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Apr 22 11

The Beauty and History of Italian Dinnerware

by Corina


For many, the mention of Italian dinnerware evokes images of the bold colors and intricate designs associated with Majolica, a pottery that actually developed on the Spanish island of Majorca. In Renaissance times this tin-glazed pottery was heavily imported into Italy, and by the fifteenth century, the potters themselves were imported to Italy and provided with many incentives such as tax breaks to keep them producing more of the beautiful Italian dinnerware. Over the centuries, many designers and styles sprang up, and some of them still have a place in modern times. .

Italian Dinnerware Ricco Deruta

Ricco Deruta

Ricco Deruta has its roots in the Renaissance, but there is a distinctly Art Nouveau feel to its flowers and branches. Based on the intricate and predominantly primary colored designs, it is not surprising that the word ricco means “rich” in Italian. The Grazia factory developed the Ricco Deruta style from historical sources, and it may indeed date back to designs conceived by the great artist Raphael.


Italian Dinnerware - Raffaellesco


The Raffaellesco design is more closely connected to Raphael, specifically to the mythical beasts that he often mingled into his frescoes.  The Raffaellesco style is known for featuring, among other animals, a golden dragon, which legend tells Raphael copied from the ancient crumbling frescoes in Roman villas. Incredibly detailed scrolls and sprigs of cobalt blue set off the gold beasts on this design in such an elegant style it is easy to see why it is one of the timeless designs of Italian ceramics.


Italian Dinnerware Arabesco


The Arabesco style came from the prolific Italian potters copying Arabic patterns. Interlaced, angular, and geometric, the patterns are often unending. The patterns are carefully hand painted by craftsman that have studied with a master, who in turn learned from their master, going back in an unbroken chain for generations. Oddly enough, the Arabesco style seems to have arrived in Italy from a Flemish man, Juan Flores, rather than from a Moorish influence.


Italian Dinnerware - Geometrico


The Geometrico style has its roots in ancient Greece. Archaeologists say the pottery excavated in Etrusca, an ancient province of Italy, is almost indistinguishable from the Grecian pottery of the same era. In ancient times, the geometric patterns were incised on the damp, reddish pots in a technique called sgraffito. Modern Geometrico is hand painted with bold colors atop a white base glaze, and finished with a protective clear glaze layer.


Italian Dinnerware - Frutta Rosso


Frutta designs feature bold fruit on a white background set off with bright green leaves.  This style  has been popular for hundreds of years, and was mentioned in Victorian English Magazines as being very popular collectibles even then. The whimsical hand painted Frutta patterns remain popular to this very day.



Italian Dinnerware - Toscana Rosso


Toscana pottery, made since medieval times in the Tuscany region, evokes the splendid countryside of Italy with the sun-drenched colors, abundant fruits and whimsical insects and animals that decorate it. Often featuring an embossed surface that gives the succulently painted fruit a realistic plumpness, Toscana can be vividly satisfying to touch as well as look at. The little town of Montelupo Fiorentino has been manufacturing this style of dinnerware since the Renaissance due to the high quality of its clay.


The many styles of Italian ceramics, though based in history, are timeless.  Bold colors coupled with intricate hand painted designs give Italian dinnerware its distinctive look.  At the same time, the wide variety of patterns available means that there is probably a pattern out there to suit just about anyone’s taste. The classic styles have survived for centuries, and will likely be popular for centuries to come.


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Related Posts:

Italian Tableware: How to Choose a Set You’ll Love

Deruta Pottery

Tuscan Pottery  .

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Nov 18 10

Italian Tableware: How to Choose a Set You’ll Love

by Corina


Choosing a set of Italian dinnerware can be daunting. The pieces you select will be in your home for years, you will see them repeatedly over time, and you will share them with friends and family.  The pieces you choose should be a reflection of your unique style.  Fortunately there are many different styles of Italian tableware to choose from.  More of that in a bit, but first here is some basic information about Italian pottery.


Where is Italian tableware made?

There are many towns in Italy that produce pottery and each locality has its own unique style.  The two towns best known for their pottery production are probably Deruta in Umbria and Montelupo in Tuscany.  These towns are by no means the only producers of pottery in Italy.  There are many more potteries throughout Umbria and Tuscany as well as Sicily.  The major centers of ceramic production in Italy are in the regions of Umbria, Tuscany, and Sicily.


How Italian tableware is made?

Italian pottery is often referred to as majolica, a type of earthenware pottery.  Earthenware refers to the type of clay a piece is made from.  Ceramics can be porcelain or earthenware.  Most Italian tableware is made of red earthenware clay which is typically made thicker and more robust than porcelain.  First the piece is formed; usually authentic Italian ceramics are hand formed on a potter’s wheel with the exception of plates which are formed in a press mold to achieve uniformity.  The uniqueness and character achieved with hand thrown pottery is usually a desirable trait, but with plates it is less convenient to have dishes that don’t stack evenly in the cupboard.  Still, the handmade qualities in the decoration shine through.  Hand painted dinnerware  is desirable because it is authentic: each piece is a work of art, not identical to any other piece in the world with the artists touch adding to the soul of the piece.


Is the dinnerware certified food safe?

When you, your family and friends are eating off of these dishes it is important to be sure that they are food safe.  That means that the glazes are lead and cadmium free and that they comply with United States import regulations and FDA standards. Genuine Italian ceramics produced today will be marked as such.

What Italian tableware patterns do you like?

There are many traditional patterns as well as modern designs available.  Most potteries continue to produce the best selling traditional designs and also develop new , more modern patterns. Traditional patterns from Deruta are Rafaelesque, Ricco Deruta, and Arabesque.   Tuscan patterns very often include brightly painted fruits and leaves.  Other timeless Italian tableware designs are intricate geometric patterns.  There is enough variety in style in Italian patterns  that there is sure to be a design suited for anyone interested.


What will your dinnerware set be used for?

This seems obvious, but it is important to consider carefully.  When will your dinnerware be used?  Is it for everyday tableware or will it be brought out only for special occasions? Is it to be only for holiday meals?  Are you buying it for yourself or a friend? If it’s for a friend, when will they likely use it? For special occasions you may want to be more particular about the quality and detail of your Italian tableware.  If it is intended for everyday use, you may want to go with something beautiful but also more economical and robust.


What is the quality of the tableware?

Take a close look at the Italian tableware you are considering. There are several factors to look at that will help determine the quality of the work.  High quality pieces are decorated with fine detail.  There will be a high level of detail and the painting of those details will be precise — outlined areas are fully painted in without overlaps and gaps. If it looks sloppy it is probably lower quality work.  In higher quality pieces the filled in areas will also have a rich color tone.  Something to watch out for is large amounts of blank space; usually the higher quality pieces will have more areas painted in detail, leaving smaller unpainted areas.  Finally, the pieces should be had painted rather than printed.  Avoid perfect symmetry and details that are exactly the same.  Slight variations in line work show the individuality of the piece and is a reflection of the care and artistry that went into making the piece.


Look at many different patterns before you decide

There are a lot of options available in Italian ceramics, and a lot to consider when purchasing an Italian dinnerware set.  You are likely going to be spending a lot of money on this purchase, so it is wise to view many possibilities and make sure that you find a pattern and style that agree with your own style and personality.  Whatever your taste, be sure to look at many different designs and be well informed before you buy.  This is the surest way to purchase an Italian tableware set that you will love for years to come.


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Oct 3 10

Maiolica or Majolica? – Tin-Glazed Pottery Spelled Out

by Corina

Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen - Istoriato schotel: Porileus wordt door Phalaris in bronzen stier verbrand
Creative Commons License photo credit: MicheleLovesArt

There is some disagreement over the correct spelling for the tin-glazed ware – majolica or maiolica. Both words are pronounced the same with the “j” in majolica making a “ya” sound. Though I have heard some people pronounce the “j” on occasion, I don’t believe it is correct. As for the spelling, I’ve seen both used but typically when maiolica is used it is in reference to the older style from Italy. Even with the Italian variety, majolica – with a j- is more common.

Majolica came to Europe from the Middle East through Moorish Spain and got its name from a Spanish town. One account of its development is that Italian maiolica from the renaissance was the inspiration for English majolica introduced by Minton in 1851. Italian maiolica (or majolica) was named by the Italians after the Spanish town and port Majorca (spelled Mallorca in Spanish) from which Italy first imported the ware. Italian potteries began making it themselves and the style took off, particularly in Umbria and Tuscany where there were rich clay deposits, ideal for majolica earthenware.

Some claim that the pottery was originally called maiolica in Italy and others maintain that it was majolica to begin with and that when Minton developed the technique it was technically not called majolica but “majolica ware” because it was not the same style but a revival of the Italian ceramic style.

Regardless of names, it is clear that the two styles — the earlier Italian majolica that reached its peak during the Renaissance and the later Victorian majolica from 19th and early 20th century England — are very different. The Italian variety usually has meticulously painted figures of humans or animals or narrative scenes. The color palette was more limited than later Victorian majolica due to later advances in technology, and often had outlines in cobalt blue. Pieces were wheel thrown or cast from plaster molds.

English majolica – largely produced by firms like Minton, Wedgewood, and George Jones, but also by many smaller potteries – has a more flowing quality to the glazes. They have a wider color palette but both used a tin glaze to achieve an opaque white finish mimicking porcelain. Variations in the materials and technique between the styles create a distinctively different effect. With English majolica there is less focus on brushwork; instead the style is more about the pooling and mixing of colors. Also, English majolica was typically made from plasters molds rather than thrown and often the decorations were in relief and part of mold itself.

Vitrine Majolica en Delfts aardewerk
Creative Commons License photo credit: Urville Djasim

Today, when someone says majolica, they usually mean Victorian or English majolica unless they specify Italian majolica or maiolica. Many English potteries took up majolica production after Minton introduced it, but majolica production was not limited to England. It is also seen in France (sometimes called Faience ware), Germany, Latin America, and the United States. Today majolica can mean any opaque tin-glazed earthenware and is still produced in many countries by professionals and amateurs alike.

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Sep 26 10

Pottery Markings

by Corina

The first thing to look for when trying to identify a piece of majolica pottery is a maker’s mark on the bottom of the piece. Just as artists today sign a painting or stamp their name on a sculpture, pottery makers put marks on the underside of their pieces to identify the piece.  Marks can be incised, impressed, painted, or printed on a piece.  Marks are incised into pottery by hand before firing when the clay is still soft.  Impressed marks are stamped into the soft clay and so are more uniform and clean than incised marks. Painted marks are applied during the decoration stage and before the final firing and can be freehand or stenciled on.  Printed marks are also applied at this time and are transferred to the piece with engraved copper plates. Printed marks are very often blue.

The markings can tell a lot about a piece.  First, it identifies the manufacturer which will also give a rough age range.  Variations in the mark such as color or serial numbers can more precisely date the piece.  Many companies changed their mark over the years and had several different variations that correspond to different dates or specific artists.  There are also general rules of thumb used to date a piece based on the type of mark and specific words used that relate to business and trade laws or acts that were implemented at various times.

Beware that some marks have been forged and fakes have been made over the years.  Sometimes moulds of the pieces were made including the mark, and these molds were used to make counterfeit pieces in attempt to pass them off as the original or legitimate reproductions.

There are thousands of different pottery marks, and no collector can possibly memorize them all.  There are reference books available to help identifying pieces.  But there are also some general rules to go by to get you started.  Certain characteristics of the marks can easily narrow down the time range of a piece. There were various laws going into effect in the 1800 and 1900s that effected pottery marks.

For example, the “Mckinley Tariff Act of America” passed in 1890 requiring all imports to be labeled with their country of origin and so marks bearing a country name such as “made in England” are 20th century. Pieces with a small Royal Arms figure in their mark are after 1800 and inclusion of the word “Royal” or “Royal Arms” typically dates a piece post 1850’s. Anything labeled “Bone China” is 20th century because bone china was manufactured beginning early in the 20th century.

The trade mark act became law in 1862 so pieces with the words “Trade Mark” on them were made after that date.  “Ltd” or “Limited” denotes a production date of 1861 and beyond.

Design registration marks, also known as kite marks, are diamond shaped figures with the letters “Rd” in the center and were used from 1842 to 1883.  These marks are often difficult to read.  In 1884 registration numbers replaced the use of kite marks.

The English Majolica producers Minton, Wedgewood, Holdcroft and George Jones marked their pieces, however many majolica pieces were not marked.  Unmarked pieces must be identified by characteristics other than a potters mark and can be difficult to identify since an appraiser is relying on known characteristics and reference pieces rather than a mark.  Often, pieces with no marks are older and potentially more rare and valuable.  Small handwritten marks are also indicative of older and potentially valuable pieces.

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Sep 21 10

Minton Pottery: A Quick History

by Corina

Minton PotteryCreative Commons License photo credit: exfordy
Thomas Minton (1765-1836) was born in Shrewsbury, England. He began his career as a copper engraver but shifted to ceramics and in 1793 started the company Mintons Ltd in Stoke-upon-Trent, Staffordshire, England. The company became known internationally and established itself as a leading ceramic producer of the time.

In its early days the company was known for its blue on cream colored dinnerware and tableware and the popular willow pattern. In 1798 Minton bought land in Cornwell which had rich clay deposits of the type for making china. At this time the company began producing bone china, a type of porcelain made with bone ash. Bone china production ceased in 1816 due to a slow economy but picked up again in 1822.

Minton brought his two sons, into the company in 1817 and renamed the firm Thomas Minton & Sons. This did not work out and the name reverted back in 1824. In 1836, after Thomas Minton’s death, the company was taken over by his son, Herbert Minton, who turned out to be an innovative artist and good leader who took the company in exciting new directions. He hired Léon Arnoux, a French ceramic artist, as art director. With Arnoux’s help as a chemist Herbert Minton developed majolica ware, a revival of Italian majolica, and introduced it to Europe in the Crystal Palace Exhibition of 1851.

Léon Arnoux recruited French sculptor Marc-Louis Solon who had previously developed the ceramic decoration technique pâte-sur-pâte where layers of slip are painted on a piece to build up a design in relief. Solon further developed this technique at Minton and took on apprentices to aid in production These pieces, mainly plaques and vases decorated with pâte-sur-pâte maidens and cherubs, were in high demand.
In 1845 Minton partnered with Michael Daintry Hollins to form tile manufacturing company Minton Hollins & Co, which became the tile-making side of Minton’s business. The firm produced encaustic tiles in which patterns are made not with a glaze or painting on the surface but with 2-6 differing clay colors. In this way, the decoration remains even after the tiles ware down from use. Applications were for durable wall and floor finishing for public buildings, churches, and domestic spaces. Minton Hollins & Co received prestigious commissions such as the United States Capitol floor pictured.

Minton encaustic tile

Detail of Minton encaustic tiles awaiting installation during a restoration of floors at the United States Capitol. Source: Architect of the Capitol website

Another product Minton became known for is Parian ware, white unglazed figural porcelain, first introduced by Spode in the 1840s and named after the Parian marble that it resembles. Minton further developed Parian ware and with employees John Bell and Hiram Powers developed the pieces for reproduction.
On Herbert Minton’s death in 1858, his nephew Colin Minton Campbell took over the company and took the firm in new directions exploring Chinese enamels, Japanese lacquers, and Turkish ceramics.
The company contributed to Art Nouveau in the 1890s with majolica ware decorated with a slip-trail technique. Many of the styles were developed by Leon Solon, a famous artist employed by the company from 1895 to 1905 and heavily influenced by Klimt and the Viennese Secessionist movement. These wares were subsequently known as Secessionist ware.
Although Herbert Minton was the last Minton to be associated with the company Minton pottery continues to be produced today as part of the Royal Doulton Group.

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Sep 10 10

Tuscan Pottery

by Corina

Tuscan style decor is popular today, particularly in kitchen designs and tableware. Tuscany, a region in west central Italy, is known for its characteristic brightly painted jars with brightly colored fruits. Vivid blues, greens, yellows, oranges and reds on a white background are distinctive of the Tuscan style. The region is well known for its majolica pottery and is one of the main centers of majolica production in the world. It lies southwest of Umbria, the other major majolica production region of Italy. Tuscany became a major majolica producer in part because of the local abundance of raw materials available.

Ponte Vecchio
Creative Commons License photo credit: guillenperez
The capital of Tuscany is Florence but the heart of Tuscan pottery is in the town and convent of Montelupo. Montelupo lies along the banks of the Arno River from which rich clay deposits have allowed the Tuscan ceramics industry flourish. Montelupo is a center of pottery production as well raw material production. Raw materials for ceramics production include clays, glazes, slips, engobes and colorants. Tuscan potters work this clay into the desired forms, perhaps paint on some colored slips or engobes , then place the pieces in a kiln for the first firing. After these pieces cool, the potters apply glaze that will become bright and glossy after the second firing.

Tuscan style is distinctive and the most known style of Tuscan majolica is certainly the Frutta Tuscana pattern which is recognized by its brightly colored images of fruit and leaves, often found in tableware sets, biscotti jars, and pitchers. There are other variations within the Tuscan style in addition to Frutta Toscana such as Uva Tuscana, and Arancia Toscana.
Ceramics in Tuscany peaked during the 15t and 16th centuries as did many arts and crafts of the Italian renaissance. There was a great decline in ceramic s in the next century. The 17th century pandemics hit Montelupo hard and virtually erased much of the ceramic families from the area. Over time the industry has rebuilt itself. Today, Montelupo is home to a ceramics museum as well as an archeological museum featuring many historic and antique ceramic pieces from the region.

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Aug 22 10

Deruta Pottery

by Corina

Deruta, Italy is one of the best known sites of majolica production.  A town in the province of Perugia, Deruta is part of the Umbrian region of Italy. Majolica pottery has been produced in Deruta as early as 1282 and production has continued to the present day, although the art form peaked in the 15th and 16th centuries during the Italian renaissance.  Deruta became leader in majolica production in part because its abundance of high quality natural clay deposits. Nearby town Gubbio is also known for its majolica and both share a common heritage and influences.

The technique was borrowed from the Spanish who developed it to imitate Chinese porcelain but were faced with limitations.  First, they were limited to darker clays native to the region and second, they were limited on fuel so could not fire to the higher temperatures that Chinese porcelain requires.  They solved the problems by using a tin-glaze that made and opaque glaze to cover the darker clay body and create a white background on which work. They also discovered that the bright colors they desired required low firing and would burn out at higher temperatures.

Deruta was one of the original towns to take up this Spanish technique which the Italians named Majolica after the Spanish Island Majorca.  By 1500, Majolica imports from Spain were halted and Italian production in Umbria was going strong.

There are about 50 pottery manufacturers in Deruta today and upwards of 200 store fronts selling the ware.  Authentic Deruta pottery items from these shops make excellent mementos from a trip to Italy.  Some of the finer shops sell ware that will increase in value in a matter of a couple decades, making a purchase of Deruta pottery not only a pleasing souvenir but also an investment that will increase in value over time.

Deruta pottery manufacturers are still using traditional methods with a few modern modifications.  They now use digital gas and electric kilns rather than the traditional wood firing.  This allows them to achieve precise firing temperatures and significantly reduces waste from improperly fired pieces.  They have also increased their pallet from the original colors that were available.  They have introduced new styles that have a modern look but also continue to produce many of the traditional styles such as Raffaellesco, Ricco, and Arabesco.  Both the new and old styles sell well.

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Aug 15 10

Majolica Pottery – Use and Display

by Corina

Majolica pottery is a highly decorative type of pottery but in its day was also a functional ware.  The earlier pieces tended to be more functional than artistic and later pieces became more ornamental.  The change occurred around the 1500s as the majolica style evolved and “art for art’s sake” became popular.  Though later majolica pieces were more ornamental, they were usually functional as well.

Today, using antique majolica for liquids or any food items is not advisable for several reasons.  First, many majolica glazes contain lead which acts as a frit to help the glaze melt at the proper temperature.  We know now that lead can leach from ceramic glazes into food and should not be used in glazes intended for food vessels.  However, majolica can be used for non-food items or can be displayed in many ways, but please don’t plant plants in them as this can easily ruin a pot!  Another reason not to use majolica for liquid or food is that it is earthenware meaning that it is low fired ceramic and so is more porous than high fired stoneware.  Any liquids put into majolica vessels may be absorbed slightly and over time could damage the piece. Instead of using them, a better way to enjoy majolica pieces today is by displaying them.

Displaying majolica is a great way to show off your collection.  The method of display will depend on your preference, the size of your collection, the types of pieces you have, the space you have available and whether or not you have kids living in or frequently visiting your home.  Plates may be wall mounted with a simple plate hanger or they can rest in a plate stand on a shelf or table surface.  Some plate stands are expandable and also work nicely for bowls.   Vases jugs, figures, and other items that don’t fit in a plate stand can simply rest on a shelf or table.  Some collectors like to keep their collections behind glass for extra protection.  If there will be young children around, it is advisable to place your majolica on a high shelf, in a locked case, or even to have a secure room dedicated to your collection.

Although majolica was highly functional in addition to being ornamental in its day, it is now considered a collector’s item and is usually displayed rather than used.  However you choose to use and display your majolica pottery, I hope that it is in a place where it is visible, where the vibrant colors and beautiful patterns can be enjoyed by you, your family and visitors each and every day.

House bunny plushie
Creative Commons License photo credit: bunnygoth

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Jul 30 10

Majolica Pottery

by Corina

Majolica or Maiolica pottery is a vibrant, tin-glazed pottery that took off in the Italian Renaissance It is a soft earthen ware pottery made with plaster molds.  Decorations are often in relief and are part of the mold itself. Majolica pottery comes in a wide variety of forms including plates, bowls, jugs, jars, pitchers, vases, tiles, figures and many more.  It has natural themes and is often decorated with plant and animal images like flowers, birds, vegetables, seaweed and fish to name a few.  Some majolica figures include humans, forest wildlife, and even mythical creatures like the brightly colored dragon pictured below.

Though majolica is now most associated with Italy, tin-glazes were first used to achieve vibrant colored ceramics much earlier  in Mesopotamia, and  the Italians picked up the art form from ware imported from Moorish Spain. Infact, the name majolica came from the Spanish island Majorca where the wares were made and imported to Italy in the 1500s.  The ware was introduced to England in the 1851 Crystal Palace Exhibition.

Historically, Majolica was made for both functional and ornamental purposes.  In addition to items like pitchers, tableware, and washbasins, Majolica jars and small containers were made in quantity for hospitals and pharmacies.  More ornate pieces were often used for special occasions like weddings.

The distinctive look of Majolica comes from its glazes and glazing process.  The pieces are bisque fired then a base coat of glaze is applied.  After that, more colored glazes are applied and the piece is fired again.  The melding of the two coats of gives Majolica its characteristic vibrant and rich coloring that is adored by collectors.

Majolica pieces are great collectors’ items and can sell for thousands of dollars.  Still, there are a great many more affordable antique pieces available.  Because Pottery is less durable than other antiques, many antique Majolica pieces today have cracks or chips.  Because of this, the market is generally forgiving of pieces with minor condition issues.   As with many ceramic items – antique and new – fine cracking called crazing in the top surface of the glaze is quite common.  Many Majolica pieces lack markings so must be identified by other identifying features.  When collecting and purchasing majolica it is important to verify that the piece is authentic by understanding these identifying features.

Though the style blossomed in Renaissance times, Majolica production persisted through the following ages, and In fact, majolica is still in production in Italy. Over time majolica has also spread all over the world and many artists in other countries apply the technique today.

majolica serpent
Creative Commons License photo credit: Jeremy Burgin

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