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Faenza and Castel Durante, and in a lesser degree the "istoriato" style of Urbino, reigned in turn. Perhaps the most characteristic paintings of Maestro Giorgio are the central medallions of cups and deep dishes enclosing a single figure of a child or a cupid in grisaille. Giorgio’s larger figure compositions, if indeed his signature in lustre may be taken to imply that he painted the designs as well as lustred them, show great inequality, some rising to a very high standard—as the dish with "the Three Graces" in the Victoria and Albert Museum, and the "Bath of Nymphs" in the Wallace collection—while in others the figure drawing is quite inferior. The arabesques and grotesques on the Gubbio wares are usually of great merit. There are a few known pieces of unlustred Gubbio wares with figure subjects, painted chiefly in blue and in the style of the early Faventine artists. After 1517, when we may assume that the lustre process was thoroughly mastered, the Gubbio wares were usually signed with the initials or full name of Maestro Giorgio, and a few rapidly executed scrolls in lustre completed the decorations of the reverse of the plates and dishes. The master’s latest signed work is dated 1541, and he died in 1552. It is probable that his brother Salimbene assisted him, and Piccolpasso names his son Vincentio as possessor of the lustre secret. Possibly the latter was the painter who signed his wares with the initial N, but this conjecture rests solely on the ingenious, but unsupported notion that N is a monogram of the first three letters of the name Vincentio. Other initials, M, D, R, also occur on Gubbio plates, and the latest dated example of the ware is signed by one "Mastro Prestino" in 1557, but it has little to recommend it save that it is enriched with the Gubbio lustres, which after this time entirely disappear.

EB1911 Ceramics Fig. 47.—Gubbio plate, with portrait in ruby lustre and blue outline.jpg
Fig. 47.—Gubbio plate, with portrait in ruby lustre and blue outline.
(Victoria and Albert Museum.)
EB1911 Ceramics Gubbio potter's mark part1.jpg EB1911 Ceramics, Gubbio Potters’ marks.jpg
Gubbio Potters’ marks.

The old majolica shapes are briefly as follows:—among the earliest are small bowls (scodette), often with flattened sides; jugs (boccali) with large lip-spouts, and mouths pinched into trefoil form; large dishes with gradually shelving sides (bacili), or with flat broad rims and deep centres; akin to these are the plateaux with a raised flat disk in the centre; small dishes with broad flat rims and deep though narrow central walls (tondini), suitable for handing a wine-glass or sweetmeats; flat trencher-shaped plates (piatti or taglieri); saucer-shaped dishes on low feet and sometimes with moulded sides (tazze or fruttieri) suitable for holding fruit. Among the vase forms ovoid shapes with short necks and a pair of flat handles are common in the Tuscan wares of the 15th century; the jars for confectionery, drugs, or syrups were often of the cylindrical form with graceful concave sides known as the “albarello,” in shape of Eastern origin, and in name perhaps derived from the Persian el barani (a vase for drugs, &c.); other vase forms with spouts and handles were used for the same purpose; ornamental vases after classical designs (vasi a bronzi antichi); and in the best Urbino period a great variety of fanciful forms—ewers, vases, cisterns, shells, salt-cellars, ink-pots, &c., with applied masks and serpentine handles, were made in the exuberant taste of the time. A complex piece of furniture for the bedside of ladies in childbirth (vaso puerperale) consisted of a bowl with a foot surmounted by a flat trencher on which fitted an inverted drinking-bowl (ongaresca); and above this again a salt-cellar with cover. Many of these shapes were suited to daily use, but the richly decorated majolica was designed to adorn the walls, the credenze, table-centres and cabinets of the rich. This alone could have been the destination of the large dishes (piatti di pompa) with rim pieces for suspension, and the smaller dishes (coppe amatorii) with portraits of young men and girls and lovers’ symbols; and it is inconceivable that the costly lustred wares of Gubbio or the fine madreperla dishes of Deruta were designed for anything but decorative use. The ware was in fact an article produced for the wealthy in the century of Italy’s glory, and under no other conditions could such magnificent and expensive pieces have been made.

Technical Methods.—This is a convenient place to give an account of the methods used by the early medieval potters—(1) because they represent what had been learnt from Roman times to the 16th century, and indeed to the introduction of modern methods, (2) because, besides all that a potter could derive from an examination of the wares, we have ample written accounts of the methods and processes followed by the Italian majolist. Mr Solon has recently published an epitome of the account given in Biringuccio’s La Pyrotechnica (Venice, 1540), and there is the memorable MS. of Piccolpasso, a potter of Castel Durante, now in the library of the Victoria and Albert Museum, which, besides giving an account of the processes, contains illustrations of kilns, mills, decorative motives, &c.[1]

1. The potter’s clay was prepared from mixtures of various kinds prepared by (a) beating and picking out coarse particles, (b) mixing with water, (c) passing through a sieve, (d) drying again into plastic clay ready for the working potter. The essential point about the potter’s clay of the best tin-enamelled wares, whether Spanish, Italian, French or Dutch, is that the clays are those known geologically as “marls,” which contain a large percentage of carbonate of lime. Such clays always fire to a pinky red or buff colour, and give a ware that is strong and yet light in substance, and on no other kind of clay does the tin-enamel display its full perfection (see Deck’s La Faience). The analyses of certain tin-enamelled wares are useful as showing the essential constitution of the best pottery bodies for such purposes.

Majolica. Delft. French
Silica 49.65 48.00 49.07 48.65
Alumina 15.50 17.59 16.19 17.05
Lime 22.40 20.12 18.01 19.43
Magnesia 0.17 1.17 0.82 0.27
Oxide of iron 3.70 3.75 2.82 4.33
Carbonic Acid, water, &c. 8.58 9.46 13.09 10.27

2. Shaping.—The vessels were either “thrown” on the potter’s wheel (which had remained practically unaltered from Egyptian times), or they were formed by “pressing” thin cakes of clay into moulds, made of a composition of plaster (gesso), bone-ash and marble dust. In the latter way all shapes that were not circular were made, as well as those with heavy bosses or gadroons imitated from embossed metal forms. It is interesting, though not surprising, to note that for the fine later wares, the roughly thrown vases, when sufficiently dry, were recentred on the wheel or were placed in a joiner’s lathe and smoothed to a clean and accurate surface. The Greek potters did the same, and this practice must always be followed where fine painting or gilding is afterwards to be applied. In the later florid vases of the Urbino style the piece was built up of thrown parts and moulded parts (handles, masks, spouts, &c.), luted together with slip when they were dry enough to be safely handled, and then retouched by the modeller or vase-maker, a method followed to this day for elaborate pieces of pottery or porcelain.

3. The Glaze.—The white enamel which formed at first both the glaze and the ground for painting upon—bianco, as it was called—was prepared in a complicated way. A clear potash glass (marzacotto) was made by melting together clean siliceous sand (rena) and the potash salt left as the lees of wine (feccia). This corresponds to the alkaline glaze of the Egyptians with the substitution of potash for soda. Such a glaze alone would have been useless to the Italian potter, and accordingly the bianco was made by melting together

  1. Piccolpasso, I tre libri dell’ arte del Vasajo, dated 1548. It has been several times translated both into modern Italian and French. The English reader will find an excellent abstract of this interesting MS. in the volumes on Majolica by Drury E. Fortnum.