In different periods of time and in different countries, the term majolica has been used for two distinct types of pottery.
Firstly, from the mid-15th century onwards, was maiolica, a type of pottery reaching Italy from Spain, Majorca and beyond. This was made by a tin-glaze process (dip, dry, paint, fire), resulting in an opaque white glazed surface decorated with brush-painting in metal oxide enamel colour(s). During the 17th century, the English added the letter j to their alphabet. Maiolica was commonly anglicized to majolica thereafter.
The second style of pottery known as majolica is the mid- to late-19th century Victorian style made by a simpler process (painting and then firing) whereby coloured lead silicate glazes were applied directly to an article resulting in brightly coloured, hard-wearing, inexpensive wares that were both useful and decorative, typically in naturalistic style. This type of majolica was introduced to the public at the 1851 Great Exhibition in London, later widely copied and mass-produced. Minton & Co., who developed the coloured lead glazes product, also developed and exhibited at the 1851 Exhibition a tin-glazed product in imitation of Italian maiolica which they called also majolica.
The notes in this article append tin-glazed to the word meaning 'opaque white tin-glaze, painted in enamels', and coloured glazes to the word meaning 'coloured lead glazes, applied direct to the biscuit'.
Leon Arnoux, the artistic and technical director of Mintons, wrote in 1852, "We understand by majolica a pottery formed of a calcareous clay gently fired, and covered with an opaque enamel composed of sand, lead, and tin...".
Arnoux was describing the Minton & Co. tin-glazed product made in imitation of Italian maiolica both in process and in styles. Tin-glaze is simply plain lead glaze with a little tin oxide added. His description is often referenced, in error, as a definition of Minton's other new product, the much copied and later mass-produced ceramic sensation of the Victorian era, Minton's coloured lead glazes, Palissy ware. The 16th-century French pottery of Bernard Palissy was well known and much admired. Mintons adopted the name 'Palissy ware' for their new coloured glazes product, but this soon became known also as majolica.
Minton Archive first design for majolica
Thomas Kirkby's design G144 in the Minton Archive is inscribed "This is the First Design for Majolica...". The design is Italian Renaissance in style. Close-up images illustrate a design suited for fine brushwork on flat surfaces. The design is for Minton's rare tin-glaze majolica imitation of Italian tin-glaze maiolica. Minton's designs for Palissy ware, also known as majolica, were suited for 'thick' painting of coloured lead glazes onto surfaces moulded in relief to make best use of the intaglio effect.
Coloured glazes earthenware
Earthenware coated with coloured lead glazes applied directly to an unglazed body has from the mid-19th century onwards been called majolica, e.g.: 20th-century majolica, Mexican majolica, Sarreguemines majolica, Palissy majolica, majolica-glazed Parian ware. The science involved in the development of multiple temperature compatible coloured lead glazes is complex, but the process itself is simple (paint, fire). This majolica is the vibrantly coloured, frequently naturalistic style of earthenware developed and named Palissy ware by Minton & Co. and introduced to the public at the 1851 Great Exhibition that was mass-produced throughout Europe and America and is widely available. In English this majolica is never spelt with an i in place of the j. It is, however, pronounced both with a hard j as in major and with a soft j as in maiolica. In some other languages i is indeed used for both coloured glazes earthenware and for tin-glazed earthenware: French maiolique and Italian maiolica.
Biscuitware was painted with thick coloured lead glazes simultaneously, then fired. The process requires just two stages and skill in painting. When fired in the kiln, every colour fuses to the body, usually without running into each other. The ceramic technology, which transformed the fortunes of Mintons, was developed by art director Leon Arnoux.
Tin-glazed earthenware having an opaque white glaze with painted overglaze decoration of metal oxide enamel colour(s) is known as maiolica. It reached Italy by the mid-15th century. It is frequently prone to flaking and somewhat delicate. The word is also spelt with a j, majolica. In contemporary England the use of maiolica spelt with an i tends to be restricted to Renaissance Italian maiolica. In the US majolica spelt with a j is used for both coloured glazes majolica and tin-glazed. In France and other countries, tin-glazed maiolica developed also as faience, and in UK and Netherlands as delftware. In France, Germany, Italy, Spain, Mexico and Portugal, tin-glazed wares are called maiolique, majolika, maiolica, mayólica, talavera, and majólica respectively.
Ware dipped (or coated) in tin glaze, set aside to dry, brush-painted on the unfired glaze, then fired. Process requires four separate stages and high skill in painting.
Hispano-Moresque maiolica, c. 1450, tin-glazed with lustre decoration, Moorish Spain.
Tin-glazed majolique armoriée, France, late 16th century. Italian Renaissance Grotesque style.
Tin-glazed 17th century Talavera, also called majolica, Mexico.
Majolica types, detail
Examples showing detail of coloured glazes majolica (paint, fire) versus tin-glazed majolica (dip, dry, paint, fire).
Collectors of majolica
In contemporary fiction
- The Majolica Murders by Deborah Morgan
- Arthur Beckwith, 1877, Majolica and Fayence, Italian, Sicilian, Majorcan, Hispano-Moresque and Persian, D. Appleton and Company, New York, Meaning of Majolica, p. 23: "The introduction of a stanniferious enamel [tin-glaze] to Italy occurred previous to its use by Luca della Robbia [...]. Previous to that we find it used in Spain and Majorca..."
- Charles Butler, English Grammar, 1633, London: "The first English language book to make a clear distinction between i and j was published in 1633."
- Arnoux, Leon, 1853, Lecture 23 Lectures on the Results of the Great Exhibition of 1851, David Bogue, 86 Fleet Street, London. p. 396
- * Merriam-Webster Online 
- Oxford Dictionaries online 
- Art Journal, 1850, Catalogue to Mediaeval Exhibition "...sections are thus enumerated in the catalogue:- [...] 4. Italian Majolica [tin-glazed Italian maiolica]; [...] 7. Palissy Ware [16th century];[...]"
- Christie, Manson & Woods Catalogue, 16 June 1884, Sale of Fontaine Collection of Majolica [tin-glazed Italian], Henri II, Palissy Ware [16th century]
- Paul Atterbury and Maureen Batkin, 1997, 'Dictionary of Minton', Antique Collectors' Club. "Minton did not use the word maiolica themselves, relying instead on the Victorian version, majolica, which they used to mean wares of Renaissance inspiration, featuring hand painting on an opaque white glaze. These were therefore quite distinct from the coloured glaze decorated wares which we now call majolica, but which Minton referred to as Palissy wares."
- "Magnificent Majolica: The First – the Minton Archive".
- Batkin, Maureen (1982). "Majolica". Wedgwood Ceramics 1846–1959. England: Richard Dennis. ISBN 0-903685-11-6.
[R]ichly coloured earthenware [...] Leon Arnoux [...] developed a series of brightly coloured, temperature-compatible glazes[...]
- "Messrs. Minton and Co.'s Contributions". The Illustrated London News. 10 November 1855. p. 561.
The collection of Palissy [coloured lead glazes] and Majolica [tin-glazed] ware, however, is that which appears to have created the greatest sensation among Parisian connoisseurs. The reader will remember that the main difference in these wares is that whereas the Palissy ware is coloured by a transparent glaze [coloured lead glazes] Majolica ware contains the colour (opaque) in the material [tin-glazed]... One sample of Palissy ware [coloured lead glazes] being a little tea-service spread upon a leaf, the legs of the teapot being snails...
- W.B.Honey, Keeper of the Department of Ceramics, Victoria and Albert Museum, The Art of the Potter, 1944, p. 9 "PAINTING is done on the [...] surface of unglazed pottery [e.g. coloured lead glazes on biscuit of lead-glaze majolica], or on an unfired tin-glaze [e.g. oxide enamels on unfired tin-glaze of tin-glaze maiolica/majolica], or on the glassy surface of a fired glaze."
- Victoria and Albert Museum (2016). "Minton majolica chestnut dish". VAM. London.
Although Arnoux did produce tin-glazed, painted wares in the style of Italian ceramics, what is now known as majolica was a range of brightly coloured low-temperature glazes launched in 1849 as 'Palissy Ware'. Only later did these become known as majolica ware. By the 1880s this name was commonly applied to all such ware, whether made by Minton or not. This colourful, popular ware is one of the most typical types of Victorian ceramics.
- Joseph Francois Leon Arnoux (1816–1902)
- Light and dark created by glaze pooling in the lower areas of a relief moulding.
- Fortnum, Charles Drury E. (1876). MAIOLICA. South Kensington Museum art handbooks ;no. 4. New York: University of Michigan. p. 22.
...we have no record or dated example of Italian pottery, coated with the stanniferous enamel [tin-glazed], previous to the first important production by Luca della Robbia in 1438…
- Falke, Jacob (1869). "The Workshop, Vol II, No. 10, p. 148". London: The Workshop.
…however highly majolica [tin-glazed] may be esteemed, it will always remain an article of luxury and ornament only…
- Arnoux, Leon (1868). "Reports on the Paris Universal Exhibition, 1867".
If it is made of a common clay, but coated with an opaque enamel, we get the Italian, the Delph, or the old French faience, according to the degree of opacity in the enamel.
- "GIMBEL ART SALES YIELDED $4,225,000; Disposal of Monastery From Hearst Estate Highlight of 1942-43 Season $89,000 FOR 34 PLATES Majolica Items Bought by a Collector -- $24,000 Paid for Suit of Armor (Published 1943)". The New York Times. 24 July 1943. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 14 March 2021.
- "SCHIFF MAJOLICA ON SALE SATURDAY; Collection of Italian Ware to Be Auctioned at ParkeBernet Galleries (Published 1946)". The New York Times. 28 April 1946. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 14 March 2021.
- Pringsheim, Alfred (1939). The Pringsheim Collection: Catalogue of the Renowned Collection of Superb Italian Majolica, the Property of Dr. Alfred Pringsheim of Munich. Which will be sold at auction by Messrs. Sotheby & Co. ... on Wednesday, the 7th of June, 1939 and following day .... The first portion. London: Sotheby & Company.
- Strauss, Robert (1976). The Robert Strauss Collection of Italian Maiolica: Which Will be Sold at Auction by Christie, Manson & Woods Ltd. ... on Monday, June 21, 1976. London: Christie, Manson & Woods Limited.
- Russell, John (9 June 1989). "Review/Art; Majolica at Met: A Form for All Purposes (Published 1989)". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 14 March 2021.
General and cited references
- Arnoux, Leon, British Manufacturing Industries, Gutenberg, 1877.
- Atterbury, Paul, and Batkin, Maureen, Dictionary of Minton, Antique Collectors' Club, 1990.
- The Majolica Society
- Potteries Museum and Art Gallery, Stoke-on-Trent, UK
- Victoria and Albert Museum, Majolica
- The Minton Archive "Magnificent Majolica" archive patterns for Minton tin-glazed majolica.