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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The Debutante Club presents its new membersNOLA.com, December 5th
For the presentation, the girls held round bouquet of anna roses, pink majolica spray roses, and pink wax flowers while they were escorted by their fathers and serenaded by a different song performed by Jimmy Maxwell Orchestra. After the President...Read more
The Birth of a CollectorMaine Antique Digest, December 3rd
Soon she could identify mochaware, majolica, flow blue, Fiesta, Bennington, Leeds, and sewer pipe. She began to ask questions about patterns and looked through guides in order to match a pattern to a find. She discovered that over 100 years ago an...Read more
Pinetop Farm offers cut-your-own Christmas tree experienceSalisbury Post, December 1st
Emily Ford / salisbury postTodd and Kristin Mack of Huntersville haul the Christmas tree they chose and cut themselves at Pinetop Farm with help from Tate, 7, Abby Clare, 4, and Reese, 5. The Macks have cut their tree at the Majolica Road farm for years...Read more
Archaeologist May Have Discovered Earliest Spanish Mission, Alamo's Original ...Hispanically Speaking News, November 30th
Specifically the excavating team is testing for 'puebla polychrome' a type of majolica that exited before 1725. Ironically, the 3-acre parcel of land, where the archaeological remnants were found, is owned by the Christopher Columbus Italian Society...Read more
Learning to love LyonThe West Australian, November 28th
myself walking rather more briskly through room after room - I am not only astonished but quite overwhelmed by the richness and beauty of this authentic 18th-century residence's paintings, tapestries, carpets, silverware, clocks, furniture and...Read more
This could be Alamo story's opening chapterSan Antonio Express, November 26th
Excavated items included blue rosary beads, part of a corroded horseshoe, lead-glazed wares and pieces of majolica, or Spanish pottery, that may be from the mysterious 1718 site on the west bank of San Pedro Creek. But Hindes said she'd like to do more ...Read more
Palissy Ware style evident in 20th century majolica plateOcala, November 23rd
Q: A friend gave me a majolica plate as a house gift this past weekend. Is there anyone in the Ocala/Gainesville area that specializes in majolica who might know the value of this plate? The back looks very, very old. There are no markings on it or on...Read more
Covered Bridge Artisans 19th Annual Studio Tour and Sale set for Thanksgiving ...MyCentralJersey.com, November 22nd
Most of her pieces are Majolica, which is a white glaze background with colors — greens, blues and yellow — painted on and melted in the glaze. She also is showing her paintings in oil and pastels. Artist Timothy Martin whose studio is just past the...Read more