Majolica? Maiolica? Victorian Majolica Maiolica – Quiz Questions, Answers, Evidence

Which is it? What is it? Majolica? Maiolica? Victorian Majolica?

MAIOLICA MAJOLICA

“These two words have been used interchangeably and still are.”

Online Search Engines

Present day dictionary compilers and online search engines’ primary definitions treat ‘maiolica’ and ‘majolica’ as interchangeable. Fans of tin glazed maiolica (with an ‘i’) and fans of lead glazed majolica (with a ‘j’)  both feel this is overdue for correction. We can see they are different. We know they are different. Do they not deserve one clear sense each?

'Clever' website searches for MAIOLICA books and finds all our books on Victorian Majolica
‘Clever’ website searches for MAIOLICA books and finds all our books on Victorian Majolica!

Above, a ‘clever’ website looks for Amazon books on a particular subject. The subject search is for ‘maiolica’. Unfortunately the built-in online dictionary defines maiolica as majolica so Victorian lead-glaze majolica is what it references!

Auctioneers

1859 MAJOLICA auction turns out to be Italian tin-glaze MAIOLICA

Christies’ 1859 auction of MAJOLICA WARE (picture to the left) turns out to be entirely of tin-glaze Italian maiolica.

At this time both in England and in the US the word ‘majolica’ was the word normally used for tin-glaze Italian maiolica.

 

Dictionary Compilers

OED on line edition 2012, Majolica n. definition 3.
OED on line edition 2012, Majolica n. definition 3.

Even the Oxford English Dictionary definition muddles the two products.

3. Majolica n.  A type of 19th-century earthenware with coloured decoration on an opaque white tin (or sometimes lead) glaze, of vaguely Renaissance inspiration… introduced by Minton in 1851…

Delete “or sometimes lead” and delete “typically used for large decorative items, tableware, tiles and figures” to arrive at a good definition of Minton’s rare tin-glaze ‘English majolica’ product about which most people have never heard.

3.  Majolica n.  A type of 19th-century earthenware with coloured decoration on an opaque white tin glaze, of vaguely Renaissance inspiration; (also) the technique of painting on to unfired opaque white glaze… introduced by Minton in 1851…

So where is the definition of our majolica, the sensational world-renowned majolica of coloured lead glazes?

Minton majolica jardinière and stand circa 1861, coloured lead glazes applied directly to the biscuit, shape first introduced at the 1851 Exhibition.
Minton majolica jardinière and stand circa 1861, coloured lead glazes applied directly to the biscuit, shape first introduced at the 1851 Exhibition.

The Minton factory called it ‘Palissy’ ware. It was this product, not the tin-glazed ‘majolica’ in imitation of Italian maiolica that was “typically used for large decorative items, tableware, tiles and figures”?

The world would appreciate more clarity in the way the word ‘majolica, n.’ is used.

 

 

It might be helpful, for example, to

  • Reference process, materials, and appearance more frequently than referencing styles – which appear, not only Minton’s tin-glaze majolica and Minton’s coloured lead glazes majolica (‘lead-glaze majolica’), but also in ceramics, metal ware, etc..
  • Update dictionaries with the sense (dictionary definition), majolica n. A type of 19th-century earthenware of translucent coloured lead glazes applied simultaneously to the biscuit, then fired, typically modelled in relief and naturalistic in inspiration (style), introduced by Minton in 1851; (also) the technique of painting coloured lead glazes on to a once-fired earthenware biscuit body.  ‘
  • Update dictionaries with a new sense, ‘Victorian Majolica’ n. meaning both lead glaze majolica, mass-produced, widely available (introduced by Minton as ‘Palissy’ ware) and tin glaze majolica, very rare, (introduced by Minton as ‘majolica’).
  • See museums, auction houses, authors and academics using the words ‘lead-glaze majolica’ for Minton’s lead glaze product, and ‘tin-glaze majolica’ for Minton’s tin-glazed product.

Maiolica is earthenware typically with painted decoration on a whitish tin-glaze enamel. The ‘biscuit’ is coated with tin-glaze and allowed to dry, unfired. Brush-painted decoration is applied to the dry unfired tin-glaze, then fired.

The majolica/maiolica names muddle existed well before 1848. But it got worse in the years that followed as we now explain.

QUESTIONS, ANSWERS and EVIDENCE

We compiled a fun quiz to illuminate facts relevant to the definition of Victorian majolica.
The Majolica International Society published the quiz in the January 2016 issue of ‘Majolica Matters’, the quarterly newsletter circulated to members by regular mail. In this blog we detail evidence to support the answers. The difference between the coloured-lead-glazes process and the paint-on-tin-glaze process emerges as key to understanding.

There were no trick questions, but you had to read carefully.

Minton Victorian Majolica Pottery Jardiniere
Victorian Majolica Pottery, Minton Jardiniere, 1870

Known today as Victorian Majolica, an exciting new product with an extended range of  brilliantly coloured lead glazes received its first major public airing at the 1851 Exhibition of the Industry of All Nations.

1. “Minton exhibited two new products at the 1851 Great Exhibition and the 1855 Paris Exhibition. Minton called these ‘Palissy ware’ and ‘Majolica’”

A. True  B. False  B. TRUE

a) The Illustrated London News, Nov. 10, 1855, p.561:

“Messrs. Minton and Co. are the most conspicuous contributors of pottery in the Paris Exhibition… The collection of Palissy and Majolica ware… is that which appears to have created the greatest sensation among Parisian connoisseurs…”

b) Leon Arnoux, 1877:

[Comments in brackets are ours]
“I have given the name of Majolica [he is referring to his tin-glaze ware] to that class of ornament, whose surface is covered with opaque enamels of a great variety of colours. It is only connected with the Italian or Moorish in this respect, that the opacity of the enamels is produced by the oxide of tin; but as we have not in England the calcareous clay for making the real article, we have been obliged to adapt, as well as we could, the old processes to the materials at our disposal.

“At present, English majolica [He is still referring to his tin-glaze ware with the English body] is very popular, and without a rival for garden decoration, as it stands exposure to the weather better than ordinary earthenware, besides the impossibility of the latter receiving the opaque enamels without crazing or chipping.

Majolica [Still referring to his/Minton’s version of tin-glaze ware: English body with opaque white tin-glaze, brush-painted with metal-oxide colors] was produced for the first time by Messrs. Minton, in 1850 [Minton actually exhibited TWO new products at the Great Exhibition in 1851, ‘majolica’ and ‘Palissy ware’], and they have been for many years the only producers of this article. It is only five or six years ago [1871] that Messrs. Maw, of Broseley, in Shropshire (and very lately the Worcester manufactory), have made a pottery of the same kind [This is further proof that he is still referring to tin-glaze. Lead-glaze ware was copied and in production by multiple manufacturers long before 1871].

“The name of majolica is now applied indiscriminately to all fancy articles of coloured pottery. When, however, it is decorated by means of coloured glazes [He means coloured lead glazes], if these are transparent, it ought to be called Palissy ware, from the name of the great artist who used these for his beautiful works [Referring to Bernard Palissy, father of French ceramics, working mid-16th century]. Messrs. Wedgwood, George Jones, and a few other makers of less importance, are reproducing it more or less successfully [Amusing comment, but it does prove he is now referring to the lead-glaze ware we now call Majolica].

Online source: British Manufacturing Industry, Leon Arnoux, 1877

2. Mid-19th century what other word was commonly used in England for Italian tin-glaze maiolica?

A. Majolica   B. Majolika   A. MAJOLICA

The South Kensington Museum’s 1875 initiative to encourage the use of the ‘i’ spelling as in ‘maiolica’ (in place of the ‘j’ spelling as in ‘majolica’) to distinguish tin-glaze from lead-glaze earthenware appears to have been largely ignored.

The result was that all three meanings of the word MAJOLICA remained in use: the first, majolica meaning tin-glaze Italian maiolica; the second majolica to describe what we now call lead-glaze Victorian majolica; and the third the ‘majolica’ name Minton gave to his own tin-glaze version of tin-glazed Italian maiolica using local clays which Arnoux sometimes calls ‘English majolica’.

Solon 1907 History of Majolica
Mark-Louis Solon, 1907, “A History of Italian Majolica”. Ignoring the South Kensington Museum’s initiative he uses the word ‘majolica’ for tin-glazed Italian maiolica which is the sole content

In 1907 Mark-Louis Solon [he married the daughter of Leon Arnoux], makes no mention of lead-glazed earthenware in his publication ‘A HISTORY AND DESCRIPTION of ITALIAN MAJOLICA’.

He uses the anglicized word ‘majolica’ in place of ‘maiolica’ throughout. His bibliography further illustrates the general use of ‘Majolica’ for Italian tin-glaze Renaissance earthenware:

“MEURER Italienische Majolika Fliesen. Berlin 1881; FORTNUM Catalogue of Majolica in South Kensington Museum. London, 1873; BECKWITH Majolica and Faience. New York, 1877; WALLIS The Majolica Pavements of the 15th Century. 1902; FALKE Majolika. Berlin, 1896″

3. Tin glaze is a mix of silicates (sand), potash (or similar), lead oxide and tin oxide.

A. True  B. False  B. TRUE
Fortnum, 1875, on tin-glaze:

“We shall be occupied with the glazed and enamelled wares: the first of which may be again divided into siliceous or glass glazed, and plumbeous or lead glazed.

“In these subdivisions the foundation is in all cases the same. The mixed clay or “paste” or “body” (varied in composition  according to the nature of the glaze to be superimposed) is formed  by the hand, or on the wheel, or impressed into moulds ; then  slowly dried and baked in a furnace or stove, after which, on cooling, it is in a state to receive the glaze.

“This is prepared by fusing sand or other siliceous material with potash or soda to form a translucent glass, the composition, in the main, of the glaze upon siliceous wares. The addition of a varying but considerable quantity of the oxide of lead, by which it is rendered more easily  fusible but still translucent, constitutes the glaze of plumbeous wares: and the further addition of the oxide of tin produces an  enamel of an opaque white of great purity, which is the characteristic glazing of stanniferous or tin-glazed wares.”

Online source: Fortnum, 1875 on GLAZES

4. Lead glaze is a mix of silicates, potash (or similar) and the oxide of lead

A. True  B. False  A. TRUE

Fortnum, 1875, on lead-glaze:

“We shall be occupied with the glazed and enamelled wares: the first of which may be again divided into siliceous or glass glazed, and plumbeous or lead glazed.

“In these subdivisions the foundation is in all cases the same. The mixed clay or “paste” or “body” (varied in composition  according to the nature of the glaze to be superimposed) is formed  by the hand, or on the wheel, or impressed into moulds ; then  slowly dried and baked in a furnace or stove, after which, on cooling, it is in a state to receive the glaze.

“This is prepared by fusing sand or other siliceous material with potash or soda to form a translucent glass, the composition, in the main, of the glaze upon siliceous wares. The addition of a varying but considerable quantity of the oxide of lead, by which it is rendered more easily  fusible but still translucent, constitutes the glaze of plumbeous wares: and the further addition of the oxide of tin produces an  enamel of an opaque white of great purity, which is the characteristic glazing of stanniferous or tin-glazed wares.

Online source: Fortnum, 1875 on GLAZES

5. What were the public calling Minton’s ‘Palissy ware’ by 1875?

A. Portuguese Palissy  B. English Palissy  C. majolica  D. maiolica

C. MAJOLICA

Leon Arnoux, 1877, on ‘Palissy ware’ and ‘majolica’:

[Comments in brackets are ours]

Leon Arnoux 1877 on Palissy ware and majolica

“Majolica [Minton’s version of Italian tin-glaze maiolica – English body, opaque white tin-glaze, painted enamel decoration] was produced for the first time by Messrs. Minton, in 1850 [Minton actually exhibited TWO new products at the 1851 Great Exhibition, ‘majolica’ and ‘Palissy’ and they have been for many years the only producers of this article. It is only five or six years ago [1871] that Messrs. Maw, of Broseley, in Shropshire (and very lately the Worcester manufactory), have made a pottery of the same kind [This is solid proof that he is referring to tin-glaze. Lead-glaze ware was copied and mass-produced by multiple manufacturers before 1871]. The name of majolica is now applied indiscriminately to all fancy articles of coloured pottery. When, however, it is decorated by means of coloured glazes [He means coloured lead glazes], if these are transparent, it ought to be called Palissy ware, from the name of the great artist who used these for his beautiful works [Referring to Bernard Palissy, another great Frenchman, working mid-16th century]. Messrs. Wedgwood, George Jones, and a few other makers of less importance, are reproducing it more or less successfully [Amusing comment. But it does prove he is referring to the lead-glaze ware we now call Majolica].

Online source: British Manufacturing Industry, Leon Arnoux, 1877

6. Minton’s ‘Majolica’ product exhibited in 1851 became a

A. commercial success copied throughout Europe and US  B. commercial failure copied by almost nobody  B. Commercial failure copied by almost nobody

Minton tin-glaze 'majolica' plate, 1861, brush-painted decoration on opaque white tin-glaze enamel.
Minton tin-glaze ‘majolica’ plate, 1861, brush-painted decoration on opaque white tin-glaze enamel.

We need no proof of the success of Minton’s 1851 ‘Palissy ware’ known later as ‘majolica’. Minton’s 1851 tin-glaze ‘Majolica’, however, is virtually unknown, a commercial failure, despite its superb quality.

7. Writing in 1877 Leon Arnoux refers to Minton, Wedgwood and George Jones as manufacturers of…

A. Palissy ware B. Majolica  A. PALISSY WARE

Arnoux, 1877:
[Comments in brackets are ours]
“The name of majolica is now applied indiscriminately to all fancy articles of coloured pottery. When, however, it is decorated by means of coloured glazes [He means coloured lead-glazes], if these are transparent, it ought to be called Palissy ware, from the name of the great artist who used these for his beautiful works [Referring to Bernard Palissy, another great Frenchman, working mid 16th century]. Messrs. Wedgwood, George Jones, and a few other makers of less importance, are reproducing it more or less successfully [Amusing comment, but it does prove he is referring to the lead-glaze ware we now call Majolica].”

Online source: British Manufacturing Industry, Leon Arnoux, 1877

8. How many of these 3 products had lead in the glaze in 1860?

Victorian majolica, Italian maiolica, Delftware?  A. 3  B. 2  C. 1   A. ALL THREE

Which ones have lead in the glaze?

Victorian lead-glaze majolica  YES. Silicates + potash + lead oxide

Victorian tin-glaze majolica   YES. Silicates + potash + lead oxide + tin oxide

Italian maiolica                           YES. Silicates + potash + lead oxide + tin oxide

Delftware                                   YES. Silicates + potash + lead oxide + tin oxide

Delftware is a development of Italian tin-glaze maiolica

“…the French and Delft faïences, which were a transformation of majolica [a transformation of tin-glaze maiolica]…”

Online source: British Manufacturing Industry, Leon Arnoux, 1877, pages 8,9 and 12, on delftware and faience.

9. How many of these three products had tin in the glaze in 1860?

Victorian majolica, Italian maiolica, Delftware?  A. 3  B. 2  C. 1    B. ONLY TWO

Which ones have tin in the glaze?

Victorian majolica  NO.  Silicates + potash + lead oxide  NO TIN

[Updated answer Nov. 2016 – YES.  The phrase ‘Victorian majolica’ has to include not only the mass produced vibrant whimsical lead-glazed product we call ‘majolica’ but also the rare tin-glazed product in imitation of Italian maiolica that Minton annoyingly called ‘majolica’ also.]

Italian maiolica   YES.  Silicates + potash + lead oxide + tin oxide

Delftware  YES.  Silicates + potash + lead oxide + tin oxide

10. How is the look of tin-glaze earthenware best described?

A. An opaque white enamel with colored decoration  B. A covering of opaque white enamel, brush-painted with coloured decoration  C. A covering of opaque white enamel with painted decoration in the Italian style.   B. A covering of opaque white enamel, brush-painted with colored decoration 

Urbino ware
Tin-glaze Italian maiolica, Urbino ware pitcher, circa 1570

A.  ‘An opaque white enamel with colored decoration’ does not say how it is colored. Tin-glaze earthenware is usually brush painted (lead-glaze is usually ‘block colored’)

B.  ‘A covering of opaque white enamel, brush-painted with coloured decoration’ THIS FITS ALL CRITERIA

C.  ‘A covering of opaque white enamel with painted decoration in the Italian style’ Tin-glaze earthenware is not always decorated in the Italian style. For example Delftware is tin-glaze often decorated in the Chinese style.

Look and ye shall see. Lead-glaze earthenware. Tin-glaze earthenware.  We know they are different. We can see they are different.

Below are two helpful pictures of lead-glaze products.

Lead-glaze earthenware glaze miss showing buff biscuit 'block-painted' with colored lead glazes
Lead-glaze earthenware.  Glaze miss exposes buff biscuit body ‘block-painted’ with colored lead glazes

First, a detail of a Victorian majolica lead-glaze ‘miss’ conveniently illustrating three characteristics of lead-glaze earthenware:

1. Unglazed buff body beneath

2. Vibrant coloured translucent lead-glazes

3. Method of application which one might describe as ‘solid colored’ as compared with the usually fine brush-strokes found on tin-glaze earthenware

Lead glaze earthenware, Chinese Sancai horse, colored
Lead glaze earthenware, Chinese Sancai horse, colored lead glazes ‘block-painted” directly on to buff biscuit. Circa AD 300.

Finally, in case anyone thinks lead glazing was actually invented by Arnoux in 1850, check out this 27 inches tall Chinese horse.

This guy is approximately seventeen centuries old. Look at the color run on the green glaze!  1,700 years have passed and still we see this problem even from the best makers.

Majolica International Society

Majolica Gallery

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