Majolica mania began in 1851 in London when Herbert Minton delighted the public with a stunning display of new, jewel-toned earthenware, inspired to a large extent by the French and Italian maiolica of the Renaissance and later. Majolica, named after the Spanish island of Majorca, where the first examples of this pottery were said to have been created in the fifteenth century, is defined by the process of its formation as much as by its fantastical designs.
It is heavy, richly-coloured clay pottery that is coated with enamel, ornamented with paints and finally glazed.
Its primary allure, however, lies in its peculiar and endearing designs. It is fearlessly inspired by nature, often boldly decorated with three-dimensional animals, flowers and vegetables in unusual shapes and dimensions.
The Victorian English, with their love of all things natural and unusual, quickly filled their dining rooms, parlours, conservatories and gardens with majolica ewers, candelabras, urns, pitchers, fountains and garden seats all glistening in cobalt, turquoise, lavender, gold and every shade of green known to Mother Nature.
Other potters in England, such as Wedgwood, George Jones and Holdcroft, followed Minton's example and offered their own highly-prized majolica collections. Americans, too, caught on and manufactured majolica beginning in the 1890s. Below is some imagery from an article on Majolica that ran in the March, 2005, issue of Martha Stewart Living and from the book Majolica: A Complete History and Illustrated Survey. It may not be love at first sight but I hope you eventually become smitten with these charming creations.
All the components of an English tea service are arranged on these shelves: creamers, pitchers, teapots, jars and serving plates. Teapots, especially those decorated with monkeys and serpents, are highly prized by collectors. The one formed by a monkey hugging a coconut (top shelf) is by Minton. On the center shelves are rare tea cups, once part of a larger service. Majolica teacups usually had vibrant hot-pink or turquoise interiors. The cabbage teapot with the snaky handle and spout (bottom shelf) is Portugese. The bamboo plate next to it is especially rare.
Majolica wares filled every requirement of the Victorian table. The scaloped, speckled tiers and the ferny cup at the apex of this ice stand held shaved ice and sweet sauces.
A wonderful survival, this huge Minton majolica jardiniere was undoubtedly made for a Victorian conservatory. With a base plate that's sixteen inches across, and its cheerful decoration, it easily accommodated potted palms or tall bamboo plants.
Many Majolica plates depict the food that is meant to be served upon them. (Be careful not to serve food on vintage Majolica platters, since the glazes likely contain lead.) Left row, from top down: a leaf-shaped plate, a lotus blossom plate - for ambrosia, perhaps - and corn-shaped pitchers, possibly American. Center row from top down: A corn platter, pear clusters adorning a brown dessert platter, a bread plate is marked by a starburst of wheat, a plate decorated with grapes. Right row from top down: A banana-leaf fruit plate, a berry plate, a strawberry plate adorned with leaves and flowers.
A dome of hay adorned by blackberry branches rests atop a woody-looking base. Lifting the dome in Victorian times would likely have revealed a glorious piece of stilton.
Minton designed this incredible game-pie dish. It is from 1877. Whimsical but classic at the same time, its rich hues, animalistic designs and bold proportions are characteristic of traditional majolica.
These pieces by George Jones & Sons were part of an extensive Calla Lily pattern, circa 1873. I love the lounging cow on top of the cheese bell.
This casserole dish, also by George Jones & Sons from 1880 features an elaborate but placid forest scene, complete with rabbits and a nesting dove, which doubles as the lid's handle.
I love this pair of vases, which look glamorous even without any cut flowers to fill them. They are by Massier at Golfe Juan and date to 1890.
This Minton ice stand from 1865 is more than 16 inches in diameter and over a foot tall.
A beautiful pair of urns by George Jones & Sons, circa 1875.
This book by Marilyn Karmason, published in 1989, remains the 'bible' on collecting majolica. It is out of print, sadly, but is still widely available in used condition. I treasure my copy! It is filled with in-depth history about each of the world's majolica makers and traces the rich history of this incredible form of pottery with plenty of visual reference.