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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Writing in styleSILive.com, October 9th
Those made of Dresden porcelain or Majolica and date to the 18th century for example are sought after by serious collectors as well as those that were made of silver and in some cases gold. Japanese inkwells, many in the shape of the Buddha, date to...Read more
Total nudity is non-negotiable at the Friedrichsbad bathhouse in the German ...Herald Sun, October 9th
This is far from the cramped hotboxes of Australian gyms; here the ceiling curves to elegant domes while birds and flowers dance across handpainted majolica tiling. Imposing exterior of Friedrichsbad dates back to the 19th century. Picture: Carasana...Read more
Mexican Site Yields New Details of Sacrifice of SpaniardsABC News, October 8th
A prized and elaborate majolica plate from Europe was tossed into the wells as were the Spaniards' jewelry and their spurs and stirrups, which were of no use to the Indians. A horse's rib bone, however, was prized and carved into a musical instrument...Read more
JMJ Can Help Efficiently Heat Your Home this WinterGeauga Maple Leaf, October 8th
A choice of black or majolica brown porcelain to add to the decor of your home. True luxury is Absolute.?The Absolute 43 is performance and engineering excellence infused into every design and detail. From its compact frame and powerful heat production...Read more
Rookwood XXV AuctionMaine Antique Digest, October 8th
One of the few pieces of Weller to have much impact in the Humler & Nolan sale was a majolica-style jardiniere and pedestal designed by Rudolph Lorber featuring a great horned owl and a squirrel on one side, a windmill and landscape on the other, 34" ...Read more
Alanna Gallagher's Bargain HunterIrish Times, October 7th
Bargain Hunter readers should note the two star purchases; the Ardmore boiler stove capable of heating up to six radiators, pictured, available in majolica brown enamel, is reduced just over 40 per cent, down from €1,699 to €999; while the Erin boiler...Read more
Hill-Stead Museum: Art, Nature and a Trailblazing Architect's LegacyNew York Times, October 1st
In the drawing room, Alfred's first Impressionist acquisition, Claude Monet's “View of Cap d'Antibes,” hangs over the fireplace, framed by five pieces of Italian Majolica pottery set on the mantel. The blues and pinks of the ceramics echo Monet's rose...Read more
Hamilton painter a great advocate for female artistsWaterloo Record, September 12th
A. Your remarkable tea set is indeed majolica, a pottery identified by its brightly coloured relief-moulded features. Very popular in the 19th century, majolica was made on both sides of the Atlantic, and companies stole patterns from one another...Read more