When Minton & Company of Staffordshire exhibited a new line of ceramics at The Great Exhibition of 1851 in London, the firm called it Palissy ware. The name came from a 16th-century Frenchman named Bernard Palissy, whose vividly colored, high-relief, lead-glazed plates, platters, and pitchers had inspired Minton’s new, French-born art director, Léon Arnoux.
The word majolica was also used to describe the ware, since it had some commonalities with the tin-glazed 16th-century Spanish and Italian earthenware of the same name. But even though Palissy ware was a more accurate description of Minton’s new line, the work quickly became known as majolica.
Before long there was a majolica renaissance in Europe and the United States. A great deal of it was made in Italy by firms such as Ginori and Cantagalli. In Germany, the Royal Porcelain Manufactory was known for its majolica.
What these companies shared was a vocabulary of images and style that was at once exuberant and uniform. All used bright colors splashed on reliefs of plants and animals. This was fun ware for the common man, and it sold as quickly as Minton and others could produce it.
Naturally Wedgwood and other Staffordshire stalwarts wanted a piece of this action, even though Minton had about a 10-year head start. Predictably, Wedgwood majolica was more formal than Minton’s and used humor with restraint. While some potteries were producing teapots in the shapes of cauliflowers, Wedgwood stuck mostly to basket-weave patterns and relief foliage on the outsides of its standard shapes.
In the United States, a similar fascination with majolica took hold around the same time as the Minton debut. As in England, potteries coated their ware with clear glazes, so that the pieces positively shined. Griffen, Smith & Hill was one prominent Pennsylvania manufacturer, who sometimes marked its pieces with “G.S.H.” or labeled them as “Etruscan Pottery.”
Other American companies known for their majolica in the second half of the 19th century were Morrison & Carr, Chesapeake Pottery, and Edwin Bennett. They produced relish dishes,...
One of the most popular majolica forms was the pitcher, which was sometimes designed to appear as if it had been formed from vertical slices of wide bamboo, with more slender bamboo branches employed for the pitcher’s handle. Other pitchers resembled ears of corn, while syrup containers were routinely festooned with fat sunflowers or clusters of lily leaves and flowers.
There were platters and plates, or course, with leaf-shaped plates being a collectible subcategory all its own (begonia leaves were especially popular). Sardine boxes and cigarette holders were also produced—many were topped by African-American figurals, known then as now as blackamoors. And animals from bulldogs to pigs were deemed the perfect shapes within which to store tobacco.
If there was a dark side to the sunny look of majolica it was the process of making it. In 19th-century America, young girls did much of the painting, usually earning as little as 25 cents for a 12-hour day. This was well before child-labor laws, so the idea that these children were expected to work long hours and handle lead glazes was not seriously questioned until the first part of the 20th century. Not surprisingly, the difficult conditions produced work that was often sloppy, as anyone who has seen a majolica vase with colors radically out of register or running down the side can attest.
By the 1890s, the majolica craze was ending in the United States—the technique looked a bit too baroque compared to the ascendant Arts and Crafts and Art Nouveau styles. While majolica persisted in Europe, pieces from the 20th century are generally thinner and feature less dramatic relief than those from the century before, which makes them less interesting to collectors.
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Archaeology, Egyptian findings from Bronze Age in IsraelANSAmed, April 24th
And together were found vases and bronze jewelry, shells, majolica, unique yellow alabaster basins, seals and cosmetic vases. According to archaeologist Amir Ganor, director of the unit for the prevention of antiquity theft at the Israeli Antiquities...Read more
Madison hosting antique show April 30-May 2Jackson Clarion Ledger, April 24th
Shopping treasures include maps, Civil War items, sterling silver, linens, glassware including bottles, jewelry, fine china, furniture, Majolica pottery, Black Forest carvings, clocks, art, Audubon prints and so much more. There will be pieces from as...Read more
Litchfield: Tim's Cabin Fever Auction takes place April 26Torrington Register Citizen, April 23rd
Two items that just arrived are a Victorian-era parlor stove, adorned with Majolica round portrait panels, three on either side and on the front, made by Barstow Stove Company and with winged dragons decorating the top; and an antique floor safe made...Read more
“I love you all”Martha's Vineyard Times, April 23rd
He made majolica-inspired dishes, bowls, mugs, berry bowls; you name it, Nick made it. His custom pottery for new babies, weddings, and all-around happy occasions are now heirlooms around the world. One of Nick's many blessings is his tight-knit family...Read more
Excavations at the RailyardSanta Fe New Mexican, April 17th
Almost 95 percent of the finds were sherds of historic Pueblo ceramics, but there were also sheep, goat, and cow bones; glass and metal Euroamerican artifacts; majolica; a glass bead; a square-cut nail; and other items. Badner said the midden showed ...Read more
Phoenixville Art Exhibit Honors Borough's Pottery PastPatch.com, March 31st
The exhibit, “Etruscan Majolica: Phoenixville's Victorian Art - Made by Griffin, Smith & Hill, Co. - The Story of the Phoenixville Company that Produced Lasting Decorative Art,” opens with a special celebration free and open to the public, Friday...Read more
A Window Into the Real Lauren BacallNew York Times, March 27th
but a small sample) Henry Moore and Robert Graham sculptures, David Hockney photographs, Picasso pottery, Chinese bronze figures, Congolese head rests, Louis XV bureaus, Edwardian bamboo, Victorian needlework and Majolica china — notably two ...Read more
Marvellous majolicaTelegraph.co.uk, September 29th
Twenty five years ago, in Britain, majolica was seriously unfashionable. Most ceramic dealers and collectors ignored it, feeling that this flamboyant expression of High Victorian taste was totally out of step with minimalist "modern" aesthetics. Not so...Read more