Minton tin-glazed majolica

Our blog today spotlights a super-rare Minton tin-glazed product, frequently confused with Minton coloured lead glazes majolica. We thank The Minton Archive, the Victoria and Albert Museum, and the Private Collections for assistance and use of images.

Minton tin-glazed 'majolica' plate, 1861, brush-painted decoration on opaque white tin-glaze enamel.
Minton tin-glazed majolica plate, 1861, brush-painted decoration on opaque white tin-glaze. Private Collection, California.

Examples are rare, often unrecognized. We searched MIS member and other private collections, museum websites, dealers, auction house sale results, ATG reports, papers and articles. Thus far, we are aware of only two examples in MIS member collections, five in other private collections, six in museums and one in our own inventory.

Could this be the next Minton product to inflame collectors’ passion? Is there an example  in your own collection was awaiting discovery?

Spot the difference? Minton coloured lead glazes majolica (on the left), Minton tin-glazed majolica (on the right). Private Collection, USA.
Spot the difference? Minton coloured lead glazes majolica (on the left), Minton tin-glazed majolica (on the right). Private Collection, USA.

You may know what to look for already, but if you are unsure, here are some pointers.

How to recognise Minton tin-glazed v. Minton coloured lead glazes majolica

When ordinary plain lead glaze is applied direct to a ‘biscuit’ body and fired the result is a translucent, plain, impervious, durable ‘glass’ coating.

Adding a little tin to the ordinary lead glaze will produce a surface perfect for painted decoration, somewhat in the manner of fresco. The delicate brushwork painting is applied to the ‘raw’ unfired surface. When fired, the painted enamels fuse with the glaze producing the characteristic opaque whitish glaze with in-glaze enamel colours.

Majolica and Maiolica up close
Victorian coloured lead glazes majolica and Renaissance Italian tin-glazed maiolica, detail.

Minton & Co. copied Italian Renaissance maiolica calling the product ‘majolica’. A table summarizing the differences between the two Minton majolica’s may be helpful. Examples will follow.

 Minton tin-glazed and brush paintedMinton coloured glazes
RarityVery rare.Comprises 99.99% of Minton majolica.
Minton Factory Name‘Majolica’, after Renaissance Italian tin-glazed maiolica. Design Class Letter G.Initially ‘Palissy ware’, after Bernard Palissy. Later ‘Majolica’. Design Class Letter T or un-numbered.
StylesRenaissance styles only: Istoriato, Mannerism, Grottesche, Faenza, Deruta, Castelli, Castel Durante and Urbino, Gubbio, and othersRenaissance, also Naturalistic, Whimsical, Chinoiserie, Japonisme, High Victorian, Arts and Crafts.
Minton factory marksInconsistentUsually a full set of marks
SurfacesUsually smooth - plaques, plates, tondino’s, vases, bottles and ewers.Usually high relief - decorative and household objects for every conceivable purpose.
Intaglio EffectNot possible. Intaglio effect often imitated using brushwork.Highly effective and decorative with high relief molding.
Opaque white glazeBest observed on the underside.Occasionally used as a panel for brush-painted decoration alongside areas of coloured glazes.
Appearance‘In-glaze’ brush-work, often fine, on opaque white glaze.Thickly applied coloured glazes, brush strokes usually invisible.
Process, basicsStage One - Tin/lead coating is applied to the ‘biscuit’ and allowed to dry.Stage One - Temperature-compatible coloured lead glazes are applied simultaneously, direct to the biscuit. Little skill required.
Stage Two – The dry coating is brush painted with metal oxide enamel colours. High skill required.Stage Two - Fired
Stage Three - Fired

Minton tin-glazed majolica – Styles

Minton & Co. copied or imitated the styles of the Italian Renaissance.

[read more=”Click here to Read More” less=”Read Less”] The centres of Italian maiolica production have been catalogued as

Tuscany, ca. 1400–1580

Faenza, ca. 1470–1550

Deruta, ca. 1490–1560

Castelli, ca. 1515–40

Castel Durante and Urbino, 1508–ca. 1580

Gubbio, ca. 1515–40

‘Istoriato’ means literally ‘story painting’. ‘Grottesche’ style describes decoration primarily with grotesques. But, mostly, styles took the name of the region most famed for its production.

Tin-glaze Minton majolica was produced strictly in imitation of Italian Renaissance maiolica, with similar body, and with surfaces brush-painted in Italian maiolica styles. The naturalistic sometimes whimsical styles found in coloured lead glazes Minton Palissy-ware/majolica were never produced in tin-glaze.

Many designs were copied from examples in UK collections. [/read]

Minton Istoriato plaque, after Mantegna

Minton tin-glazed majolica plaque, 1860, 13ins. Initials SPQR stand for ‘The Roman Senate and People’. Impressed MINTON to the reverse, other marks unclear. Private Collection, UK.
Minton tin-glazed majolica plaque, circa 1860, 13ins. Letters SPQR stand for ‘The Roman Senate and People’. Impressed ‘MINTON’ to the reverse, other marks indistinct. Painted decoration on opaque white glaze, Private Collection, UK.

In one single image this plaque invites us through a doorway to the greatest civilisation the world has ever seen. This is Minton and Co. making art and history available to a wider audience. One of five plaques exhibited at the 1862 London International exhibition, the source is a panel from the Mantegna series at Hampton Court palace copied by Thomas Kirkby and added to the design materials catalogue at the Minton factory, design G13 below.  Kirkby was foremost in copying designs from Renaissance masterpieces.

From Mantegna 'Triumph of Caesar' series, design source of Minton tin-glaze elliptic dish.
From Andrea Mantegna ‘Triumph of Caesar’ series, originals painted around 1490. The design source for the Minton tin-glazed elliptic dish depicting the boy soldier can be found in The Minton Archive, G13 above.

Andrea Mantegna’s eight monster panels were painted to celebrate the Triumphs of Caesar. Purchased from Italian nobility by Charles I in 1629 they are now in the Royal Collection, housed in Hampton Court Palace, UK.

‘The first design for majolica’  G144, signed  by Thomas Kirkby, also depicts Renaissance design elements suited for fine brushwork painting onto a raw tin-glaze coating. View it online in The Minton Archive with many more Renaissance designs for tin-glaze alongside a few coloured lead glazes designs. Sadly, tin-glazed majolica flopped. The product that boomed was the coloured lead glazes product first named ‘Palissy ware’ soon also known as ‘majolica’.

Minton Istoriato tondino after ‘Jesus and the Doctors’, signed ‘E. Lessore’

Minton tin-glazed majolica istoriato tondini. Signed to the front by E. Lessore.
Minton tin-glazed majolica istoriato tondino. Signed ‘E. Lessore’ with a backwards ‘E’ near the rim at 160 degrees. Private Collection, UK.

The tondino is decorated with brush-painted enamels on opaque whitish glaze, istoriato style.

The original design source, now in the Kunsthistorisches Museum, ''Jesus and the doctors of the Faith'', circa 1630 shows a young Jesus questioning the doctors of the faith in the temple.
The original design source, now in the Kunsthistorisches Museum, ”Jesus and the doctors of the Faith”, circa 1630 shows a young Jesus questioning the doctors of the faith in the temple.

Lessore’s design source we have not yet tracked down. A man’s head seems to have been added… a self-portrait of the artist?

Reverse of Minton tin-glaze majolica istoriato tondini. Rare backstamp for 1847.
Reverse of Minton tin-glazed majolica istoriato tondino. Rare factory printed backstamp for 1847.
Rare Minton printed factory mark for 1847, Catalogue of Minton Design Materials 1871.
Rare Minton printed factory mark for 1847. Catalogue of Minton Design Materials 1871.

The printed factory date mark for 1847 indicates Lessore was at this time working for Minton and Co.  This relationship is known to have foundered soon after. Maybe Minton did not appreciate Lessore’s name on everything he painted for the company.

Minton Castel Durante Style Dish copied from 1520 original

 

PLATE, enamelled earthenware (maiolica), painted in colours. By Giovanni Maria. Italian (Castel Durante); about 1510 D. 9 3/4in.
PLATE, enamelled earthenware (maiolica), painted in colours. By Giovanni Maria. Italian (Castel Durante); about 1510 D. 9 3/4in. ©Victoria and Albert Museum, London.

Here is an example of an Italian Renaissance tin-glazed maiolica dish from the South Kensington Museum Collection (today’s Victoria and Albert Museum), copied by Minton. The copy is exact, even to the misaligned SPQR medallions. Minton added a border increasing the diameter of the plate from 9 3/4ins to 10.4ins.  The museum called it a PLATE.  Others call it a dish, a bowl, or a tondino.

Minton 1860 tin-glazed copy of Italian tin-glaze maiolica bowl.
Minton 1860 tin-glazed copy of Italian 1510 tin-glaze maiolica tondino, 10.4ins. Playing  putti in the centre surrounded by more putti, medallions with portraits, etc. were a common theme in this style of plate. Castel Durante in the Duchy of Urbino.  Private Collection, UK.
Reverse of bowl, Minton 1860 tin-glaze copy of Italian tin-glaze maiolica. 'MINTON' in dark enamel, date cypher for 1860
Reverse of shallow bowl/tondino, Minton 1860 tin-glaze copy of Italian tin-glazed maiolica. ‘MINTON’ painted in manganese oxide enamel on typical opaque white tin-glaze. A distinct date cypher for 1860.

Minton Mannerism, Grotesque

Minton tin-glazed majolica design G29, from the Catalogue of Minton art materials as they were in 1871, classified by capital letter. G=Majolica [tin-glaze] Courtesy Minton Archives. The grotesques are in Mannerist or Late Renaissance style
Minton tin-glazed majolica design G29, from the Catalogue of Minton art materials as they existed in 1871, classified by capital letter. G = Majolica [tin-glaze].  The Minton Archive. The grotesques are typically Mannerist or Late Renaissance in style.
“Mannerism encompasses a variety of approaches influenced by, and reacting to, the harmonious ideals associated with artists such as Leonardo da Vinci, Raphael, and early Michelangelo. Where High Renaissance art emphasizes proportion, balance, and ideal beauty, Mannerism exaggerates such qualities, often resulting in compositions that are asymmetrical or unnaturally elegant. The style is notable for its intellectual sophistication as well as its artificial (as opposed to naturalistic) qualities.” Wikipedia

Minton & Co. flower vase and stand, circa 1851, The Potteries Museum & Art Gallery, Stoke-on-Trent. Minton Tin-glazed earthenware, opaque whitish glaze with painted decoration. Minton named this product 'majolica'. Minton's lead-glazed product which they named 'Palissy' ware, also became known as 'majolica'.
Minton & Co. flower vase and stand, circa 1851, The Potteries Museum & Art Gallery, Stoke-on-Trent. Minton tin-glazed majolica, opaque whitish glaze with painted decoration. Note the fan dancer grotesque from design source G29 above.

Minton factory marks

Minton tin-glaze majolica can be difficult to recognize by its factory marks as they are often missing, either never applied, or obliterated by glaze. A full set of factory marks would look like this:

Shape number 1105, ‘MINTON’, date cypher for 1873, month letter, and mark meaning unknown.
Shape number 1105, ‘MINTON’ date cypher for 1873, month letter J, and a ‘V’. Minton coloured lead glazes majolica.

In the case of the snake handle vase below, while lacking all marks to the base,  ‘MINTON’ painted prominently to the neck, and design G166 in the Minton Archive,  leaves no doubt as to the maker.

Minton tin-glazed snake-handled vase. 'MINTON' to the neck. No marks to the base. Potter Collection, UK.
Minton tin-glazed snake-handled vase. ‘MINTON’ to the neck. No marks to the base. Private Collection, UK.

A similar Minton tin-glazed majolica vase can be found in the V & A.

Minton tin-glazed majolica blanks

Were blanks for tin-glaze decoration supplied to artists not in the employ of the factory?  Such an artist was J D Rochfort.

“Amateur artist. Active 1860s-70s. Took up pottery decoration as a hobby. Painted Minton pottery.” Dictionary of Minton, Paul Atterbury and Maureen Batkin, 1990.

Minton vase, shape number 746 for tin-glaze majolica decoration.
Minton vase, shape number 764 tin-glaze for brush painted decoration. Note the fine brush-painting of a country scene. Note also the brushwork patterns imitating the ‘intaglio effect’ of coloured lead glazes applied to high relief molding. Madelena Collection.
Minton vase, shape number 764 for tin-glaze majolica decoration.
Minton vase, shape number 764 for tin-glazed majolica decoration. Note the in-glaze signature in manganese (brown) enamel on typical opaque white tin-glaze.

Incised script shape number 764 appears in the list of shape numbers in Joan Jones’ book, described as: Vase with two cupid handles (M) H 14”. The ‘M’ signifies a shape and presumably a body imitating Renaissance style intended for decoration by the tin-glaze process.

Conclusion

Knowing that two Minton manufacturing processes produced products so different from each other, yet are known by the same name ‘majolica’, is one thing. The particular pleasure in recognizing the rare Minton tin-glaze majolica is quite another.

We hope to learn of many more as time goes by.

Thank you for reading.

Ben and David Tulk

Madelena

Join the Majolica Society

Subscribe for Madelena Notifications 

Share