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.

About our sources | Got something to add?

▼ Expand to read the full article ▼

Best of the Web (“Hall of Fame”)

Gouda Design

Gouda Design

Stuart Lonsdale and Kim Lindley's excellent tribute to and reference on Gouda Dutch Art Pottery and Delftware. The … [read review or visit site]

Cowan Pottery Museum Associates

Cowan Pottery Museum Associates

Dedicated to raising awareness of the ceramic art work of R. Guy Cowan and his Cowan Pottery Studio in northeastern… [read review or visit site]

The Pottery Studio

The Pottery Studio

This 7,000-plus page site lives up to its self-billing as a 'knowledge base' with examples of work from all major a… [read review or visit site]

Clubs & Associations

Other Great Reference Sites

Most watched eBay auctions    

Rare Sarreguemines Novelty Tobacco Jar Humidor Monkey Piano Majolica Antique NrStunning Mid19thc Large Majolica Asparagus Tray With Wonderful Decor C18608 Framed Tiles Vietri Sul Mare Ics Gambone Dolker Donkey RareSuperb 19thc Minton Majolica Secessionist Vase No 21Unusual Antique Dutch Delft Or Italian Maiolica Ring Puzzle JugAntique Etruscan Majolica Cream Pitcher - Seashell & Seaweed1800s Antique Victorian Majolica Jardiniere Planter Brown Green Garden PotteryAntique Green Majolica Leaf & Flower Plate Ca 1880Impressive George Jones Majolica Calla Lily & Swallows FlowerpotAssorted Majolica, Staffordshire, And Motto Ware Including Matching SetsAntique Majolica Shell And Seaweed Tea PotVintage Palissy Majolica Caldas Mescuita Wall Plate Crab PortugalOld Etruscan Majolica Leaf Platter Antique Pottery Estate FindStunning 19th C. Thomas Sergent Majolica Palissy Wading Bird With Snake C1880Antique Yellow Majolica Plate With FlowersAntique Continental Majolica Leaf Formed Wall Pocket - Unusual!Antique Majolica Begonia Leaf Dish Collectilbe Mackenzie Childs Set Of 3 Tassels - Ceramic Tassels ExcellentRare Antique Large Ornate Majolica Serving Plate Cabinet PlateAntique Majolica Plate Bird & Flower Cobalt Background Ca 1880Antique Majolica Basketweave Leaf 8 Inch PlateAntique Majolica Begonia Leaf Dish Pretty Antique Majolica Art Nouveau Cylindrical Vase - 10" Tall FloralRare Antique Vintage Huge English Victorian Majolica Blue Seashell Center BowlRare Antique Large Ornate Majolica Serving Plate Cabinet PlateAntique A. Morley Art Majolica Pottery Owl Figural Pitcher 19 CenturyAntique Majolica Shell And Seaweed Creamer Nice Antique Wedgwood Majolica Spade Shaped Relish DishOutstanding Beautiful Antique Majolica Serving Plate - Cabinet PlateSet Of 4 Vintage Cantagalli Italian Majolica Scenic Plates W/ Putti Wavy Rims NrAntique Majolica Pottery Handled BasketMajolica Pitcher Etruscan 8"Early Majolica Pineapple Open Salt And Pepper Shaker Rare Antique Large Ornate Majolica Serving Plate Cabinet PlateMajolica Dandalion Zell Baden Plate PotterySet 4 Majolica 7 1/2" Plates Green/pink Leaf Mustard Background Germany Zell ?Superb 19thc Large Majolica Pitcher With Foxes & Captured Bird Decoration C1880A Fine 19th Century Italian Majolica - Faience Or Tin Glaze Enameled Plate Antique Majolica Barbotine Vase Portugal? Marked 'o'Beautiful Antique Wedgwood Majolica Serving Plate - Cabinet PlateAntique American Encaustic Pottery Art Tile Aet Majolica Fireplace Flower 3 InchVintage Mccoy?? Pottery Glazed Majolica Sunrise Jardiniere Planter 9" X 8"Antique Majolica Pottery BasketSigned Majolica Oyster PlateVtg Majolica De La Cal Barreira Puente Frenchman~horse Pottery Plate Hp 13~1/8"Beautiful Portugal Majolica Fish Vase 8" TallMackenzie Childs Knob - Sweet Pea - RetiredVintage Dish Bowl Italy Majolica ItalianMajolica Potter Pitcher 1890's Raised Roping Victorian Yellow Pink Mauve Majolica Carp Fish Pottery- Blue- Fish Pitcher/ Vase Display KitchenFrenh Majolica Oysters Plate -sarreguemines Antique Davenport Longport 1877 Calla Lily Large Water Pitcher~ Majolica LeavesEtruscan Majolica Begonia Leaf Tray 8"Shorter & Boulton English Majolica "fish On Waves" Cobalt Blue JugMajolica Basket Weave Bamboo Butter DishAntique Italian Majolica Begging Pig Water Pitcher Signed Figure Art Vintage NrAntique C. 1900 Sarreguemines France Majolica Dark Pink Rolled Rim Twisted VaseL@@k! Handmade Russian Majolica Ceramic Vase 'sunflowers'Vintage Lobster Butter/sauce DishVintage Frog In Period Dress Costume Place Card Holder R. Tallin Majolica

Recent News: Majolica

Source: Google News

Wedding: Brittany Schambough & Michele Schambough
The 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 budget
The 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 neighbor
Salisbury 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 haven
The 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 Gleason
The 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 Island
Coosa 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 over
Salisbury 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 Hills
Architectural 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