Notebook, 1993-


POTTERY AND PORCELAIN - Glossary - A List of Museums and Galleries - Ceramics - [A materials resource site with links]

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Pottery & Porcelain - Italian

The name maiolica, first applied to the lustred Spanish pottery of Valencia, imported into Italy via the Balearic Island of Majorca, later became a generic term, embracing not only the whole range of tin-glazed Italian Earthenwares but also those of other countries working in the same tradition.

The growth of the industry in Italy dates from about the second half of the 15th c., when there were already establishments at Orvieto [Umbria], Florence and Siena [Tuscany]: Pisa was the port to which the Spanish wares were shipped, and Faenza [Emilia]. The great influence of the latter place has caused the term faïence to be adopted for another large class of tin-enamelled pottery, particularly on the Continent. Rome, Padua, Cortono, and Todi have also been identified as places of manufacture.

Very early Italian majolica shows a marked Spanish influence, employing the same palette of green and purple applied to a white ground. Some 'Florentine green' dishes, and the famous 'impasto-blue-painted' Tuscan 'oak-leaf jars' are notable but very rare examples. There are, however, numerous blue-and-white and the blue-and-lustred pieces, together with exceptionally fine tile pavements, in the Spanish manner. This influence is seen principally in the painting, as the shapes adhered more or less to native traditions.

Towards the end of the fifteenth century Italian majolica developed a new and indigenous style, and for the next fifty years or so there were produced some of the most beautiful examples of European painted pottery.

Faenza has already been mentioned as one of the most important centres,. From the last quarter of the fifteenth century to the end of the sixteenth, its output was copious and of an extremely high quality. Moreover, emigrant workmen, establishing themselves elsewhere, helped to spread its influence. A documentary piece, now in the Musée de Cluny, is a magnificent plaque inscribed with the name 'Nicolaus de Ragnolis' and dated 1575.

There are also many tiles bearing similar inscriptions. Some pieces are decorated with gothic scrolls and foliage, others have peacock-feather motifs and varied diapering. Inverted-pear-shaped vases with flat handles; tiles and drug jars [albarelli] painted with grotesques, busts, or coats-of-arms in rich polychrome, are typical. [p. 469] A method known as 'contour framing' outlined a design by surrounding it with a white halo. In some instances the whole ground was stained with a single colour. The palette is manganese purple, dark blue, orange, yellow, and copper green. Seven or eight highly accomplished artists, identified on stylistic grounds and by monograms, painted many wonderful panels and dishes with mythological and biblical subjects; some of the latter are after Raphael. A quantity of commoner wares was also made.

At Deruta [Umbria], where potteries exist to the present day, fine polychrome and lustred pottery is known to have been made between about 1490 and 1545, though the earliest is hard to distinguish from that of Faenza. The style was much under the influence of the Umbrian school of painters. Characteristic colouring, besides a warm yellow and manganese purple, was a strong blue in combination with lustre. The colours were inclined to run, and, as has been pointed out by Bernard Rackham, the tin glaze is sometimes cut through to the clay body [sgraffiato] to obviate this difficulty. Many dishes and plates have profile busts painted in circular reserves surrounded by intricate designs, and in a class known as 'petal back' the lead-glazed reverses are decorated with imbricated floral patterns. Deep shading in blue to accentuate an outline was another device. Subjects were also rendered in relief. After the middle of the sixteenth century the quality declined and was never revived.

By the beginning of the sixteenth c. the industry had become well established. Pharmacies were adorned with beautiful sets of drug vases and jars, and the great dishes, piatti da pompa, were displayed on sideboards and tables.

Castel Durante [near Urbino], renamed Urbania in 1635, was probably under the patronage of the Dukes of Urbino. The earliest dated specimen, 1508, bears the arms of Pope Julius II. It is also signed by Giovanni Maria, recognized as one of the great painters of majolica. Perhaps the most notable painting of Nicola Pellipario, working there between about 1515 and 1527. This kind of narrative painting is usually spread across the whole surface of a dish or plate. It was brought to its highest state of perfection by this master, and extensively copied elsewhere.

Gubbio, also in the Duchy of Urbino, was famed for its magnificent gold and ruby lustres. The best period comes within the first thirty years of the sixteenth century. Some of the finest pieces were gardrooned or embossed to give full play to the refulgent brilliance of the lustre colours. The master of this art was Giorgio Andreoli, 'Maestro Giorgio', a native of Intra in Lombardy, who became a citizen of Gubbio in 1498. Much already decorated majolica was sent to Gubbio to be enriched with lustre.

Caffaggiolo [near Florence], a renowned centre of Tuscan potting, was, for a time, under the patronage of the Medici family, whose arms and mottoes appear on some of its wares. The earlier work shows the influence of the Florentine masters, particularly Botticelli; Donatello's work was also copied. A family named Fattorini made pottery in the neighbourhood [p. 470] in 1569, and were at Caffaggiolo from about 1506 onwards. The subjects are boldly painted in strong colours. They reflect Florence's individual status and depict, besides religious and classical subjects, scenes of pageantry, triumphs, shields of arms, and trophies. 'Peacock-feather' ornament was also used here. Typical themes are: a rich blue, used as a background; lemon yellow, orange, and green; also lustre, and a dark cherry red peculiar to the factory. The best work was done between 1506 and 1526.

The painter Titian is recorded as having supervised the making of majolica at Venice in 1520. Much that was made there from about 1530 is characterized by the admixture of cobalt blue with the white enamel glaze. This produced a greyish-blue surface called smaltino, onto which were painted designs in dark blue and opaque white. Their Chinese origin shows the influence of Oriental importations. Istoriato painting in the manner of Urbino was developed later. [p. 471]

The first successful attempt to produce porcelain in Europe was made at Florence about 1575 under the patronage of Francesco de' Medici. Inspired by contemporary blue-and-white Ming ware, an artificial porcelain was produced for a short time only, which contained some kaolin, the pure infusable clay used in China, mixed with powdered glass and frit. Medici porcelain, proudly marked with the cupola of the cathedral and the 'F' of Florence, is decorated in underglaze blue of varying intensity, which gently melts into the glaze. The flowering of the faïence industry during the seventeenth century is due in no small measure to the untiring quest for the secret of porcelain manufacture. This faïence, or earthenware, which fuses at a low temperature in the kiln, is usually dipped into opaque tin glaze, which, while hiding impurities of texture, is admirably suited to be the recipient of coloured decoration.

Venice, with its great glass industry, is also an early centre for true porcelain. Chr. C. Hunger, the Meissen gold worker and arcanist, reached Venice from Vienna in 1720, bringing with him the secret of porcelain making. This he disclosed to the brothers Francesco and Giuseppe Vezzi, former goldsmiths, who launched an enterprise which flourished until 1727. Cups without handles and saucers with coloured decoration, and tea pots with acanthus-leaf reliefs are characteristic of this factory, which took as models not only Meissen and Vienna porcelain but also Italian silver. Monochrome or coloured decoration reveals that lightness of touch which one has come to associate with Venetian art in general. Vezzi porcelain is marked va, VENA, or VENEZIA, in underglaze blue or overglaze red.

N. F. Hewelcke and his wife, Dresden dealers who had left Saxony during the Seven Years' War, secured rights to manufacture porcelain 'in the style of Meissen' at Venice in 1758. Thus the market continued until 1764, when Geminiano Cozzi started to manufacture aided by the Venetian senate. From then on, figures, snuffboxes, cane handles, and tablewares were made; the latter all marked with an anchor in red. This enterprise lasted until 1812. Porcelain was also made at Lenove [1762-1825] and Este, from 1781.

The most beautiful and important Italian porcelain was made at the Royal Palace of Capodimonte, where Charles, King of Naples, established a factory in 1743.

His interest in the project was aroused through his marriage to Maria Amalia of Saxony, daughter of Augustus III of Poland, who brought him as part of her wedding dowry a great quantity of Meissen porcelain.

Attempts to rival the German production were at first frustrated by an inability to discover the secret of making a suitable paste. Following unsuccessful attempts to lure arcanists from the Doccia and Vienna Factories, a chemist of Belgian extraction, Livio Ottavio Schepers, was employed. He too proved unsatisfactory and was dismissed in 1744, when his place was taken by his son, Gaetano, who supplied a successful recipe for the making of soft paste.

Giuseppe Gricci was the chief modeller and Giovanni Caselli remained in charge of the painting until his death in 1754. Both Gricci and Schepers continued at Buen Retiro when the manufactory was removed there in 1759.

In addition to the tablewares, snuffboxes, cane handles, and vases were made from an early period, when the influence of Meissen was still a factor . Tea services are recorded as having been painted with figure subjects, seascapes, landscapes, battle scenes, etc., by Giuseppe della Torre. Oriental designs included the raised prunus motif of blanc-de-Chine, common to most early European factories.

The porcelain is frequently unmarked, but the Bourbon fleur-de-lis in blue or gold was used both here and at Buen Retiro. It is generally impressed on figures.

Capodimonte's greatest achievement was the decoration of a porcelain room at the Palace of Portici [1757-9]. Removed to the Capodimonte Palace in 1805, it has remained there to the present day.

Many beautiful figures were modelled by Gricci; they include subjects from the Italian Comedy and peasant types. A very noticeable characteristic is the extreme smallness of the heads. The colouring and soft creamy quality of these pieces is something which has never been surpassed. [p. 471]

Contrary to popular belief, the white or coloured figure subjects in relief on vases and other wares have nothing to do with Capodimonte. They originated at Doccia, and have since been widely reproduced in debased forms. Nineteenth-c. Doccia examples are marked with the crown N of Naples, but crude copies are still made elsewhere.

The Doccia factory was founded by the Marchese Carlo Ginori in 1735, and carried on by his son Lorenzo from 1757 to 1791.

Karl Anreiter, an independent decorator from Vienna, was engaged in 1737. His son, Anton, later became a painter at the factory. Both left in 1746. The chief modeller was Caspare Bruschi.

By 1740 good progress earned Ginori a privilege for making porcelain in Tuscany. The best period was 1757-91.

Small figures of the Italian Comedy among other subjects are particularly attractive, though on the whole Doccia colouring is inclined to be hard and the glaze rather dry in appearance. A hybrid hard-paste body was very liable to firecracks.

About 1770 white tin glaze was used. Large white groups of biblical and mythological subjects, mounted on rococo bases, were well modelled in the Italian baroque manner. In these pieces the firecracking is usually extensive.

The factory mark of a star, taken from the Ginori arms, was introduced towards the end of the eighteenth century.

The concern remained in the hands of the Ginori family until 1896, and still bears their name.

Porcelain marked with an N surmounted by a crown, together with the monogram F.R.F., was made at the Royal Naples factory, started in 1771 by Ferdinand I, as an attempted revival of his father's enterprise at Capodimonte.

The porcelain is of a soft, glassy paste and highly translucent. Early products recall those of Capodimonte, where some of the painter had worked. An Academy of the Nude was started in 1781, when a classical style was adopted. Many of the later figures are in biscuit. Large services were decorated with scenes and neoclassical subjects.

The original factory lasted until 1807, when it was sold to the French firm, Jean Poularde Prad & Company. [p. 472]

[L. G. G. Ramsey, F.S.A., ed. The Complete Color Encyclopedia of Antiques. Preface by Bevis Hillier, Editor of The Connoisseur. Compiled by The Connoisseur, London. New York: Hawthorn Books, Inc. 1962. Revised and Expanded Edition.]



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