The invention of ceramics was an important landmark in the history of human civilization. Worldwide, ceramic traditions in various cultures have developed their own characteristics at different times.

Faenza, a small town with a rich cultural heritage in Northern Italy, has had ceramic production since the Middle Ages. In 14th century during the heydays of the Renaissance, a type of tin-glazed ceramics, commonly referred to as “Majolica,” came from Spain to Italy. Infused with the spirit of liberty and openness of humanism, myths, religious stories, and oil paintings of the medieval period and the Renaissance became the main subject and means of expression for this new type of ceramic art. Constant researches and innovations, especially with the involvement of renowned artists, enabled the production centers around Faenza to eventually achieve the success for this art of “soil and fire” and establish its own place in art history. The long cultural history provides the art of Majolica with significant sources of inspirations and helps continue its tradition and command great respect in the world today.

As two nations of great civilizations, China and Italy were connected as early as 2,000 years ago by the Silk Road. Starting in 11th century, especially during the Age of Discovery of 15th -17th centuries, the communications between the two regions became more frequent with the expansion of the sea trade, and Chinese porcelain had great influence on the whole Europe as well as on Italy. This exhibition is the first time for the famous collections of the International Museum of Ceramics in Faenza, Italy to visit the land of porcelain, and this visit will open a new page in the history of cultural communications and collaboration between the two nations and its museums.

Chapter 1 《The Middle Ages》

Started in the middle of the Roman Imperial Age, the production of glazed ceramics established itself during the High Middle Ages, showing close relations with the artifacts from the Byzantine Orient. It is a long-running ceramic typology which flourished between the 9th and the 12th century, in particular in the Roman background. The name of these ceramics, “heavy glaze”, is due to the thick and rough glazing over their body. Time after time the glaze technique improved until becoming, in the second half of the 11th century, a decorative element. A typical shape of the Roman workshops is the jug with applied spout, it started to be produced in the 9th century.

In the 13th century the tin-glaze covering, already used in the Islamic world, was widely introduced in the Italian ceramic production. The first majolica wares were the proto-majolica of the south Italy and the archaic ceramics of the centre-north Italy. The archaic majolica was characterized by a rich decorative repertoire made of geometrical, vegetal motifs, emblems, epigraphs, animals, all stylized and colored of brown and green, with the late introduction of blue. These decorations characterized simple shapes, in particular closed ones such as jugs and “albarello” vases, or bowls, and basins.

Chapter 2 《The decorative “families” of the 15th century》

Following the traditional division of epochs of the Greek art, Gaetano Ballardini in his book “Lineamenti primari del disegno storico della maiolica italiana”(“Bases of the Italian majolica historical patters”),1938, offered a classification of the 15th century ceramics, the “severe style”, in decorative “families” still in use. From the late 14th century the rich Gothic base present in the archaic majolica, fully established itself through the “blue relief” decorative repertoire: coat of arms, Gothic letters, animals like birds and rampant lions, human figures, busts, all surrounded by garlands of berries, oak leaves and ivy. The decorations are brown in the outlines and dark cobalt blue painted in relief. In the Emilia-Romagna production including Faenza, the cobalt blue is alternated to the green.

Gothic subjects were on fashion also in the late 15th century with the “Gothic-floral” family, characterized by an elegant curly leaf with a central flower, inspired by the Gothic miniatures. Oriental tendencies emerged during the 15th century with the “Italian-Moresque” decorations, such as the “Persian palm” and the “peacock feather”, inspired by the vessels coming from Valencia and stimulated by the Islamic art.

Chapter 3 《The Renaissance Age》

The 16th century ceramic production was characterized by the “beautiful Style”, an achievement of the decorations already outlined in the late 15th century which became more refined and bright.

During the century, the Oriental influences became evident in the “porcelain style”, a decoration recalling the “blue and white” motifs of the Ming porcelains, characterized by elegant vegetal patterns surrounding central subjects, both Oriental inspired such as the “shell” and typical of the Renaissance.

The human figures became more popular in the majolica decorative repertoire, first the images were simple and idealized such as the lady portraits in the “love vessels”, than they became more complex and descriptive. The “istoriato” style represented the climax of the Renaissance majolica reaching new and highly evolved technical characteristics and paintings such as allegorical, mythological, religious and historical subjects, often based on illustrated books and printings. The workshops in the towns of Deruta and Gubbio, in Umbria, carried on the lusterware technique, from the ancient Islamic tradition. In Faenza and Venice the potters developed the “berettino” style characterized by a particular grey-blue glazed background of the majolica wares, decorated with grotesque motifs, trophies, leaves and twists. Around the middle of the century the majolica production reached extraordinary results in the decorations and brightness of colors: the so called “floral style”.

Chapter 4 《The “Whites of Faenza” between 16th and 17th century》

Beside the richness of decorations and colors of the majolica in the half of the 16th century, an opposite creative tendency developed, it was characterized by a simple decoration and a few colors, blue, yellow and orange, drawn with quick brush strokes, the “compendiario” style, on a white and thick glaze.

This “revolution” was carried on by the potters in Faenza, as a consequence these artifacts were called the “whites of Faenza”. Their main characteristic was the white thick glaze, often without decorations, or painted with coat of arms and figures, quickly sketched and surrounded by light garlands and, in some cases, they were decorated with “istoriato” scenes.

These simple decorations were flanked by a great variety of shapes; they were sculptural, pierced with molded creative details such as harpies, paws and heads of lions, dolphins, all of them shaped in the contemporary baroque style. The Whites of Faenza included a popular “grotesque” decoration on a white background, also called “Raphaelesque”, which reached great artistic results in Faenza, Pisa, Rome, Deruta and in the Dukedom of Urbino (Pesaro, Urbino, Casteldurante). The fortune of the whites determined their popularity for the whole 17th century, they were produced in the main Italian ceramic centers (particularly in Deruta and Castelli) and spread out also in Europe.

Chapter 5 《Majolica from the 17th century》

The “whites” decorated in “compendiario” style went on to be widely produced in the 17th century, these artifacts were shaped both in a sumptuous baroque style and in simple forms for everyday objects such as pharmacy or devotional vessels and tiles. This century was also characterized by decorative recurring subjects and motifs typical of the Renaissance: “istoriato”, “quartered”, “trophies”, “Raphaelesque” and “leaves”, painted on a grey-blue glaze called “berettino”.

The figurative style also included popular works, with sketched decoration and brilliant colors, such as the vessels from Viterbo, decorated with saints and female busts, from Montelupo with the “Harlequins”, typical characters wearing regional costumes. Among the emblematic subjects of the 17th century there was a conspicuous “calligraphic” repertoire characterized by little vegetal and zoomorphic motifs. Outstanding manufactures in Savona and Albisola produced a “calligraphic” style characterized by a blue color that was inspired by the Chinese porcelains sent to the western and Islamic markets and by their imitations. This style perfected in Liguria, with naturalistic traits, was appreciated for its originality and was imitated by other ceramic centers such as Turin, Pavia and Deruta.

Chapter 6 《Decoration of the 18th century》

The tradition of the “istoriato” majolica went on to be successful in the areas of Castelli and Naples where clever masters such as the Grue and Lorenzo Salandra worked; in Siena and San Quirico d’Orcia, in Tuscany with the works by Bartolomeo Terchi and Ferdinando Maria Campani; in Savona first with the works by Guidobono and later Giovanni Agostino Ratti.

The passion for the exotic trends and the emerging of national commercial societies, such as the East India Company, which connected Eastern and Western markets, determined, starting from the 17th century, the importation in Europe of a great quantity of Chinese porcelains, in particular the blue and white typology. This tendency gave rise to the “Chinoiserie” fashion, fully established during the 18th century. A rich repertoire of exotic flowers, pagodas, little Oriental figures, was acquired and interpreted in a personal way by all the Italian ceramic manufactures. At the same time European style decorations emerged: “Bérain”, “rocaille” and “lambrequins” patterns, figures from the Italian Comedy of the Art, baroque fruit compositions and a great variety of naturalistic flowers.

Chapter 7 《The technological innovations of the 18th century》

After the first attempts to produce porcelain in Florence under the Medici’s rule, during the Renaissance, it was only in 1710 that the first European manufacture of hard paste porcelain was settled in Meissen in Saxony. In a short time many porcelain manufactures arose all over Europe and in Italy: in Venice, first Giovanni Vezzi around 1720 and later Hewelcke and Geminiano Cozzi; in Doccia, near Florence, the Ginori manufacture in 1737;in Naples the Capodimonte Manifacture in 1740, later, from 1771 the “Real Fabbrica Ferdinandea”; in Piemonte the short experience of Vische and, from 1776, of Vinovo.

The creamware (white earthenware) was the other important ceramic innovation of the century, it was firstly produced in England in the Staffordshire region, around 1740 and startingfrom the second half of the 18th century a great quantity of English creamware vessels were sold in the European market. The creamware, even more than the porcelain, became popular in many Italian centers specialized in the production of majolica wares. Its particular malleability offered many possibilities to shape the surface of the artifacts in relief or pierced, and to decorate them in a refined way.

The majolica wares too renovated their aspect imitating the colors typical of the porcelains, above all the purple red and the green, obtained through the “third firing” technique.

These decorative innovations embellished the artifacts with “chinoiseries” and naturalistic flowers motifs, above all the enchanting “rose” bouquets.

Chapter 8 《The historicism in the 19th century》

Around the middle of the 19th century a lively interest for the ancient models, in particular from the Renaissance, arose in Italy and was shared by the main ceramic centers where, during the 16th century, a high level production of majolica wares had established.

Initially the privileged model was the Renaissance art production of Florence, for this reason the first experiences of revival from the Renaissance were carried on in Tuscany. The Ginori manufacture early started this kind of ceramic production and created some examples of ancient Italian majolica reproduction for the Second Universal Exposition of Paris in 1855. Only later in 1878 the Cantagalli Manufacture, managed by Ulisse Cantagalli, came on the scene in Florence. This Neo-Renaissance tendency quickly became a national experience, showing a preference for the “istoriato” paintings and for the “grotesque” and “raphaelesque” decorations. Also the ancient lusterware technique reemerged, first it was produced by Ginori in 1847, than by Pietro Gaj in Pesaro in 1848 and Luigi Carocci in Gubbio inl 1856. The potters in Faenza developed a particular production of “painting on majolica” with excellent artistic effects. In parallel they created sumptuous majolica artifacts inspired by the rich 16th century repertoire: big displaying dishes and decorative amphorae embellished the walls, the little tables, the stands or the fireplaces, they too often made of majolica.

Chapter 9 《The popular production between 18th and 20th century》

To conclude this millenarian excursus about Italian ceramics, some examples of popular Italian productions have been added to represent that rich and variegated group of vessels,far from the industrial production, created to fulfill specific domestic needs for everyday life. Between the end of the 18th and the first half of the 20th century the background of the Italian popular ceramics was very articulated in all the regions, in particular in south Italy the workshops produced a variegated range of artifacts such as flasks, oil lamps, salt-cellars sometimes with egg cups, whistles and many other items, with creative anthropomorphic and zoomorphic shapes.

《Liberty and Deco》