Posts Tagged ‘Italian maiolica’


July 8, 2012

English pottery history is fascinating.  Diverse regional styles.  Colorful personalities.  International influence.  Few European pottery centers can compare.  Perhaps Delft, Rhenish stoneware, Italian Maiolica and Hispano-Moresque…

This leaves a pretty big hole right in the middle of Europe.  France.  If you’re really up on your history, you’d know that much of English slip decoration – marbling, feathering, sgraffito – originated in the wine regions of 13th – 14th century Plantagenet controlled Aquitaine and Normandy.  Most authors stick to just mentioning Sévres porcelain and Bernard Palissy.

French peasant pottery, like French wine, was ubiquitous.  This ‘redware’ rarely gets a nod.  Troyes pottery maybe.  Or the venerable pottery villages, chiefly La Bourne, of Poitiers.

Faience permeated France by the early 14th century.  It was made everywhere, from obscure places like Sadriac and Amboise to major centers like Havre and Rouen.  It’s expansion wasn’t always peaceful.  18th century Lille faience potters almost waged open warfare against Dunkirk upstarts cutting in on Lille’s turf.  Even minor faience villages like Roanne would erupt against treaties with England (and devastating imports).

The international porcelain market was cut throat at best.  Sévres originated with runaway workmen, its technical know-how stolen via alcoholic subterfuges.  But during the Napoleonic Wars enough porcelain from large (Limoges, Sceaux, etc.) and small (Strasbourg, Marseilles, etc.) centers was smuggled into England to seriously disrupt the market.

Women played a noticeable role as well.  Hélène de Hangest established an early, and long lived, faience pottery on her estate in Oiron.  Hélène’s ardent patronage was key to faience’s spread across France.  When Lille potter Jaques Febvrier died in 1729 his widow Marie Barbe Vandepopelière expanded the shop, marketing heavily to Holland.  Equally, the unnamed widow of Francois Dorez in Valenciennes continued the trade.  When a Lyons faience pottery faltered in 1733 it’s (male) owners ran.  Françoise Blateran kept it going until 1758.  Did Mme Blateran appear out of thin air?  Were “widows” not potters before their husbands’ death?

Anyway, these and many more French potters rarely get the mention they deserve.  In English, at least.  Much of this abbreviated ‘tour de France’ comes from Albert Jacquemart’s “History of the Ceramic Art” (translated into English, 1873).  Then again, Jacquemart’s 613 page “Descriptive and Philosophical Study of the Pottery of All Ages and All Nations” allows 160 pages for French contributions and exactly 5 pages to the whole of English efforts…

History of the Ceramic Art.  Albert Jacquemart.  Sampson, Low, Martson and Searle/London (English translation).  1873.

Flow Blue: A Closer Look.  Jeffrey Snyder.  Shiffer Books/New York.  2000.

If These Pots Could Talk.  Ivor Noel Hume. University Press of New England/Hanover, NH.  2001.

The Concise Encyclopedia of Continental Pottery and Porcelain.  ReginaldHaggar.  Hawthorn Books/New York.  1960.



Beaker People

April 25, 2010

Some say it’s the fringe characters that prevent stagnation and propel a society forward.  Others might counter that the fringe hasn’t done the United States any favors since the year 2000.  Lunacy aside, one thing is sure.  Rogue potters have left an indelible impact on the greater story of European and American ceramics.

One could almost say it all began with such scoundrels.  As the Late Neolithic moved into the Early Bronze Age, a raucous band scourged across Europe.  They began near the mouth of the Tagus River in Portugal and split into two paths, one roughly following the Atlantic coast northwards and the other arching through Italy, central Europe and Germany.  They eventually met up again in the British Isles.  There they made some major additions to Stonehenge, turning it more into what we know it as today.  Then they faded into obscurity.

Not much else is known about these people.  Except that they seemed to be good potters.  That is, their principle calling card (for modern archeologists anyway) was a distinct type of pottery with horizontal bands of geometric patterns.  Their most recognized form was a pitcher, or “beaker,” with a somewhat oversized but functional spout shaped like the lower mandible of a parrot’s beak.  The parrot beak spout survived long after its makers faded away.  It was not uncommon even on early Italian maiolica ewers.  The spout decanted wines from Bordeaux and followed the wine trade from that region into 14th century Plantagenet England.

The prevalence of those pre-historic beakers, and the continued association of their distant offspring with wine and alcohol, led some archeologists to speculate that they may have been used in rituals “dedicated to some fermented drink.”   If that was so, the theory continues, then perhaps their makers peddled intoxicating brews – served in those beakers – as one method of subjugating invaded populations.

Who knows?  In any event, to this day we that’s how we identify them: as the “Beaker People.”

The Concise Encyclopedia of Continental Pottery and Porcelain.  Reginald Haggar.  Hawthorn Books/New York.  1960.