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Coloured glazes majolica. Potteries Museum, Stoke-on-Trent, UK
English tin-glazed majolica. First shown at the 1851 Exhibition by Minton & Co., Exhibit Number 74. Potteries Museum, Stoke-on-Trent, UK

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") are often confused[2][3], and can refer to different types of earthenware.

Caution needed with meanings of 'majolica'[edit]

We understand by 'majolica'[edit]

Leon Arnoux, the artistic and technical director of Mintons, wrote in 1852 "We understand by majolica a pottery formed of a calcareous clay gently fired, and covered with an opaque enamel composed of sand, lead, and tin..."[4]. He was describing the Minton & Co. tin-glazed product made in imitation of Italian maiolica both in process and in style(s). His description is often referenced, in error, as a definition of Minton's other new product, the much copied and later mass-produced ceramic sensation of the Victorian era, Minton's coloured lead glazes 'Palissy ware'. The 16th-century French pottery of Bernard Palissy was well known and much admired[5][6]. Minton adopted the name 'Palissy ware' for his new coloured glazes product, but this soon became known also as 'majolica'[7]. Minton & Co. appear to have done little to promote the clear distinction between their tin-glazed and coloured glazes products.

Minton Archive First Design for Majolica[edit]

Thomas Kirkby's design G144 in the Minton Archive[8] is inscribed "This is the First Design for Majolica ...". The design is Italian Renaissance in style. The close-up images illustrate a design suited for fine brushwork on flat surfaces. The design is for Minton's tin-glaze Majolica imitation of Italian tin-glaze maiolica. Minton's designs for Palissy ware, also known as 'majolica', were suited for 'thick' painting of coloured lead glazes onto surfaces moulded in relief to make best use of the intaglio[9] effect.

Colored glazes earthenware[edit]

Earthenware coated with coloured lead glazes applied directly to an unglazed body has from mid 19th century onwards been called majolica spelt with a "j", e.g.: "20th century majolica", "Mexican majolica", Sarreguemines majolica, Palissy[10] majolica, "Renaissance Palissy majolica", majolica glazed Parian ware. This is the vibrantly colored, frequently naturalistic style of earthenware, developed and named "Palissy ware" by Minton & Co. in 1848 that became the ceramic sensation of the late Victorian period. In English this majolica is never spelt with an "i". It is however pronounced both with a hard "j" as in major and with a soft "j"[11] as in maiolica. In some other languages "i" is used for both coloured glazes earthenware and for tin-glazed earthenware: France maiolique, and Italy maiolica.

Tin-glazed earthenware[edit]

Tin-glazed earthenware having an opaque white glaze with painted in-glaze decoration of metal oxide enamel colour(s) is maiolica. It was being made in Italy by mid-15th century[12]. The word is also spelt with a "j" majolica. In contemporary England the use of maiolica spelt with an "i" tends to be restricted to Renaissance Italian maiolica. In the US majolica spelt with an "j" is used for both colored glazes majolica and tin-glazed. In France and other countries tin-glazed maiolica developed also as faience[13], and in UK and Netherlands as delftware. In France, Germany, Italy, Spain, Mexico and Portugal, tin-glazed wares are called maiolique, majolika, maiolica, mayólica, talavera, and majólica respectively.

Victorian majolica[edit]

Victorian majolica is a term used to describe Victorian era (1837-1900) pottery of either of the above types:

  • Best known is the mass-produced and widely available majolica of coloured lead glazes manufactured during the second half of the 19th century[14]. Named "Palissy ware" by Minton & Co. this product soon became known as majolica[15][16]. The product, made with an extended range of improved coloured lead glazes, is hard-wearing, typically relief-moulded and multi-purpose[17]. Introduced to the public at the Exhibitions of 1851 and 1862[18], it became fashionable, widely copied and mass-produced world-wide.
  • Less well known is the rare tin-glazed pottery made in England in imitation of the Italian Renaissance maiolica process and style[19]. This is the English earthenware of opaque white glaze with fine painted decoration, originated by Minton & Co., also named ‘Majolica’, also introduced at the 1851 Exhibition. This was a luxury product, produced in much smaller quantities than the colored glazes form.
  • Other types of Victorian earthenware are also sometimes described as majolica[20].

In contemporary fiction[edit]

  • The Majolica Murders by Deborah Morgan


  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. ^ Arnoux, Leon, 1853, Lecture 23 Lectures on the Results of the Great Exhibition of 1851, David Bogue, 86 Fleet Street, London. p.396
  5. ^ Art Journal, 1850, Catalogue to Mediaeval Exhibition "…sections are thus enumerated in the catalogue:- … 4. Italian Majolica [tin-glazed Italian maiolica]; … 7. Palissy Ware [16th century]; …"
  6. ^ Christie, Manson & Woods Catalogue, June 16, 1884, Sale of Fontaine Collection of Majolica [tin-glazed Italian], Henri II, Palissy Ware [16th century] ...
  7. ^ Paul Atterbury and Maureen Batkin, 1997, 'Dictionary of Minton', Antique Collectors' Club. "Minton did not use the word maiolica themselves, relying instead on the Victorian version, majolica, which they used to mean wares of Renaissance inspiration, featuring hand painting on an opaque white glaze. These were therefore quite distinct from the coloured glaze decorated wares which we now call majolica, but which Minton referred to as Palissy wares."
  8. ^
  9. ^ Light and dark created by glaze pooling in the lower areas of a relief moulding.
  10. ^ Bouquillon, A & Castaing, J & Barbe, F & Paine, S.R. & Christman, B & Crépin-Leblond, T & Heuer, A.H..,(2016) Lead-Glazed Rustiques Figulines of Bernard Palissy [1510-90] and his Followers: Archaeometry. 59. 10.1111/arcm.12247. "Summary: Analysis confirms that Palissy used coloured lead glazes, lead silicates with added metal oxides of copper [for green], cobalt [for blue], manganese [for brown and black] or iron [for yellow ochre] with a small addition of tin [for opacity] to some of the glazes." in a sombre earth-toned palette, using naturalistic scenes of plants and animals cast from life."
  11. ^
  12. ^ 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…
  13. ^ 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.
  14. ^ 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…
  15. ^ "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...
  16. ^ 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.
  17. ^ monumental exhibition pieces, ornamental vases, flower pots, household table services, decorative candlesticks, centre pieces, desk and dressing table paraphernalia, floor and fire-surround tiles, garden seats, walking stick holders, dog bowls, etc.
  18. ^ Editorial Staff, Art Journal Catalogue (1862). "Exhibited Class XXXV, no.6873, D78". The Italian Vase [top, left, p.8] is Majolica [tin-glazed imitation Italian maiolica], […] The Ewer [bottom, middle, p.8] is a Palissy vase [coloured glazes].
  19. ^ 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
  20. ^ 1877, Leon Arnoux, Pottery, British Manufacturing Industries,, Gutenberg pages 392-394, 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 [translucent], it ought to be called Palissy ware [coloured glazes], from the name of the great artist who used these for his beautiful works.


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

External links[edit]