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Faience, tin-glazed. Fine painted on opaque white tin glaze. Luneville-saint-clement
Majolica Palissy ware wall-plate, coloured lead glazes, Elias, Portugal
Tin-glazed. Fine painted on opaque white tin glaze in imitation of Italian maiolica. Minton Majolica Victoria plate.
Victorian Majolica jardiniere by Minton & Co. circa 1870. Coloured lead glazes.

Majolica is a word for painted[1] pottery, whose use is not always precise, and can be confusing. Note the different spellings ("i" and "j"), often confused[2][3], which can have different meanings, as follows.

  • Maiolica: Tin-glazed earthenware having an opaque white glaze with painted in-glaze decoration of metal oxide enamel colour(s). It is frequently prone to flaking and somewhat delicate[4], and reached Italy by the mid-15th century[5]. Renaissance Italian maiolica became a celebrated art form, and in contemporary English "maiolica" (with an "i") tends to be restricted to this. Maiolica developed also as faience[6] (in France and various countries), and as delftware (in UK and Netherlands). In Mediterranean countries such as Italy, Spain and Portugal, local wares continue to be called 'majolica' or 'maiolica'.
  • Majolica: any earthenware coated with coloured lead glazes applied directly to an unglazed body, e.g.: '20th century majolica', 'Mexican majolica', Sarreguemines majolica, Palissy majolica, 'Renaissance Palissy majolica', 'majolica glazed Parian ware.
  • Victorian Majolica Either or both of two different types of 19th-century pottery.
  1. The mass-produced and widely available lead-glazed earthenware of coloured lead glazes manufactured during the second half of the 19th century[7]. Named "Palissy ware" by Minton & Co. this product soon became known also as majolica[8][9]. The product, made with an extended range of improved coloured lead glazes, is hard-wearing, and typically relief-moulded. Introduced to the public at the 1851 Exhibition[10], it was later widely copied and mass-produced.
  2. The rare 'English tin-glazed majolica' – tin-glazed pottery made in imitation of the Italian Renaissance maiolica process and style[11]: English tin-glazed earthenware in imitation of Italian Renaissance maiolica [tin-glazed], having an opaque white glaze with fine painted decoration, also named ‘Majolica’, also introduced at the 1851 Exhibition. This was a luxury product, produced in much smaller quantities than the lead-glazed form.


  1. ^ 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."
  2. ^ Butler, Charles (1633). "English Grammer". London. The first English language book to make a clear distinction between i and j was published in 1633.
  3. ^ For clarity 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'
  4. ^ Falke, Jacob (1869). "The Workshop, Vol II, No. 10, p.148". London. …however highly majolica [tin-glazed] may be esteemed, it will always remain an article of luxury and ornament only…
  5. ^ Fortnum, Charles Drury E. (1876). "MAIOLICA". 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…
  6. ^ Arnoux, Leon. "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.
  7. ^ Batkin, Maureen (1982). "Majolica". Wedgwood Ceramics 1846-1959. England: Richard Dennis. ISBN 0 903685 11 6. ...richly coloured earthenware… Leon Arnoux … developed a series of brightly coloured, temperature-compatible glazes…
  8. ^ "Messrs. Minton and Co.'s Contributions". The Illustrated London News. November 10, 1855. p. 561. The collection of Palissy [coloured 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 glazes] Majolica ware contains the colour (opaque) in the material [tin-glazed]... One sample of Palissy ware [coloured glazes] being a little tea-service spread upon a leaf, the legs of the teapot being snails...
  9. ^ 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.
  10. ^ Exhibition Catalogue Entries, Minton
  11. ^ Arnoux, Leon (1877). "Pottery, British Manufacturing Industries". Gutenberg. pp. 392–394. amongst the sorts which are most connected with earthenware are majolica [tin-glazed], Palissy [coloured lead glazes], Persian ware, and flooring and wall tiles. I have given the name of majolica [tin-glazed] to that class of ornament, whose surface is covered with opaque enamels of a great variety of colours. It is only connected with the Italian or Moorish in this respect, that the opacity of the enamels is produced by the oxide of tin; but as we have not in England the calcareous clay for making the real article, we have been obliged to adapt, as well as we could, the old processes to the materials at our disposal. Majolica [tin-glazed] was produced for the first time by Messrs. Minton, in 1850, and they have been for many years the only producers of this article. It is only five or six years ago that Messrs. Maw, of Broseley, in Shropshire (and very lately the Worcester manufactory), have made a pottery of the same kind. The name of majolica is now applied indiscriminately to all fancy articles of coloured pottery. When, however, it is decorated by means of coloured glazes [coloured lead glazes], if these are transparent, it ought to be called Palissy ware [coloured glazes], from the name of the great artist who used these for his beautiful works. Messrs. Wedgwood, George Jones, and a few other makers of less importance, are reproducing it more or less successfully. To Messrs. Minton, however, we owe the revival of the ware [coloured glazes] , which, in connection with [in addition to] their majolica [tin-glazed], created such a sensation in the French International Exhibition of 1855


  • Atterbury, Paul, and Batkin, Maureen, Dictionary of Minton, Antique Collectors' Club, 1990.
  • Arnoux, Leon, British Manufacturing Industries, Gutenberg, 1877. [1]

In contemporary fiction[edit]

  • The Majolica Murders by Deborah Morgan

External links[edit]