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The Art of Maiolica

Maiolica is a technique where a decoration of ceramic pigments is painted onto a low-firing white glaze, usually a tin-glaze over an earthenware or terra-cotta clay. The white clay forms a 'canvas' or background for the colored decoration. The piece is then fired to earthenware temperature of about 1000o Celsius or 1820o Fahrenheit.

Maiolica, Majolica or Faience (as it is called in France), can be traced back to Mesopotamia of the 9th century AD From there the technique made its way to the Middle-East, then on to North Africa, from where it migrated to Spain. From Spain the art of Maiolica was finally introduced to Italy as early as the 11th century. That country is still famous for this particular type of decoration to this day.

The first ever comprehensive treatise on Maiolica was Picol Passo's 'The Three Books of the Potters Art, written in 1557.

Decoration on Maiolica ware was often abstract, sometimes borrowed from Spanish or Arabian motifs, e.g. this typical 13th C Maiolica basin from Pisa. In Renaissance Italy of the 15th and 16th centuries historical or narrative scenes were also borrowed from other sources such as printmaking.

The French name Faience derives from Faenza, the famous Italian town of ceramics and means essentially the same as Maiolica.

We all know the widespread technique of Maiolica that has become so popular outside of Italy. Modern ceramic artists still employ this centuries old technique today. Maiolica glaze kits and information on how-to are readily available and can achieve great results. As it offers such scope for painting it has often been called the 'painters medium'.

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