the end of the 15th century, and the process was apparently abandoned by the middle of the 16th. The lustre wares of Deruta, probably the earliest made in Italy, have strongly-marked affinities with their Spanish prototypes; the earlier examples are hardly to be distinguished from Spanish wares, and to the last the ware remained technically like the earlier ware, though with perfectly Italian decorative treatment. Yet the best examples of Deruta silver lustre have a quality of tone that has never been surpassed; a colour resembling a wash of very transparent umber bearing a delicate nacreous film of the most tender iridescence. The Gubbio lustre is best known to us through the works of Maestro Giorgio, whose distinctive lustre is a magnificent ruby-red unlike any other. In all probability the lustre process was so quickly abandoned on the fine painted majolica, because the increasing efforts to make a “picture” were discounted by so uncertain a process. When one of the later majolica painters had spent weeks on the decoration of some vase or dish, with an elaborate composition of carefully drawn figures, it was not likely that he would care to expose it to any risks that could be avoided. The risks of the lustre process were inordinately great—Piccolpasso says, “Frequently only six pieces were good out of a hundred”—so that its use was relegated only to inferior wares, and then the process was relinquished and forgotten until its rediscovery in the second half of the 19th century.
|Fig. 45.—Early Faenza plate, with|
peacock-feather design, in blues, yellow
and orange-red. (Victoria and Albert Museum.)
The history of the development of these noble wares is by no means clear, nor is it always certain what part was played by each town in the successive inventions of technical methods, decoration and colouring, so that it is better, in such a general sketch as this, to treat the subject in its broadest features only. In the earlier painted wares the only colours used were manganese-purple and a transparent copper-green as on the mezza-majolica, but early in the 15th century cobalt-blue was added to the palette, and, later on, the strong yellow antimoniate of lead, mixed with iron. The decorations at this period were largely influenced by the wares imported from Persia, Syria, Egypt and Spain, specimens of which were so prized as to be used for the decoration of church fronts and the façades of public buildings. The lustre of the Saracenic wares was not yet understood, but its place was taken first by manganese and afterwards by yellow. The designs were chiefly conventional flower-patterns in the Persian or Moorish style, arabesques, and floral scrolls, the ground being filled at times with those tiny spirals, scrolls and dots to which the Eastern potters were so partial. Figures, human and animal, were introduced either among the formal ornament or only sundered from it by panels, of which the outlines often followed the contours of the central design (see the early 15th-century Faenza piece, Plate VI.). The figures were, in fact, drawn to conform to the outline of the vessel, and not the vessel made to display the figure-subject as in the majolica of the succeeding century. The earliest dated example of this period is the pavement laid down in the Caracciolo chapel in the church of San Giovanni a Carbonara, in Naples, about 1440. Specimens of these tiles may be seen in the British Museum, and from their style it has been suggested that they were made by some Spanish potters brought over to Naples by Queen Joanna, who was of the royal house of Aragon. To this period also have been referred the large ovoid jars made to contain drugs or confections, and decorated with bold scrolls of formal oak leaves enclosing spirited figures of men or animals, or heraldic devices. These are characterized by a rich blue colour generally piled up in palpable relief and sometimes verging on black; the outlines are usually in manganese, and transparent green is used for details and occasionally even as a ground colour. This ware has been definitely assigned to Florence on what seem very inadequate grounds, and it is better to speak of it simply as Tuscan. Then, essentially Italian ornament began to assert itself, and it redounds to the credit of the Italian majolist that he soon freed himself from repeating the styles of the wares from which he obtained his methods, and produced a distinctive type of ornament of his own. He revelled in patterns with bold floral scrolls, or those based on peacocks’ feathers (see fig. 45), and then he advanced to concentric bands of painted ornament, borrowed from classic art yet breathing the true spirit of the Renaissance; while cable borders, chequer and scale patterns, bands of stiff radiating leaves, festoons of fruit and flowers, zigzags and pyramidal scrolls occupied nearly the whole surface or framed an armorial or emblematic central subject. Figure-subjects occur with increasing frequency as the century advanced; Madonnas and other sacred subjects, portraits, and, occasionally, groups of figures after the early Italian masters, or scenes borrowed from the first illustrated editions of the classics, gradually encroach on the conventional borders and occupy more and more of the surface of the piece. The provenance of these 15th-century pieces still remains uncertain—Faenza, Forli, Florence, Siena and other places offering rival claims,—but there is no doubt that from the earliest times Faenza was the most fertile centre of their manufacture, and almost all the motives of the quattrocento wares are found on fragments discovered there or on examples that can be traced to Faventine factories.
It is customary to treat the enamelled terra-cottas of Luca della Robbia, the great Florentine sculptor (1399–1482), and his followers, Andrea and Giovanni della Robbia and other members of the family, as belonging rather to the domain of sculpture than of pottery, and this is right, for there is nothing certainly known of the work of this great sculptor which connects it with painted majolica. The old theory that Luca invented the tin-glaze is long since exploded; what he did was to use coloured glazes made with a basis of tin-enamel on his boldly modelled terra-cottas—a very different thing,—and it is by no means certain that he was the first to do even that. The Victoria and Albert Museum is extraordinarily rich in della Robbia ware of every kind; and one may see there these beautifully modelled figures in high relief covered with pure white tin-enamel, set in a background of slatey blue or rich manganese purple and framed in wreaths of flowers and fruit which are coloured with blue, green, purple and sometimes yellow. There are altar vases too, of classic shape with low relief ornament, covered with the same peculiar blue glaze; these are sometimes furnished with modelled fruit and flowers; and finally there is the rare set of roundels painted on the flat with figure-subjects typifying the months; but the attribution of these remains doubtful, and their method is not that of painted majolica.
A remarkable development took place at the beginning of the 16th century, and in the forty succeeding years the highest perfection of manipulative skill, both in potting and painting, was attained. Artistically regarded, the elaborate and detailed methods of painting then adopted are too much allied to fresco-painting to be considered as fit treatment for enamelled clay; but this view was certainly not accepted at the time, nor is it subscribed to by many modern collectors; yet, regarded as decorated pottery, the 15th-century majolica, simpler and more conventional in design and treatment, is eminently preferable. The ruling families of northern Italy, who now took the industry under their personal patronage, clearly inclined to the opposite view and spared no expense to provide subjects for their