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Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Majolica, Maiolica. Which is it?

But first, What is it?

I found this very large Tile Mural set into a house wall in the historic hill top town of Deruta, Italy.

It shows, in pictures, the turning, the forming, the painting and finally, the process of firing ceramics in a wood burning kiln.

The mural was copied from the original, a treatsie entitled "The Three Books of the Potters Art" written by Cipriano Picolpaso in 1556.  Picolpaso's book describes the different techniques of great ceramic Artists.

  Maiolica is hand decorated, tin glazed earthenware. 
During the Moorish occupation of Spain, in the 8th century the technique of tin glazed wares was transmitted to Southern Europe via the trade centers on the island of Mallorca, hence the name.

Victoria and Albert Museum

The technique of painting bright colors on pure white background spread from Spain to Italy and Portugal and to Northern Europe.  At the beginning of the 16th century Guido di Savino of Castel Durante, Italy, emigrated to Antwerp, Holland and set up a family business.

Castel Durante
Maiolica and Majolica are pronounced the same, with the "j" making a "ya" sound.

The English appropriated Maiolica and changed its spelling to Majolica.

Many experts like to differentiate ceramics, which are produced outside of Italy, by giving them the name Majolica.  Most often they are also 3 dimensional in shape and form. 

Marie-LanNguyen, Louvre

Best known for his unusual technique of incorporating strange animals, such as snakes and  lizards is Bernard Palissy (1510-1590). Palissy popularized a rustic form of ceramic art called Palissy Ware. 

So,  if you see a lovely and colorful piece of ceramic from Italy it should be called Maiolica or Maioliche (plural).  If you are in England it could be called Majolica.  If in  Austria or Germany it could be called  Majolika.  If you are in Holland it is probably called Delftware.  If you are in France it is probably called Faience.  If you are in Spain and in Mexico it is probably called Talavera.  And if you are in Turkey it is probably called Iznik.......  

Totally confused?  Me too.

Warm wishes to all my dear Blogging Friends.



  1. Great post Gina - I loved it.
    I have a tobacco jar which is Portuguese Palissy ware by Manuel Cipriano Gomes of Mafra. The Portuguese Palissy is a revival of the style of the famous French potter you mentioned, Bernard Palissy.
    I have always known the Italian Renaissance pottery to be Maiolica, and the English of the 19th C to be Majolica, so we are in total agreement.

  2. Love majolica....the tile mural set is fantastic! It is so decorative and beautiful....

  3. Hi, Gina - Our local Museum of Fine Arts had a splendid exhibit of Maiolica and they painted the whole room a rich deep yellow — it was stunning!

    Thanks for an excellent post - the only question I still have is the meaning of "tin glaze."

  4. With your wise guidance, how could anyone be confuse, Gina?

    I've always been a fan of this technique, and finding your post has only strengthened my appreciation for how this traditional method can be taken into our own century.

    On a shelf in my little apartment is a little vase brought back to me from Deruta many years ago. I do treasure it, as much as any example of majolica I might see in a museum.

  5. Dear Rosemary, How fortunate you are to have a "Mafra" tobacco jar. It would be over a hundred years old. Would love to see a picture.

  6. Hello Tina, I can see a lot of blue and white maiolica/Majolica in your new home...maybe even a few Italian colors thrown in as well. Can't wait to see your first pictures after you move in officially.

  7. Dear Mark, Since the Chinese would not divulge their secret of making china, the Moors decided to compensate and still achieve the sought-after white background. So they added tin glaze to the clear lead glaze (1:3) which acted as an opacifyer thereby covering the native buff or red colored clay. This pure white background was never more appreciated than by the Renaissance Painters of Italy. Tin Glaze is often called Maiolica Glaze.

  8. Dear Frances, There is something about the lovely colors of maiolica that makes me happy. How nice that you have a piece you love. Have you looked for a place where you can paint and the studio will fire for you. It is a very satisfying to paint a few pieces yourself.

  9. And Mark, I was practically drooling over your description of the rich, deep yellow walls and your Maiolica exhibition. Do you know where the collection came from? Would love to know more details. Gina

  10. Hello Gina - if you look on my blog August 2011 under Darwin tobacco jar you will see it in all its glory. It is something that people either love or hate as it is covered in creepy crawlies.
    I will try this link, not very good at doing these things.


  11. Hi Rosemary, Had a look at your tobacco jar. What a prize! And what history it has attached to it.

  12. Hi again, Gina,

    Thanks for explaining tin glaze, an interesting story. As for the Maiolica exhibit, that was about six years ago, and the memory is fading. But I am a member of the museum, and I'll try to get that information for you.

  13. It's all semantics! I love it all.
    I have a lovely book on Palissy. Ceramics are such eye candy!

  14. Hi Gina...yip quite confused but all the same they are beautiful and the colours wonderful. I could certainly find a spot or two for a few pieces...sigh. Loved that tile murual!


  15. Such an interesting post, Gina. I find the name variations as interesting as the technique! I'm in love with the plate in the V&A of the woman's head. Does the writing mean something like 'I love (the one) who loves me?'. It's gorgeous.

  16. Thank You Mark, very kind of you. Gina

  17. Dear Theresa, a Gal after my own heart. I have always loved ceramics.

  18. Hi Veronica, It was such a surprise to find that mural in a forgotten corner on a building in the old city of Deruta. Blue and white always looks good doesn't it.

  19. Hi Karen, There is something very special about this particular Portrait Plate. She must have been a very beautiful woman.

  20. Love your post and I have a few pieces of Majolica that I inherited from my Mom. Thanks for sharing. I'm now follower of yours. Great Blog!

  21. So neat to learn all of the history.
    Great to have you be a part of Seasonal Sundays.

    - The Tablescaper

  22. hello Gina,
    I am so glad you shared this with us at Home and Garden Thursday. This is amazing - I love the artistry in objects created some time back - I have never heard of Palissy, but I am definitely now intrigued. These pieces are amazing! I appreciate you! Have a great week,

  23. Hello Irene, Thank you for your visit. Once you start collecting Majolica it's hard to stop isn't it.

  24. Dear Tablescaper, Thank you for hosting. It's a lot of work and you are very much appreciated.

  25. Thank you Kathy! And thank you for letting me participate. Gina

  26. Beautiful pieces and terrific explanation of the differences! Thank you for sharing this lovely post at Potpourri Friday

  27. Thank you Honey and thank you for letting me participate. Gina