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.
Best of the Web (“Hall of Fame”)
Cowan Pottery Museum Associates
The Pottery Studio
Clubs & Associations
Other Great Reference Sites
Most watched eBay auctions
Recent News: Majolica
Source: Google News
Wedding: Brittany Schambough & Michele SchamboughThe Daily Advertiser, July 27th
She carried a bouquet consisting of a hand tied clutch of ivory peonies, vendela roses, majolica roses, sahara roses and ranunculus. Wrapped around the stems of the bouquet was her mother's rosary. The bride's maid of honor was Heather Renee Bothwell ...Read more
How to do Umbria, Italy, on a budgetThe Guardian, July 23rd
The chapel also has an intricate 16th-century majolica floor made in nearby Deruta, now, as then, Umbria's main centre for ceramics production. Art in Umbria's capital, Perugia, is a little trickier to do on the cheap. There is a free exhibition space...Read more
Blotter: China Grove man remains jailed, accused of stealing from neighborSalisbury Post, July 22nd
A burglary and vandalism were reported Friday at the YMCA soccer field in the 1500 block of Majolica Road. • A woman reported Friday someone stole two diamond rings from her home in the 100 block of Farm Drive, Woodleaf. • A man reported Sunday the ...Read more
Dolce & Gabbana convert Capri to couture havenThe National, July 22nd
Haute joaillerie rings and wraparound bracelets decorated with ruby-studded strawberries and yellow-diamond lemons proved popular accoutrements. As did parasols, inspired by majolica – brightly coloured Italian ceramics – which mirrored many gowns...Read more
Wedding: Lauren Gilder & Jordan GleasonThe Daily Advertiser, July 20th
The bride carried a hand-tied classic nosegay made of ivory and white vandela roses, o'hara garden roses, majolica spray roses, stock flowers, hydrangeas and lilly of the valley. Her bouquet was finished with a hand-embroidered, batiste handkerchief...Read more
Archaeological Field School Held on Ossabaw IslandCoosa Valley News, July 18th
The majolica dates to the late 1500s and likely indicates contact with the Spanish missionaries who were the first Europeans to settle on the Georgia barrier islands. Archaeologists utilized cutting-edge technology including, ground-penetrating radar...Read more
Blueberries are busting out all overSalisbury Post, July 17th
It has been around 30 years since Bryce Kepley first experimented with growing blueberries at the back of his Christmas Tree field, the aptly named “Pinetop Farm” on the big bend in Majolica Road. From the street you can't see them but the smell wafts...Read more
On the Market: A Castle in the Tuscan HillsArchitectural Digest (blog), July 17th
Beyond the lush ivy-covered façade, the grand interiors are decorated with frescoes, majolica tiles, and hand-painted coffered ceilings. Staircases to the left and right of the entrance hall lead up to the 13 bedrooms, each with an en suite bath. The...Read more