Italian Ceramics History Just for You! Dive into This Story with Us – Enjoy Reading


We are often asked what majolica is. The next question is – what are tiles? And is it the same thing? To answer this question to everyone at once, we decided to write this short article.

In short, tiles and majolica are not the same things, tiles are more likely one of the special cases of majolica, and even then not always. So, in order.

Majolica is a technology or method for making renaissance ceramic. Majolica is distinguished from other types of ceramics by a large-porous shard covered with white enamel with subsequent decoration, which can be very different – from homogeneous glazing with translucent glazes to painting and painting on enamel. A shard can be made from any clay – terracotta, faience, semi-faience, etc., etc. The main common feature of such ceramics is a rather high porosity at the molecular level, as a result, a relatively strong hygroscopicity (ability to absorb water) and white enamel coating. Strictly speaking, all glazed ceramics, except for porcelain, etc. “Stone” ceramics is majolica if we talk about the technology and features of its manufacture.

The Most Famous Majolica

Italian maiolica
  • Italian majolica is, as a rule, a variety of products made of red and pink (terracotta) clay, covered with enamel and painted in the Renaissance style: floral and geometric ornaments, grotesques, etc.
  • Arabian and Turkish majolica are also red or yellowish-white clay shards, plus white enamel coating and their paintings – again ornaments, mostly geometric and quite specific plant, as well as various calligraphy.
  • Portuguese majolica is, of course, azulejo – red or pink clay, still covered with white enamel and painted, as a rule, with white and blue baroque ornaments and various subject compositions.
  • Northern majolica – France, Germany, Great Britain, northern Italy, and Spanish maiolica – is mainly a white semi-faience or earthenware shard covered with white enamel, although at the dawn of their appearance, red clays were also used, as the most common on our planet. However, later, most of the ceramists of these regions began to add kaolin and other additives to the clay mass, which made the shard creamy white, which later received the name faience from the light hand of the Faenza masters, who gave the name to this clay.

The prehistory of majolica origin is in attempts to copy white Chinese porcelain and its imitation. Hence, the coating of white majolica glaze-colored clay pottery, available to the artisans of the past. In Russia, majolica has replaced the engobing technology, i.e. covering the red shard with “engobe” (liquid white clay), as it is lighter from a technological point of view. Our ancestors did not try to imitate Chinese porcelain, but the white base showed brighter colors that looked much better on a white background than on a red one.

But the tiles are just a product – a tile with a rump (volumetric “box” on the backside), which can be made using majolica technology, or it can be made of porcelain or “stone” mass. Majolica is used to make dishes, decorative facing materials, figurines – in general, anything. And tiles are just one of the types of products related to architectural ceramics.

Just as fine art objects and toilet bowls are made from porcelain, tiles, glazed tiles, vases, and beautiful delicate sculptures can also be made from majolica. Like any other ceramic technology, it has many uses in arts and crafts.

Italian Ceramics History & Majolica Style

maiolica glaze

Majolica style is still a more patterned painting. This painting is a variety of highlighted incomprehensible lines interspersed with patterns similar to flowers. This style of painting was noticed among the tribes “Maya”, “Aztecs”, later in Egypt and Rome. Well, after the 18th century, this style can often be found throughout Europe. Although he spread across Europe from the island of Mallorca, there from the Gauls, Germans, Byzantines. It is distinguished, to a greater extent, by the blue color, the color of the ocean and seas, and means life. The lines of water seem to flow along with the earth, filling all living things with the coveted moisture. But you can find these lines in red and yellow, which already come from the imagination of the painter.

At the moment, we have only tiles left from the majolica pottery style (for floor and walls), dishes, stained-glass windows in the interior * of churches, on viewing windows indoors, on wallpaper. And before, majolica was much more widespread, but I think everything is due to the lack of other worthwhile products. Majolica-style tiles were used in almost any interior, old-style dishes can be seen to this day in the outback of our villages, figurines, decors in ordinary houses and churches. All this from those times can be contemplated.

Although at the moment the sculptures are cast from clay, although they are hollow, everything is done to reduce the cost of the final product, but earlier, all the sculptures were made from a single piece of clay, fired and painted in the majolica style.

The renaissance pottery dates back to the work of the distinguished ceramist Luca Della Robbia. He was the first in his dynasty of artists to successfully use the art of poly chrome glazing of terracotta.

The surviving Italian samples number in the thousands. The richest collections are in London, in the Victoria and Albert Museum, in the Cluny Museum in Paris. In Italy – at the Correr Museum in Venice and the Bargello Museum in Florence. In Germany – in Braunschweig and Berlin. The Hermitage in St. Petersburg has a significant collection. In 1885 this collection was supplemented by the collection of A. P. Bazilevsky acquired by the museum; after the revolution – at the expense of private collections and the collection of the museum of the Central School of Technical Drawing of Baron Stieglitz.

Painted majolica is still produced in Italy, but mostly it is a crude replica of museum originals, designed for an undemanding taste.
Meanwhile, the Italian Renaissance entered the Cinquecento period – the period of the High and Late Renaissance, when the greats Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo, and Titian work and create. Italian pottery history of this period is quite consistent with the outstanding masters of their time.

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