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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Recent News: Majolica
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Amarna Princess replica sells for just £500The Bolton News, November 24th
Two other pieces by Mr Greenhalgh were also sold at the auction — a Majolica style tureen and cover in the form of a hare eating a cabbage leaf, which sold for £190, and a large game pie tureen and cover in the form of foxes chasing ducks, which sold...Read more
Families make Pinetop Tree Farm part of Christmas traditionsSalisbury Post, November 23rd
Christmas trees, wreaths and garland can be purchased from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Saturday and from noon to 5 p.m. on Sundays. Pinetop Farm is located at 830 Majolica Road. For more information about Pinetop Tree Farm, visit www.pintetopberryfarm.com...Read more
New approach to Capri and the Amalfi CoastMinneapolis Star Tribune, November 22nd
Tiny gardens, orchards and vineyards were everywhere; just as ubiquitous were images of the Virgin Mary in ceramic, stone, fresco, majolica, you name it. One house's flat roof provided a platform for a distinctly different theme: porcelain likenesses...Read more
Artistry and artifice in new tilesOcala, November 22nd
The remarkable improvements in digital printing are apparent in Flaviker's wood-look Dakota series of ceramic tiles. Evoking the weathered finish and pattern of wood planks, the style was a popular one among show goers at Bologna's September ...Read more
Blotter: Convicted sex offender found living near elementary schoolSalisbury Post, November 21st
14 and Tuesday in the 1600 block of Majolica Road. • St. Enoch Lutheran Church reported a vandalism on Wednesday that occurred sometime between Nov. 16 and Wednesday in the 700 block of Campbell Avenue, Kannapolis. • A woman reported on ...Read more
Covered Bridge Artisans' Studio Tour begins Black FridayMyCentralJersey.com, November 19th
Phoebe Wiley of the Long Lane Farm Studio outside of Sergeantsville is a maker of majolica platters and bowls painted in original designs with bold color combinations. This year, Wiley's new blue earthenware plates are the color of Chicory flowers in...Read more
Cloisonne cranes, Majolica collection, Asian works of art will all be in Elite ...ArtfixDaily, October 30th
An example from the Majolica collection is a 19th century Austrian cigarette set, featuring a well-dressed black gentleman seated among a group, titled Colorado Fine. The circa-1890s set has incised numbers to the base and comes with a match strike...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