painted on vases, plates and other objects. Shapes are adapted to show off the art or writings used in the decoration. Other styles are seen.
In central Italy, especially Faenza, but also Deruta, Florence, Gubbio and Montelupo, many new shapes are found.
Decorations are abstract and also figurative. Literary inscriptions, mottoes and religious subjects are used. Later these styles spread to other parts of Italy. True reds are used.
1800 - 1900
Decorating in  relief spread throughout Italy. School of artistic reproductions begins. Brightly  colored earthenware is used for sculptural pieces and shapes. Technology for the mass production of ceramics continues to develop.
Present day
 In addition to well known artist/potters, many factories, large and small, make pottery. Million of  dollars worth are shipped to the U.S. alone. Be aware that some of it is made using the latest technological techniques and is completely machine made. Some small workshops combine new firing technology with age-old practices thereby producing truly artistic pieces for export, just like the lines that we proudly feature.

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