Spanish Majolica 16th Century Urbino or Deruta-style Charger of a Conquistador
A magnificent mid-20th century Spanish hand-painted Charger wall plate in the manner of 16th century Urbino or Deruta majolica, depicting a Conquistador or Soldier in a landscape mounted on a horse with trappings. Indistinct printed backstamp ("_aue__olla"?)
13" (335mm) diameter. In very good condition - one tiny chip to edge of rim
Maiolica is a type of low-fire ceramic earthenware covered with an opaque white tin glaze and decorated with coloured pigments. Medieval potters discovered that a white tin based glaze was more stable in the firing process than transparent lead glaze and the white surface was ideal for elaborate painted decoration. This type of pottery is also known by the names: majolica, faience, delftware, and tin-glazed pottery. Maiolica pottery was especially popular in Italy during the Renaissance.
Islamic potters originally developed the white tin-glaze decorative technique during the Middle Ages. The development of the technique is believed to have been inspired by the trade of finely decorated Chinese Porcelain. [Europeans finally discovered how to make hard-paste porcelain in the late 18th century.] From Persia, the tin-glaze decorating technique spread into Spain where it was developed into what is known as Hispano-Moresque ware. Spanish tin-glaze pottery was imported into Italy during the 11th and 12th centuries. About 1200 AD the Italian potters adapted the technique and eventually called it "maiolica". The name "maiolica" was derived from where the tin-glaze ware was imported - Majorca Spain.
The Spanish, Italians and Persians also produced a special type of maiolica called lusterware. Lusterware required applying an iridescent film onto already fired tin-glaze pottery. A third "reduced" firing technique was required for this type of decoration. The luster technique was difficult to do and had a high failure rate. Some pottery centers failed to produce lusterware successfully. Originally the Italians used the term "maiolica" only to refer to vessels decorated with lusterware but eventually the term was applied to all decorated tin-glaze wares. At first the Italians were limited to the colors copper green and manganese brown/purple. Pieces with this green and brown decoration are known as "archaic maiolica". Blue, yellow and other colors were introduced later, mostly in the 15th and 16th centuries.
Maiolica production centers in Italy created lavishly decorated plates and bowls for many different consumer markets. There are many surviving examples of pieces created for wealthy patrons. Sets were made as well as elaborate custom pieces used only for display. Maiolica was created for special occasions such as marriages or births. Maiolica jars were produced in great numbers for hospitals and pharmacies. Maiolica was also produced for export to other parts of Europe and for the pilgrim tourist trade.
The maiolica technique eventually spread to Northern Europe. Italian potters set up business in what is now modern Belgium and Holland in the beginning of the 16th century. Flemish maiolica floor tiles were exported to England during the reign of Henry VIII. When war broke out between the Spanish and the Dutch, Antwerp was sacked a number of times and some maiolica potters moved into Holland and England. In Holland, the technique evolved into modern blue and white Delftware. In England, the technique was known as "tin-glaze" earthenware, maiolica or majolica. A piece of tin-glaze earthenware with an image of the Tower of London was presented to Elizabeth I by English potters about 1600. This piece is now in the Museum of London.
Much is known about the manufacturing of Renaissance maiolica because of an existing period manuscript titled "Tre Libre Dell'arte Del Vasio". This name is translated as "The Three Books of the Potters Art". This early "how to" guide was written in approximately 1557 by Cipriano Piccolpasso at the request of Cardinal Francois de Tournon. The three books contain a significant number of illustrations, which are frequently reproduced in books that describe museum collections of maiolica. Based on Piccolpasso, a typical medium sized workshop would have had a foreman or manager, two throwers, two or three painters, one or two kiln men and a few general workers or apprentices. Based on surviving account books, is is also known that maiolica painters decorated at a piecework rate for multiple workshops. Maiolica painters also painted wooden bridal chests and carved images. The Victoria and Albert Museum now owns the original manuscript written by Cipriano Piccolpasso.
Spanish Majolica is produced in the Toledo Province of Spain, an area where the traditions of their forefathers have been maintained for centuries.
The origins of Spanish Majolica begin in the 10th Century when the Calif of Persia received a gift of over 2000 pieces of porcelain from the Emperor of China. Persian craftsmen were impressed with the blue and white glazes. Unable to reproduce the secret of the Chinese glazes they were able to invent their own techniques to duplicate the effect. The potters of Baghdad exported their wares all across Northern Africa and many Islamic potters migrated to Morocco and eventually Moorish Spain, bringing with them the secret and formulas. Merchant based on the island of Majorca shipped so much of this pottery from Spain to Italy that it became forever associated with the island name as Majolica Pottery. The first step in the process of producing a piece of Majolica begins with a lump or buff of brown river clay. Il Torniante, or the thrower masterfully shapes the clay on a wheel. The clay piece is then dried in the open air before being kiln fired. The first firing is called the prima cottura and it brought the piece to about 1750 degrees Fahrenheit for several hours then cooled slowly to room temperature creating the biscotto or bisqueware. Once completely cooled, a fast drying chalky liquid glaze made of nickel and tin oxide called il smalto is applied by dipping or brushing. When the glaze dries it is ready for the artist to paint freely on the chalky surface. In the final step the painted pieces are loaded into a kiln for a second firing at a temperature somewhat lower than 1750 degrees. The second firing could take up to 24 hours including the preheating and cooling stage.