Majolica

The term ‘Majolica’ refers to all those artifacts made from worked and subsequently fired earth. Since ancient times the soils and clays used came from quarries or rivers and were previously treated and purified before use after which the mixture was mixed with other elements according to predetermined doses designed for the material to reach a certain density and then shaped with a potter’s wheel (lathe) or simply pressed into a mold. Every single step in the processing was done by hand, thus almost always resulting in unique specimens. Before firing, the object was dipped in a white liquid earth that adhered to and completely covered it, then followed by a bath in the glaze and on to the ‘application of colors. Sometimes, on the other hand, it was enough to dip the earthenware in a bath of glaze (tin oxide), a true white, opaque glaze, and on this still raw glaze, with its grainy consistency, the decorative elements were traced.

Faenza majolica crespina V. Calamelli - B00686
Faenza majolica crespina V. Calamelli – B00686

As early as the 10th century there is a flowering of ceramic art in the Islamic world, which soon, however, with the development of trade in the Mediterranean, will spread to Italy where excellent manufactures such as Deruta, Urbino, Castelli, Casteldurante, Siena and Faenza were born. In the latter city there was an intense development of majolica manufacture so much so that the Faenza factory became synonymous with quality workmanship.

Over the centuries, different styles can be recognized that distinguish manufacturing production

After the pictorial decoration of the ”Raphaelesque” majolica of the 16th century, complex and dense with naturalistic references, we come to the period of the ”Compendiario” a style lacking precise and marked outlines, a quick and stylized decoration, done with the tip of a brush.

The ”bianchi” of Faenza became at this point a real reference in the world of Italian majolica to define in synthesis a singular experience that enchanted, with its production, lineages and residences of the most important families of Italie and Europe between the 16th and 17th centuries. Appearing in the age of Mannerism and growing into the Baroque, these artifacts allowed for an enrichment and plastic ornamentation of forms far beyond the results achieved by the simple use of the potter’s wheel. The <<bianchi>> have dictated a new taste of majolica and patronage by focusing on the extraordinary symbiosis of innovative technological process and unprecedented color appearance.

Faenza majolica pilgrim flask V. Calamelli - B00685
Faenza majolica pilgrim flask V. Calamelli – B00685

It was ceramologist Gaetano Ballardini who initiated this veritable current by first using the term <<compendiary>> already used by archaeologists to describe a painting technique characterized by quick, essential brush strokes, created by the Romans around the end of the first century CE. The full-bodied white surface had multiple functions: to give greater nobility to the material by softening the graininess of the “cookie” and to offer brightness; in fact, plates often had small images in the center executed with quick brushstrokes of strong colors that could stand out such as yellow and turquoise.

The <<bianchi>> were undoubtedly models for a particular production that only in Faenza reached unrepeatable heights of quality in terms of mixture and glaze technique, processing technology, shapes and above all decorative imagination. Artifacts representative of the artistic vitality of the Italian Renaissance that constituted one of the key steps in the research and manipulation of land in the field of great historical craftsmen, masters in the transformation of materials. Having been able to invent this formula was so successful for majolica that it was applied, with different accents, by artisans from various regions under the banner of a market that was in high demand.

 

Faenza majolica crespina V. Calamelli - B00686
Faenza majolica crespina V. Calamelli – B00686

A testament to the relentless imagination and operational practice of the great professional workshops of yesteryear, a sign also of the entrepreneurial market capacity before the advent of the modern age.

 

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