Majolica bowl with flowers

by Dr. Lori Verderame

What is Majolica?

Majolica is a soft earthenware ceramic enhanced with tin and lead glazes. Majolica came of age during the Renaissance period of the 1400s-1500s in southern Europe. Shipped from the port of Majorca, the site where this style of earthenware got its name, the tin glazed ceramics were deemed “maiolica” or “majolica” wares during the reign of Spanish monarchs Ferdinand and Isabella. You remember them, they helped finance Christopher Columbus’ trip to the New World in 1492.

With great popularity and market success, the process of producing tin glazed earthenware ceramics quickly expanded to northern European sites. Earthenware objects with tin and lead glazes became well known in ceramic strongholds throughout Germany, Scandanavia, and Holland.

Palissyware Majolica

By the 1700s, a ceramist named Bernard Palissy reformulated the Renaissance tin glazes and produced functional objects decorated with subjects such as marine life, fruits, and flowers. Called Palissyware, these majolica pieces became a big hit with the socialites of the time. Palissyware majolica was highly desirable during the Victorian age of the mid to late 1800s.

The British redefined the quality and manner of majolica wares as artisans in the famous ceramic capitals of London, Staffordshire, and Stoke-on-Trent reformulated the original tin and lead glazing techniques. About 1850, Herbert Minton of the famous porcelain factory inspired the creation, promotion, and widespread manufacture of majolica based on Renaissance designs. The objects regularly relate to autumn hunting or game subjects, sea creatures for the holiday seafood feast, and delicate summer tables filled with fruits and flowers. These tin and lead glazed ceramics remind today’s collectors of the Victorian notion of excess and abundance while simultaneously recalling the Renaissance period when hostesses took pride and social status in serving an abundant, plentiful, and visually appealing meal.

Revival style ceramics

As the Renaissance revival was in full swing in the 1880s, Minton’s Florentine-inspired majolica wares followed this classic trend. Throughout England, highly decorated and texturally pleasing majolica objects were the perfect complement to a Victorian home’s décor.

Minton pieces of majolica command high prices on the secondary market. For instance, two figural teapots by the Minton firm from circa 1875 sold recently for more than $10,000. With a sense of history and a flair for the beautiful, majolica ceramics recall the past and use bright colors to suggest inspirational forms.

Many celebrities collect majolica for its bright colors, lead glazes, and gleaming appearance including opera master, Luciano Pavarotti.

Request an online appraisal of your majolica from Dr. Lori.