Take a Walk Through the History of Italian Majolica Ceramics

At Tesori Imports, we take pride in our products because our Italian artisans have been perfecting their craft of ceramic making for generations. The processes and techniques of creating glazes and firing methods for ceramics can be traced back to the 6th Century. Although many of today's Italian ceramics have similar appearances to designs from centuries ago, new artists continue to add their own styles into this ancient artform. 

Before coming to Italy, the art of ceramic making became popular in China, where rich royal blue and pristine white glazes were used. During the 10th Century, the Emperor of China gifted the Calif of Persia thousands of porcelain pieces, which increased the popularity of glazed ceramics in that region. Eventually, moving from Persia to Spain, the practice of creating glazed pottery was now one step away from its Italian destination. 

It was during the 12th Century, when a group from the Spanish island, Majorica, relocated to the Italian coast, that the art of creating maiolica/ majolica ceramics traveled to Italy- this is also where the name maiolica/ majolica originates. What makes majolica pottery so unique is that it is fired under a two-step process, once without glaze and a second time with glazing. This process creates a ceramic that is strong and long-lasting while also not being able to absorb liquids. 

Italian artists primarily settled in Deruta, Umbria, Tuscany, and Florence due to the easy accessibility to clay from the riverbanks. This nearly endless supply of clay, along with the unique firing technique of majolica ceramics, created a new career opportunity for Italian artists. 

Early Italian majolica began by using a color palette of browns and greens with a white base. The green color was sourced from copper, while the brown was created using manganese. The Italian artists began by using similar symmetrical patterns to Spanish and Islamic ceramic artists. However, the Italian versions lacked the signature luster finish. Instead, they utilized a manganese finish that became associated with Italian majolica. 

The early Italian artists were mostly commissioned to make pieces by the noble and wealthy. The artists created ceramic jugs and vases, ceramic plates and platters, and even tiles to be displayed in the affluent homes. Moving away from the decorative designs and patterns used in Islamic and Spanish pottery, Italian artists began painting mythical and biblical characters on the ceramics. Italian artists also began drawing figures on the ceramics, typically shown against a bright white background and surrounded by beautiful patterns. 

By the 13th Century, improvements were made to the firing and glazing processes, allowing more Italian artists to create ceramics. In addition, more colors were added, such as orange, blue, and yellow, by using iron, cobalt, and antimony. Italian pottery even began changing how the wealthy ate. Meals that used to be served on large communal platters were now served on individual Italian ceramic plates, showing off elegant designs and figures. 

The most important period for Italian ceramics took place in the 15th and 16th Centuries, during the Italian Renaissance. This was when artists such as Luca Della Robbia began to gain popularity all around Europe. Della Robbia's style of ceramics is still a significant influence in Italian art. This influence can be seen in religious figures' style, such as depictions of Mary and Jesus. Della Robbia also introduced a creamier, softer tone of white that soon spread to other artists' work. 

Another prominent Italian Renaissance artist was Nicola da Urbino, who is responsible for the majolica style known as istoriato. The istoriato style of ceramics features a scene or figure that covers the surface of the piece entirely. Istoriato majolica has remained popular ever since and is a prominent style in many current Italian artists. 

Majolica pottery completely changed Italian art and culture from the moment it arrived. From changing how the wealthy and noble ate to introducing new styles to the art world, Italian majolica is a classic artform that has remained popular for centuries. Tesori Imports is estatic to offer specially selected Italian ceramics that are all hand-painted and sculpted in Italy.