Majolica is a type of tin-glazed earthenware pottery, characterized by its bright colours and sheen. Majolica might have been born abroad, but in the high Medieval period and through the Renaissance, Majolica became a thoroughly Italian product which graced architecture and interior design in Italy and the foreign courts.
Majolica Dish, Allegory of War. Matthias Corvinus for Beatrice of Aragon c1476
True Italian Majolica was a refinement of early medieval Saracen examples imported into Sicily. The tin glazing creates a brilliant white, opaque surface for painting. The colours are applied as metallic oxides then glazed with sand, wine lees, lead compounds and tin compounds. Majolica pottery really started to take off in the later 14th century, when the limited colour palette of purple and green was integrated with cobalt blue, yellow, and orange.
Majolica Roundel Dish. Triumph of Love. Castel Durante 1510
The manufacture of majolica pottery was extensively carried on between 1450 and 1700, in the towns of Nocera, Arezzo, Citta de Castillo, Forli, Faenza (whence comes faience), Florence, Spello, Perugia, Deruta, Bologna, Rimini, Ferrara, Pesaro, Fermignano, Castel Durante, Gubbio, Urbino, and Ravenna, and also at many places in the Abruzzi; but Pesaro is admitted to be the first town in which it attained any celebrity.
Wine Cistern. Orazio Fontana, Urbino 1562
The subjects generally chosen were saints and historical events from Scripture; but the former were preferred, and continued in favour till the 16th century, when with the birth of humanism, they were displaced by scenes from Ovid and Virgil. The subject was generally briefly described with a reference to the text in blue letters at the back of the plate. All these subjects are painted in a fiat, tame manner, with little attempt at shading, and are surrounded by a kind of rude Saracenic style ornaments, and differed completely from the Raphaelesque arabesques which came into fashion later on.
Majolica Dish. Flagellation of Christ, c1540
From its variety and novelty and expense, as tin was an imported substance which raised the price of the manufacture, majolica was generally chosen by the lords of the duchies as presents to foreign princes. In 1478, Costanza Sforza sent to Sixtus IV, a majolica "vasa fictilia"; and in a letter from Lorenzo the Magnificent to Roberto Malatesta, he returns thanks for a present of a similar kind. A service painted by Orazio Fontana from designs by Taddeo Zuccaro, was presented by Guidobaldo to Philip II of Spain and a double service was also given by him to Charles V of France.
Ceremonial Water Jug Sicily, c1450
From the occasional ware, to grand complete services which graced the banqueting tables of Dukes and Kings in Europe, majolica earned respect and reputation for the Made in Italy. The artistic flair displayed in majolica pottery, which preceded the boom in the Renaissance, added to the already well known quality and craftsmanship of chevalier armour and swords, opened the road for today’s reverence and importance of Made in Italy.
Written by: Valentina Zannoni