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Italian Ceramics: Majolica Pottery

Italian Ceramics - Brief Introduction to Majolica Pottery

In Italy people have been experimenting with clay and ceramics for centuries. The ceramic art form was originally introduced to the Italian Peninsula by the Greek colonies as early as the 5th century B.C. During the 13th century Tuscany had very good trade relations with Moorish Spain and imported lusterware into Italy. Many of those imported pieces were directly influenced by ceramics from the Middle East.


These pieces are known to the world as Majolica. Italians used the term to describe Hispano-Moresque imports of luster wares, which were shipped through Majorca to Italy. Today the term Majolica means ‘tin glazed earthenware’. Deruta, Montelupo Fiorentino, Gubbio, Florence, Sesto Fiorentino, and Faenza are cities in Italy that are very well-known for the production of Italian majolica.


The picturesque city of Deruta is considered the world’s capital of Majolica pottery and it is also one of the most noble and ancient centers of ceramic production. Deruta is just south of the city of Perugia, located in the Umbria region of Italy which is southeast of neighboring Tuscany.

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Images courtesy of Aboca Museum




Italian ceramics production of those early days mainly consisted of objects for everyday use such as vases, wine and water jugs, bowls, basins, but also many decorative works in the typical two-color scheme depicting geometric motifs and stylizations of flowers and leaves.


The most common surviving pieces from the earliest period of majolica are storage vessels made for monastic pharmacies and decorated with contemporary Hispano-Moresque motifs.


In the late 15th century majolica became more decorative and less functional. Dishes and vases were designed mostly for display. Subjects were taken from Roman history, Greek and Roman mythology, the Bible, and occasionally from contemporary literature.


Highly characteristic local styles emerged, such as the Deruta trademark "Raffaellesco" dragon design created by Raffaello Sanzio, an Italian master painter and architect of the Florentine school. Another artist worth mentioning is Luca della Robbia who revolutionized the use of blue and white enamels and used majolica technique to add brilliance to the surface of his works of sculpture.


Italian potters abandoned the old familiar processes, and began experimenting with different styles and techniques. Among other things this resulted in the inclusion of human figures in the designs.


After more than 700 years of continuous production, Italian ceramics are admired around the world. Many museums in Europe and America exhibit precious examples of Renaissance Italian Ceramics. Today this artistic tradition goes on in workshops where talented craftsmen and artists try to recreate the wonderful style of this era.


The majolica tradition continues in Deruta today, as well as in other parts of Italy. Main colours of Majolica are green, blue, green, purple, brow, yellow, orange and white. Italian ceramics are known for their master craftsmanship and durability.






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