Starting a majolica pottery collection

Thinking of starting your own majolica pottery collection? First learn what type of majolica is right for you, then have fun shopping and learning about this beautiful and interesting handicraft from the Renaissance.

What is Majolica?

Majolica, or "maiolica" in Italian, is tin- or lead-glazed pottery first made popular in Italy during the early years of the Renaissance. Its name is derived from the island of Majorca, a stopping point for ships in transit from Spain to Italy. During the early fifteenth century Italian potters began to imitate much-admired pottery wares from Islamic countries, like Mesopotamia (modern day Iraq). These early pieces were decorated mostly with arabesques, flowers, or birds, as Islamic tradition forbade artistic representation of the human form. However, by the early sixteenth century, majolica had become a unique Italian handicraft, and not only included, but celebrated the human form, particularly in majolica depicting mythological or religious themes.

Modern day majolica features a huge variety of design, color, style, and age. Although selection of majolica to fit into your collection or home d├ęcor is personal, knowledge of different types of majolica, how to recognize quality, and were to get your majolica are all essential aspects of building a collection you can proudly display for years to come.

Majolica for Practical Use

Deruta Dinnerware:

The most common and perhaps most beautiful of practical majolica, Deruta dinnerware is an essential addition to pottery collection, particularly for the majolica aficionado. Now considered Italy's best school of majolica, Deruta is located near Perugia. Perugia was a principal center for majolica production from 1550-1600.

Good quality Deruta can be cost-prohibitive. However, you will want to strive for quality over quantity - one beautifully embellished serving platter displayed on your dining room wall will be much more appealing than many chipped or low-quality majolica knockoffs. Consider first purchasing a basic set of unadorned dinnerware, then adding your Deruta pieces one at a time. You can also find excellent Deruta at on- and offline auctions, estate sales, and flea markets. Check carefully for chips, fissures, or signs of previous repair.

A whimsical addition to your majolica dinnerware is the Orvieto rooster pattern. Called "gallo" in Italian, the rooster has long been considered lucky, encouraging fertility, success in business, and of course - success in cooking!

Decorative Majolica

Some majolica just seems too beautiful to eat from. Other majolica is specifically made for display, such as wall plates, statues and statuettes, and even ceramic tables. Many majolica pieces serve double duty, like the Ricco Deruta wall clock - a perfect blend of practical use/decorative beauty. As with majolica dinnerware, the same little-bit-at-a-time rule applies: always strive for quality over quantity.

Palissy Majolica: Named after the French painter who first designed it, Bernard Palissy, Palissy majolica features design themes taken directly from nature. Majolica enthusiasts revere these highly realistic, three-dimensional designs. Later followed by master potters such as Charles-Jean Avisseau, Thomas-Victor Sergent, and Jules Lesme, Palissy is most notable in French majolica, known as "faience".

The Palissy tradition has continued into modern times. One or two strategically displayed pieces of Palissy will add beauty and interest to your collection.

Majolica Tiles: Easily displayed on a picture stand or framed and hung on the wall, the majolica tile is an excellent choice for the beginning collector, particularly if you are interested in antique majolica but are not sure how to fit it with your individual style. A wide assortment of floral designs is available on majolica tiles, including roses, fleur-de-lys, water lilies, and daisies.

Where to Find Majolica

Once you have decided whether you want to collect majolica for practical use or for display, or a combination of the two, you will probably be eager to go shopping!

Large numbers of online resources exist for selling and buying majolica. As a general rule, you will do best purchasing majolica either directly from an Italian manufacturer or from an Italian importer.

If you are interested in antique majolica, online auctions can be a great choice, but be sure to thoroughly check the seller's feedback before you place your bid. Ask if the piece is cracked, chipped, or in any other way damaged. Damage usually lowers the cost of the piece, but it will do you little good if the damage is widespread or in a conspicuous location.

A note about damage: "Crazing", a network of very fine cracks in the glaze majolica, represents normal aging, generally taking about fifty years to occur. In some pieces crazing is considered desirable.

Finally, consider joining an antiques collecting club, such as the specialized International Majolica Society. Membership fees pay for themselves, as you will receive newsletters, schedules of buying/selling markets, as well as tips for obtaining the best quality majolica you can on your budget.

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