Before the internet, before the global village, before most people even thought of the planet as a whole, there was Mexican majolica. The Talavera workshops of Puebla, Mexico produced tin glazed pottery which included the world’s first global imagery.
Potters from Seville, Spain began wheel thrown, glazed pottery in Puebla around 1520. Everything needed for tin glazing could be found nearby. This new pottery activity was a ‘men only’ club unlike ‘campesino’ pottery made primarily by women. Local assistants were trained from scratch. Most of the extremely talented native potters had been killed (as part of the Aztec literati, they were doomed to extinction).
Mexico was a transit hub for colonial riches flowing from the Pacific to metropolitan Spain. As such, large shipments of Chinese export porcelain passed through Mexico. Mexicans were crazy for blue and white. Talavera’s “refined” ware intentionally imitated the Chinese.
The influence of three continents and four cultures could be seen on Puebla majolica. Islamic aesthetics encouraged filling the whole space with designs. European “Istorio” designs focused on narrative stories. Decorative frills defined the Chinese influence. And local flora and fauna, such as cacti and jaguars, provided ready inspiration to Mexican potters. All this on one blue and white surface. And all this a hundred years before Chinese potteries began slavishly reproducing European designs, or European potteries began slavishly copying Chinese designs.
Things progressed so well that Puebla’s potters formed a guild in 1653. The Potters Guild regulated production, quality control, sales and (curiously) penalties for counterfeiting. The Guild folded 100 years later but it’s rules influenced production up to the early 19th century.
Mexicans loved their blue and white majolica. They especially loved drinking chocolate from majolica mugs. Well-to-do 18th century Mexican women obsessively drank chocolate from these colorful mugs everywhere and at all times. But there were limits. A decree had to be passed banning chocolate drinks in church during masses.
Those ladies’ world must have shrunk a little on that sad day.
Ceramics in America. Ian Quimby, Ed. University Press of Virginia/Charlottesville. 1972.
The Emily Johnston De Forest Collection of Mexican Maiolica. Edwin Atlee Barber. Hispanic Society of America/New York. 1911.