I have decided to branch out from my normal posts and take a closer look at Italian pottery! My first thoughts of the style were “attractively gaudy”. I have since changed my mind and become quite fascinated by its history, design and technique. I have counted up to 20 different design themes in Italian pottery, which I am sure, just touches the surface of styles.
Italian pottery has been in high demand for decades! Hours of labor and talent has gone in to each piece, making each one unique. One of the first forms of this pottery, that I have discovered, was first produced around 1350 and is known as “Maiolica”. Maiolica (majolica) is an Italian earthenware glazed in an opaque white tin oxide. Its most common and distinguishing characteristic that we most recognize is its intricate and beautiful hand-painted decoration.
The name “Maiolica” comes from the Spanish Island of Majorca. Ships would stop here on their way to Italy carrying lusterware from Valencia. By the 1500’s “lusterware” had become known as “tin glazed earthenware” to Italy. The ornate designs of maiolica is usually associated with the Renaissance during its aesthetic peak. This has been produced in Italy since the 13th century and is still in demand and produced today.
Italian pottery has come a long way. Early maioliche was decorated in only two glaze colors: manganese-brown (a purple/reddish-brown) and copper-green. When improvements were made in the kilns and glazes between 1350 and 1460, designs and colorants began to grow. By the 16th century color was a major part of the decoration. Painters began to imitate frescos and oil paintings on their pottery. Scenes from classical history, mythology and the Bible adorned their pots. These pots took on the name “istoriato” (historical maiolica). Near the end of the 15th century, small towns were renowned for their beautiful and carefully crafted maiolica and distinct styles were developed. There were major declines in demand for this pottery by the 17th century and lessened even further into the 18th century.
From 1880 to 1900, a movement was created in Deruta, Italy to re-establish maiolica design and production. A museum was created to promote the historical design. It was founded with the hope of serving the artists of Deruta and its history. In 1903 the Communal School of Design was created. Their goal was tot train craftsmen the traditional designs of maiolica. Today Deruta is one of the leading exporters of fine Italian pottery (maiolica). It is amazing to know each stroke was hand-painted. I have such an appreciation for the craft and all of the hours put into making a single beautiful piece!