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In the same way the practice of lustre decoration might have been learnt from the Orient, but its late appearance on Italian wares (16th century) and its evident relationship to the lustres of Spain, rather than to the earlier lustres of Egypt, Syria and Persia, are further evidence that though oriental decorative motives gave the Italians certain early types of design, it is the Hispano-Moresque potters from whom the Italians learnt the art they were afterwards to develop so splendidly in a new direction.[1]

All the Italian pottery above the level of common crocks may be conveniently grouped into four classes.

EB1911 Ceramics Fig. 44.—Italian Graffiato Plate, 16th century. (South Kensington Museum.).jpg
Fig. 44.—Italian Graffiato Plate, 16th century. (South Kensington Museum.)

1. The native wares, made of coarse and often dark-red clay, coated with a white clay slip (a kind of pipe-clay) and covered with a crude lead glaze, either yellow or green. The idea of rendering this ware ornamental, and fitting it for more than vulgar use, led to a great development of the graffiato process; where, while the vessel, with its white clay coating was firm yet soft enough, patterns were scratched or engraved through the white slip to the red body beneath. This decorative method has been already mentioned several times, for it was practised during the early middle ages in all the countries from India to Italy, and the Byzantine potters were adepts in its use. Nor has its practice ever ceased in Italy, for through all the times when painted majolica was the ware of the wealthy, this earlier and humbler pottery was used by those who could not afford the former; and the gaily-coloured later wares of this kind have a fine decorative quality of their own. From the depth beneath the present soil at which fragments of this ware have been disinterred, it is obvious that the method was widely practised in early times, and no simpler glazed wares are known except those covered all over with green, yellow or brown glazes. Early examples have been found all over northern Italy—in Faenza, Florence, Pisa, &c., and particularly in Padua, where it seems to have been extensively made. Pavia was another centre of its manufacture, even to the end of the 17th century, and Citta di Castello must have been noted for it in the 16th century, for Piccolpasso describes this ware as “alla Castellana” (see fig. 44). Apparently in the latter half of the 15th century a sudden advance takes place in the colouring of this graffiato ware. Instead of the simple glazes, of uniform colour, of the earlier productions, underglaze colours—green, purple, blue and a brown of the tint of burnt sienna which passes into a glossy black where it is thick—were applied in bold splashes under the straw-coloured glaze, producing a rich and decorative effect by very simple means. As fine examples of this kind we may mention the dish with the mandoline players, and one with cupids disporting themselves in a tree, in the Victoria and Albert Museum; the tazza, supported by three modelled lions, in the Louvre; and the dish, with figures of the Virgin and two saints, in the museum at Padua. The ware has often been called, quite erroneously, mezza-majolica. It had nothing to do with majolica, being the natural development of a much older process; and its manufacture was carried on all through the period of majolica manufacture and has never ceased.

2. Mezza-Majolica—This name is accurately applied to certain Italian wares that made their appearance in the 12th century or even earlier, when rude patterns—a clumsy star, a rude crossing of strokes or some equally elementary work—are found painted on a thin white ground covering a drab body. The pieces, generally pitchers of ungainly forms, are uncouth in the extreme; the body has been shaped in local clay and then thinly coated by dipping it into a white slip, which seems at first to have been of white clay only, though oxide of tin and lead were added to it even in the 12th century. The colours used for the rude painting were oxide of copper and oxide of manganese, and the final glaze, which is generally thin and often imperfectly fused, seems to have been based on the alkaline glazes of the nearer East. The specimens so assiduously recovered by Professor Aragnani, some of which, or similar wares, are to be found in the Louvre, the British and the Victoria and Albert museums, are typical of the rude work out of which, by a fuller knowledge of Spanish methods, the painted majolica grew.

3. Majolica—For the last three centuries the word majolica has been used to signify an Italian ware with a fine but comparatively soft buff body, coated with an opaque tin-enamel of varying degrees of whiteness and purity, on which a painted decoration was laid and fired. In the later pictorial wares, a fine coating of transparent alkaline glaze was fired over the painting to soften the colours—really to varnish them. The word itself appears to have been derived from the name of the island Majorca, and was originally applied by the Italians to the lustred wares of Spain which were largely imported into Italy, probably arriving in ships that called at or hailed from Majorca, as we do not believe that the ware was actually made in that island. That the secret of the tin-glaze, which is the essential feature of Italian majolica, was known in Italy in the 13th century is practically proved; and there is both literary and archaeological proof of its use there in the 14th. Mention of it is made in the Margarita Preciosa published at Pola by Pierre Le Bon in 1336, and the well-known jug, bearing the arms of Astorgio I., discovered under the Manfredi palace at Faenza, must have been made shortly after 1393. Its development marched side by side with that of the mezza-majolica, until it practically superseded the latter for painted wares in the 15th century; but the earliest examples have little more than an archaeological interest, and it was only after the last decade of the quattrocento or the first of the cinquecento that it blossomed into an artistic creation. In its prime the production of majolica was confined to a very small part of Italy. Bologna on the north, Perugia to the south, Siena on the west, and the Adriatic to the east, roughly enclose the district in which lie Faenza, Forli, Rimini, Pesaro, Cafaggiolo, Urbino, Castel Durante, Gubbio, Perugia and Siena. Towards the middle of the 16th century Venice on the one hand, and in the 17th and 18th centuries the Ligurian factories at Genoa, Albissola and Savona, made majolica of the later decadent styles, while, at the end of the 17th and in the early part of the 18th centuries, the southern town of Castelli, near Naples, produced a ware which closes the period of artistic majolica.

4. Lustred Majolica—This brilliant species of Italian pottery (to which alone Piccolpasso applied the name majolica) seems to have been mainly produced at Deruta and Gubbio, though experiments were made at Cafaggiolo and probably at Faenza and Siena. Considering how much the Italian majolist owed to the Spanish-Moorish potter, it is remarkable that this beautiful method of decoration should have made so tardy an appearance, for the earliest specimens do not appear to be much earlier than

  1. There is ample documentary evidence to prove how largely the lustred pottery of Spain was imported into Italy from the 12th century onwards; and it is important to note in this connexion that almost all the fine examples of Hispano-Moresque in our modern collections have been obtained from the palaces of ancient Italian families.