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Majolica Ware

( Originally Published Late 1800's )



The derivation of the word " Majolica" has long been discoursed upon. One important fact which would lead somewhat to a correct inference is that "the word was not used down to the time of Piccolpasso (Circa, 1550) to denote every species of stanniferous glazed, painted pottery, but was rather understood to refer to lustre pigments, or at any rate to the lustred ware." This would incline us to the conclusion that the name came from a source coincidental with the lustred or iridescent ware, which was Majorca. This being the most probable of all the advanced theories, it is unnecessary to refer to those which rise in conflict with it. It is also known as Faenza-from which, through the French, we get our word fayence, it was so called after a little Italian town engaged in the Majolica manufacture. Between the years 1500 and 1540 we find the first period in which Majolica ware flourished.

The predominating features of this era are relics of the Moorish taste improved and added to by such artists as Timoteo della Vite, and Raffaelle dal Colle, under the patronage of wealthy houses. Previous to the year 1530 we find little but the rude work of the Mezza-Majolica. Some of the best work of this later period was made by Maestro Giorgio, who, like Luca della Robbia, was also by profession a sculptor. From his hands emanated several bas-reliefs, but his best work is found among the plates. Upon these "he used a golden yellow and a ruby red, which have all the iridescence of the Mezza-Majolica." Another eminent artist was Francesco Xanto of Rovigo, (1518-1537), who was the last artist working in the manner just described. Toward 1550 the fiery ruby red declined, and became numbered among the lost arts.

An example is represented as "splendid vase, with elegant handle, ornamented with a sphynx and masks, painted in bright colors with the brazen serpent. Presumed date about 1550, 15 inches high, 5 1/2 inches in diameter." This vase sold in the Bernal collection for eleven hundred dollars. I give the price in order to convey some idea of English estimation of the Majolica ware.

England gave to one form of the Majolica the immortal name of Raffaelle ware-after Raffaelle Sanzio da Urbino. Whether he actually bestowed his own hand upon Majolica work or not, is a question which we are not prepared to consider, but that his own designs are found upon numberless pieces, the works themselves are sufficient proof.

It also derives its name from Raffaelle dal Colle, and Paffaelle Ciarla, who lived with and after the great artist first mentioned. The principal subjects employed in the decoration of Raffaelle ware are scriptural, many of them having been taken from the Marc Antonio prints, and from great masters living at that time. "Raffaelle's fresco of the Triumph of Galatea, is found on several pieces," varying somewhat from the original, and executed by copyists who were employed upon the work. Italy was then leading the world in all the arts, and it is not surprising that she bestowed upon this some of her mastery.

Aside from the decorative work, the form of the Majolica ware is exceedingly graceful and effective. The convents in the period of which we speak were very gen erally employed in the adaptation and production of materia medica, and in them are to be found, even now, pharmaceutical vases which may have been used as articles of ornament or containing vessels. Some of these are quite elaborate, others more severe and practical in form.

The factories where Majolica was produced are classed as follows:

1 Gubbio
2 Urbino
3 Castel Durante
4 Faenza
5 Forli
6 Deruta
7 Caffaggiolo
8 venice
9 Castelli

These with several minor factories were all engaged in the same industry. It is unnecessary here to enter into any detailed description of each, all being similar to the specimens and work which we have described, and a thorough knowledge of this, as of every other ware, is only to be obtained by practical acquaintance.

The collector anywhere, even in the country where it was produced and is most abundant, must not be deceived by the enormous quantity of counterfeits which are thrust upon him. Bear in mind that genuine pieces are "As rare As wings upon a cat, Or flowers of air," and should one present itself, there are competent judges present who would secure it at once. Little of the real Majolica is to be found except in the great museums of Europe, and among private collectors whose means are abundant and taste and knowledge unquestioned.

An acquaintance with the marks, various inscriptions and characteristics of every ware is the fundamental principle which must govern the collector. Some of the pieces are signed in full, others bear dates, localities and' inscriptions, others, still, monograms and hieroglyphic figures. Most of them are painted in blue upon the back or bottom of the piece, but the collector must also bear in mind that counterfeiting is not impossible.

One circumstance we notice in connection with the Majolica ware, and that is, its peculiar inadaptability to general household uses, its immediate sphere being more particularly confined to architectural ornament and artistic effects. Take, for instance, Passeri's description of the work of an unknown artist at Pesaro, as rendered by Mr. Marryatt. "These dishes," says Passeri, " are of a fleshcolored clay, very thick, clumsy, and of large dimensions. The circular projection, giretto, around the back of them is perforated with two holes to admit a string for suspending them, being intended for show, not for use. The back of the dish is covered with a yellow glaze; the front decorated with half-length portraits of princes who reigned before 1500. The rim is ornamented with an imbricated, checkered, or chevron pattern ; blue and yellow are the colors employed, and these are highly iridescent. The uniform treatment of these large dishes, the disposition of color, the pattern of the rim, all indicate them to have been made by the same artist who flourished at Pesaro at the end of the fifteenth century."

Throughout all the records of the Majolica ware, we find it constantly under the patronage, support and direction of the Italian nobility themselves. That they thoroughly appreciated it is evinced by the watchful and jealous care which they bestowed upon it, and transferred its interests from one to another. If the information which has reached our time is reliable, very few pieces escaped the custody of noble houses, it being even then of great money value. "Guidobaldo IL, lord of Pesaro and of Sinigaiia; of Montefeltro, and of Castel Durante, Count and Prefect of Rome, fourth Duke of Urbino, protected, with his greatest fervor, the art of Majolica decoration which Alphonse d'Este had held to be of such great importance that he exclusively directed his attention to the discovery of beautiful and refined secrets in art, and finished by composing the famous white color of the Dukes of Ferrara. He collected all he could of Raphael's original drawings, and any engravings of his works; excited the imagination of the men of science whom he employed to compose ingenious sentences and mottoes, and appropriated the services of Battista Franco, whose sketches were so successfully copied by ceramic art."

The prevailing direction of the Italian mind of that age was toward art. Everything that could be ennobled was vigorously grasped and borne to an eminence never before attained; utility was hid behind their enthusiastic endeavor to satisfy that visual sense which had gradually been growing to a position which has since been, and probably ever will be, regarded as the standard.



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