Online Encyclopedia

MEDIEVAL AND LATER ITALIAN

Online Encyclopedia
Originally appearing in Volume V05, Page 737 of the 1911 Encyclopedia Britannica.
Spread the word: del.icio.us del.icio.us it!
MEDIEVAL AND LATER ITALIAN POTTERY Little is known of the potter's art in Italy after the fall of the Roman empire till the 13th century. The traditions of the Roman potters appear to have been gradually lost, leaving behind only sufficient skill to make rude crocks for domestic use and to coat them, if required, with a crude yellowish lead glaze sometimes stained to a vivid green with copper oxide. Applied ornament of roughly modelled clay and scratched designs were the chief embellishments of such wares, which were of the same class as the medieval pottery of Great Britain and the north of Europe. In the 12th and 13th centuries, however, contact with Asia Minor, Syria, Egypt- and Spain, where ceramic skill had been highly developed in fresh directions, as we have seen, introduced into Italy as well as the rest of Europe those superior wares characterized by a white surface decorated with bright colours under a brilliant transparent glaze, and glorified by metallic lustres. The Italian potters did not long remain unaffected by these influences, but though Persian, Syrian and Egyptian pottery must have been fairly plentiful in the house-holds of the wealthy, it was the distinctively Hispano-Moresque wares from which the potters of Italy drew the inspiration for a new ware of their own. The technique of a siliceous slip-coating with colour painted on that and covered with a trans-parent alkaline glaze, was only sparingly used, and then not very successfully; it is only the introduction of the tin-enamel that was turned to fruitful account and led to the production of the magnificent Italian majolica of the 15th and 16th centuries. 1 See examples in colour, Plate VI. 732 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.l All the Italian pottery above the level of common crocks may be conveniently grouped into four classes. 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 Kensington Museum.) 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 grafiato 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 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.[ITALIAN 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. Mersa-Majolica.—This name is accurately applied to certain Italian wares that made their appearance in the r2th 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 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. 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 facades of public buildings. The lustre of the Saracenic wares was not yet under-stood, 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), andthen 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 in-creasing frequency as the century advanced; Madonnas and other sacred subjects, portraits, and, occasionally, groups' FIG. 45.—Early Faenza plate, with of figures after the early peacock-feather design, in blues, yellow Italian masters, or scenes anduseum orange-red. (Victoria and Albert borrowed from the first M 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 terracottas—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 aback-ground 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 tONSIORW I4Sc Early Faenza Potter's mark. Late Faenza Potter's mark. pot-painters. During the first two decades the influence of Faenza was paramount, and though the encroachments of purely pictorial motives are clearly indicated on the wares, room was still found for ornamental patterns. The broad rims of the dishes were covered with beautiful arabesque designs, frequently including grotesque figures, masks, dolphins and cherubs (see the Faenza Casa Pirota piece, 1525, Plate VI.). Sometimes reserved in the white on a dark blue ground and shaded with light blue and yellow, sometimes traced in dark blue on a paler grey-blue glaze (called berettino) or painted in darker tints on a ground of orange or full yellow, the Faventine arabesques form a conspicuous feature of the early wares of this century. Honeysuckle patterns and interlaced lines drawn in pure white on a toned tin-enamel (white on white or sopra-bianco decoration) commonly appear on the sides of the deep wells of the dishes, while in the centre is a single figure, a coat of arms, or a small figure-subject. A similar treatment, without the sopra-bianco, was accorded to the fruit-dishes, shallow bowls on low feet, &c., with moulded gadroons or scalloped sides, which are generally attributed to Faenza or Castel Durante. The workshops of Siena were also noted for delicately painted grotesques and arabesques, with a rich brownish-yellow or deep black ground. At Gubbio, too, the " grotesque " decoration was practised with marked success. Other developments of this style are the " a candelieri " designs, in which grotesques were symmetrically arranged round some central subject, such as a candelabrum or vase, and " a trofei " in which trophies of arms, musical instruments, and other objects were symmetrically disposed, or arranged in studied disarray throughout the design; these patterns are generally associated with the wares of Castel Durante and Deruta. Lovers' gifts, dishes in which the whole space is occupied by a portrait bust of a girl or man, with the name and a complimentary adjective inscribed on a ribbon in the background, were common to Faenza, Castel Durante and many other factories. Elaborate figure-subjects also were attempted early in the century at Faenza and with no little success, as may be seen from a dish in the British Museum, which is entirely occupied by the scene of the death of the Virgin, after a print by Martin Schongauer, delicately painted in shades of blue, and dated about 1500. In the early Faventine school the outlines of the figures are almost always traced in blue, even when they are laid on the grey-blue berettino ground, and blue was the prevailing colour of the shading and details. In the third decade of the century the style affected at Urbino superseded that of Faenza. The majolica painter's palette was now complete; in addition to the primitive blue, manganese-purple, transparent green and yellow, we find black, white, orange, greens of varying shades, brown, and a great number of intermediate tints obtained by mixing the standard colours. All the colours of the majolica of the best perias were painted on the tin-enamel before the final glazing, and were capable of standing the full heat of the fire. Such a thing as painting in enamels on the finished ware and refiring them at a lower heat was unknown before the end of the 17th or beginning of the 18th century. A true red colour seems to have been beyond the power of most of the Italian majolists, and was only attained at Faenza, and with less complete success at Cafaggiolo; the famous red of the Turkish pottery behaves very indifferently on tin-enamel. In the Urbino style, which now be- came general, the ware was given over entirely to pictorial subjects, scenes from history or romance, scriptural and mythological, copied from the com- positions of the Italian painters and usually set in a background of Italian landscape. Guidobaldo II., duke of Urbino, spared no pains to develop this phase of the art; the cartoons of Raphael, engraved by Marc Antonio and others, were placed at the disposal of the pot-painters, as well as the paintings of Michelangelo, Giulio Romano, Battista Franco, Rosso Rossi, Perugino, Parmeggiano and many more, and these, together with engravings by Agostino Venetiano, Marco Dente, Enea Vico and others, were copied, with more or less fidelity, on the majolica. Some of the painters, as, for instance, Xanto Avelli, were eclectic in their tastes and made up their subjects by taking a figure here or there from various pictures. Thus of three figures on a plate in the British Museum, painted with the Dream of Astyages, one is borrowed from Raphael and another from Mantegna. These " istoriati " wares reached their zenith at Urbino between the years 1530 and 1560, when the workshops of the Fontana family were in full activity; but their popularity was very general, and skilful painters at many other towns produced specimens that it is hard to distinguish from those of Urbino. Baldasara Manara was a prolific punter in this style at Faenza; Pesaro and Castel Durante were little behind Urbino in the skill of their artists, the Lanfranchi family in the former town having a well-deserved reputation, while the founders of the Fontana factories learnt their art in the latter; and a few pieces of considerable merit bear the name of Rimini as their place of origin. There will always remain a large number of specimens of majolica which cannot be assigned with certainty to any particular factory, partly because the same style of painting was in vogue at many places at the same time, and partly because of the itinerant propensities of many of the painters, whose signed works prove that they moved from place to place to practise their art. There are, however, a few prominent artists whose touch is sufficiently well known from the examples that bear their signatures to enable us to classify a considerable proportion of the finest pieces. First of these is Niccola Pellipario, the founder of the Fontana family, who moved from Castel Durante to Urbino in 1519, and worked at the latter place in the factory of his son, Guido Fontana. There is little -doubt that he was the painter of the famous service in the Correr Museum at Venice, which marks the transition from the style of Faenza to that of Urbino, and his free figure-drawing, the oval faces with strongly marked classical features, the peculiarly drawn knees, the careful landscapes and the characteristic balls of cloud are easily recognized in quite a number of pieces in the British Museum (see the Gonzago Este piece, Plate VI.). His pupil, who frequently signed his name in full, Xanto Avelli da Rovigo, was one of the foremost Urbino painters, and his work is characterized by bold colouring and fine figure-drawing, with a' marked fondness for yellowish flesh tints. But Niccola's grandson, Orazio Fontana (see example, Plate VI.), was perhaps the most celebrated exponent of the pure Urbino style, and his free drawing and soft harmonious colouring, in which a brilliant blue is usually conspicuous, are unequalled by any other majolica painter of the period. Certain characteristic wares of Faenza have already been noted. Those with the grey-blue (berettino) glaze were principally made at the factory called Casa Pirota, though inferior imitations were also produced at Padua, and a blue glaze of paler tint was largely used at Venice. Dolphins are a frequent motive in the arabesque ornaments of the same Faventine workshop, and many of the wares are marked with a circle divided by a cross and containing a dot in one of the quarters. A capital P crossed with a line or paraph is another Faventine mark, and a somewhat similar monogram, with an S added to the upper part, is found in the wares of Cafaggiolo. It has already been stated that a red colour is peculiar to Faenza and in an inferior and browner tint to Cafaggiolo; it was used, according to Piccolpasso, at the factory of Vergiliotto in the former place. At Cafaggiolo, the factory of the Medici family, many fine pieces were painted, mostly in the Faventine style; a deep blue, heavily applied and showing the marks of the brush, was freely used in backgrounds, an& delicate running leaf scrolls in paler blue and reminiscent of Urbino Potter's mark. Venetian Majolica Potter's mark. Persian style often appear on the Cafaggiolo wares (see example, Plate VI.). Not a little can be learnt from the ornament on the reverse sides of the dishes and plates; those of Faenza and Siena are richly decorated with scale patterns and concentric bands; those of Cafaggiolo and Venice are either left blank or have one or two rings of yellow. A few pre-eminently beautiful dishes, with central figure subjects of miniature-like finish in delicate landscapes with poplar trees in a peculiar mannered style, are probably the work of M. Benedetto of Siena. Borders of arabesques with black or deep orange ground belong to the same factory and were perhaps decorated by the same hand. The dishes covered, except for a few small medallions, with interlaced oak branches (" a cerquate " decoration), are no doubt the productions of Castel Durante; and a certain class of large dishes with figure subjects in blue on a toned blue glaze, and sometimes with formal ornaments in relief, are of undisputed Venetian origin. Another phase of majolica decoration began about the middle of the 16th century and synchronized with the decline of the pictorial style. The figure subjects were relegated to central panels or entirely replaced by small medallions, and the rest of the surface covered with fantastic figures among floral scrolls, inspired by Raphael's grotesques painted on the walls of the Loggie in the Vatican. The prevailing tone of this ornament was yellow or orange, and the tin-enamel ground, which is always more or less impure in colour on Italian pottery, was washed over with a pure milk-white, known as bianco di Ferrara or bianco allatato, said to have been invented by Alphonso I., duke of Ferrara, who took an active interest in his private factory founded at Ferrara, and managed by potters from Faenza and Urbino. The new style .flourished at Urbino, Pesaro and Ferrara; at the first-named particularly in the workshops of the Patanazzi family, and lasted far into the 17th century. But the majolica was now in full decline, partly through the falling off of princely patronage, and partly, perhaps, owing to a reaction in favour of Chinese porcelain, which was becoming more plentiful and better known in Europe. The manufacture, however, never entirely ceased, and revivals of the old style were attempted at the end of the 17th century by Ferdinando Maria Campori of Siena, who copied Raphael's and Michelangelo's compositions, and by the families of Gentile and Grue at Naples and Castelli. The majolica of Castelli is distinguished by the lightness of the ware, good technique, and harmonious but pale and rather weak colouring; it continued into the 18th century. A coarse and inferior ware was made at Padua and Monte Lupo; and the factories of Faenza were still active, producing, among other kinds, a pure white ware with moulded scallops and gadroons. The industry continued to flourish in Venice and the north. Black ware with gilt decoration was a Venetian product of the 17th century, and at Savona and Genoa blue painted ware in imitation of Chinese blue and white porcelain made its appearance. In the 18th century a new departure was made in the introduction of enamel painting over the glaze, a method borrowed from porcelain; but this process was common to all the faience factories of Europe at the time, and though it was widely practised in Italy no special distinction was attained in any particular factory. In our own days imitations of the 16th century wares continue to be made in the factories of Ginori, Cantigalli and others, not excepting the lustred majolica of Gubbio and Deruta; but, compared with the old pieces, the modern copies are heavy to handle, stiff in drawing, suspiciously wanting in the quality of the colours and the purity of the final glaze which distinguish the work of the best period. Lus/red Wares.—The lustred wares of Deruta have marked characteristics, and, though differing in actual treatment from the Hispano-Moresque, their appearance is eloquent in favour of such a derivation. The most characteristic examples are large dishes and plateaux, thickly made and with the enamel on the upper face only, the back having a lead glaze. They are often decorated (see fig. 46) with a single figure or bust in the centre (with or without an 'inscribed ribbon), which is usually set against a dark blue background which covers only half the field, while in the other half is a formal flower, and in the borders are radiating panels with palmettes alternating with scale pattern, or some other formal design. The whole style is archaic, the designs being heavily outlined in blue and washed over with a greenish yellow lustre, with beautiful opalescent reels recalling mother of pearl. The lustre varies from this madreperla tint to a brassy metallic yellow, and parts of the ornament are sometimes modelled in low relief. In spite of its archaic appearance, the Deruta lustred wares are scarcely older than the 16th century, and the style was continued as late as the second half of that century. Deruta pottery was not always lustred, and some of the pieces signed by the painter El Frate, who flourished between 1541 and 1554, are without the lustre pigment, though showing the heavy blue outlines of the lustred wares. The lustred majolica of Gubbio owes its celebrity almost entirely to the work of one man, Maestro Giorgio Andreoli, who came thither from Pavia, with his brothers Salimbene and Giovanni, and obtained citizenship in 1498. His earliest efforts were in the direction of sculpture, and some of his reliefs in the style of della Robbia are still in existence; indeed the earliest dated piece of lustred majolica attributed to him is a plaque of 1501, with the figure of St Sebastian in relief, in the Victoria and Albert Museum. It is not known whence he learnt the secret of the beautiful transparent ruby lustre peculiar to Gubbio. A red or rosy lustre is found in both Persian and Hispano-Moresque wares, and no doubt the process was learnt from some Moslem potter and developed by Giorgio to unusual perfection. Golden, yellow, brown and opalescent lustres were also freely used at Gubbio, the ruby being only sparingly applied. Finished painted pieces were sent from other factories to receive the addition of lustre at Gubbio, but these can almost always be distinguished from the true Gubbio wares, in which the lustre is an integral part of the decoration. Apart from the lustred enrichment, the majolica of Gubbio has few distinctive qualities, for its styles were various and almost all borrowed (see fig. 47). The archaic taste of Deruta, the arabesques and grotesques of Later Cafaggiolo Potter's mark. Turin Potter's mark. Savona Potter's marks. Faenza and Castel Durante, and in a lesser degree the " istorialo " 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. The old majolica shapes are briefly as follows:—among the earliest are small bowls (scodelle), 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 con-cave sides known as the " albarello," in shape of Eastern origin, and inname 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 porn pa) 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.—T his 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, 154o), 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. Della Majo lica. Delft. French Robbia. Faience. Silica . . . . 49'65 48.00 49'07 48'65 Alumina . . . 15.50 17.59 16.19 17.05 Lime . 22.40 20.12 18•or 19'43 Magnesia. 0.17 1.17 0.82 0.27 Oxide of iron 3.70 3'75 2'82 4'33 Carbonic Acid, 8.58 9.46 13.09 10.27 water, &c. . . 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.), lilted 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. AA14-9.T-1 Gubbio Potters' marks. thirty parts of marzacotto and twelve parts of lead and tin ashes. The white enamel as used was therefore a mixed silicate of lead and potash rendered opaque with oxide of tin. . 4. Pigments (colori) were compounded from metallic oxides or earths; the yellow, from antimoniate of lead, which was mixed with oxide of iron to give orange; the green, from oxide of copper (the turquoise tint given to the Egyptian and Syrian glazes by oxide of copper is impossible with a glaze of lead and tin) ; and the greens were made by mixing oxide of copper with oxide of antimony or oxide of iron; blue, from oxide of cobalt, used in the form of a blue glass (smalto, or zaffara) ; brownish-purple, from manganese; black, from mixtures of the other colours; and the rare red, or reddish brown, of Faenza and Cafaggiolo was probably the same Armenian bole that was used so magnificently by the makers of the Turkish pottery, but on the white enamel ground this colour was most treacherous and uncertain. It must be remembered that many of these colours owe their tint to the lead used in their composition, or to the grounds containing oxides of lead and tin on which they were painted. Piccolpasso describes the preparation and composition of the various colours used in his day. 5. Coperta, or transparent glaze. In the later majolica a thin coating of soft rich glaze was applied over the fired painting to give a smooth bright surface. This coperta was a soft lead glass consisting of silica (sand), 20 parts; oxide of lead, 17 parts; potash, 12 parts; and common salt, 8 parts; fused together and then finely ground in water. 6. Methods of Glazing and Decorating.—In the mezza-majolica and the early majolica it is probable that the clay vessel was dipped in the white bath to give it an envelope (invetriatura) before it was fired at all; but it must soon have become apparent that it was much better to fire first the shaped vessel until it was about as hard and brittle as a clay tobacco-pipe, and then coat it with the white enamel, by dipping it into a bath or pouring the fluid material upon it. This was the practice described by Piccolpasso. A coating of white enamel, the thickness of glove leather, having been obtained, the piece was carefully taken by the painter, who first etched in the outline on the absorbent powdery ground, and then shaded the figures, landscapes, &c., in blue or in a mixture of blue and yellow, adding the other colours as gradated washes. The vase was then fired a second time to a heat greater than the first, so that the enamel was melted on the vessel and the colours sunk into the enamel at one and the same operation. This method of painting on the unbaked enamel demanded a bold direct treatment—for alteration or retouching was impossible—and much of the vigour of the earlier designs is due to this fact. As the ware became more refined in its treatment it was felt that this method did not yield a sufficiently brilliant surface, and so the painted and fired piece was coated with a film of coperta and fired again at a slightly lower temperature to make it smoother and more glossy. Still pursued by the idea of rivalling the triumphs of pictorial art, the majolist carried his methods a step farther. The white enamel coating was fired before painting, giving a glossy surface on which the painter could draw or wipe out, and so could execute outlining, tinting, or shading of the utmost delicacy. A film of coperta was then washed over the painting, and the piece was fired a third time in the cooler parts of the kiln. In some instances it is not easy even for an experienced potter to decide which method has been pursued, owing to the softening of the colours. Generally we should expect that the later and more pictorial pieces had been painted on a ground of fired white enamel, and we may be absolutely certain when delicate white patterns have been " picked out " in a coloured ground. Where lustre decoration has been added to a piece of majolica it indicates, as elsewhere, the use of a special process, and a final firing at a lower heat. The lustre pigments were the same as those used on the earlier lustred wares, and these were painted over an otherwise finished piece. To obtain the lustre effect these were placed in a special kiln, so contrived that when the pots were just visibly red the smoke of the burning fuel (rosemary or gorse) was allowed to play upon them long enough to drive the metallic films (silver or copper) into the already-fired glaze.' Collections.—The Victoria and Albert Museum contains perhaps the most widely representative collection in the world, especially as at the present time the pieces of the Salting and Pierpont Morgan collections are on exhibition there. The British Museum collection is valuable, being rich in " signed " pieces of the first quality. The Wallace collection and the Ashmolean Museum at Oxford (Fortnum collection, &c.) are also valuable and contain some remarkable examples. The Cluny Museum, the Louvre and the museum at Sevres have fine collections; while noteworthy pieces are to be found in the Ceramic Museum at Limoges. In Germany the museum at Brunswick contains one of the largest collections known, but many inferior and doubtful examples. Berlin, Munich, Vienna and St Petersburg have noteworthy collections. In Italy, the Bargello at Florence and the museums of Venice, Milan, Turin, Faenza, Pesaro, Urbino, Rome and Naples all have collections, whilst interesting examples of local manufactures are to be found in many of the ' For a full account of the lustre process see Franchet, Comptes rendus for December 1905, and W. Burton, Society of Arts Journal, 2846, vol. lv., 1907. V. 24smaller Italian towns. The American museums, especially those in New York, Boston and Philadelphia, have some fine examples.
End of Article: MEDIEVAL AND LATER ITALIAN
[back]
MEDIEVAL
[next]
MEDIEVAL AND MODERN

Additional information and Comments

There are no comments yet for this article.
» Add information or comments to this article.
Please link directly to this article:
Highlight the code below, right click and select "copy." Paste it into a website, email, or other HTML document.