Posts Tagged ‘maiolica’

Bastard China

June 29, 2014

OK, that title might get some attention.  Perhaps a little context is in order.

Its ironic how many American foods are named after other countries – French toast, English muffins, German chocolate, Spanish rice, Irish stew, Mexican food, Chinese food, etc – yet most nationals of those countries have no idea what these strange American foods are.

A similar phenomenon exists in pottery.  We call many things we make by either their form: plate, bowl, cup, or by their use: colander, teapot, luminary.  But some of our most common glazes carry names of far away people and places: rockingham, bristol, albany (in the 18th/19th centuries), and tenmuku, celadon, shino, oribe, etc (today).

Then there’s tin-glazed white earthenware.  Italians originally called it ‘majolica‘ after the Spanish island of Majorca through which 14th century Italy imported Hispano-Moresque pottery – and Iberian potters.  The French called it ‘faience‘ after Faenza, Italy from which 15th/16th century France imported much early majolica – and Italian potters.  Skipping Holland for the moment, where 15th/16th century faience traveled next – along with French (and Italian) potters – the English called it ‘delft‘ after the eponymous Dutch town – and still more 16th/17th century immigrant Dutch potters.

So what did Dutch potters call this ware?  Trade with China via the Dutch East India Company was hitting its stride just when Delft, Holland became a major pottery center.  Keeping in mind Holland’s fabled marketing sensibilities, the Dutch called tin-glazed earthenware majolica they learned from Italian faience potters ‘porcelain,’ of course.

Customers seeking the cultural trappings associated with high-fired, translucent Chinese porcelain (the real stuff) but who wouldn’t/couldn’t pay it’s high price, soon learned the difference.  Early Dutch ‘porcelain’ was certainly cheap.  It also had a tendency to crack from thermal shock when contacted with boiling hot water for tea.  And why own porcelain if not for drinking tea?  Another name for this peculiar Dutch ‘porcelain’ soon became common: ‘bastard China.’

Reading:

Dutch Pottery and Porcelain. W. Pitcairn Knowles. Scribner’s/New York.

The Day the World Shrank

April 6, 2014

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.

Chocolatera, Puebla, early 18th CenturyChocolatero, Puebla, early 18th century.

Readings:

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.

 

Potter to the King

March 14, 2010

No.  This isn’t about Josiah Wedgwood.  Although, if he were around today, he’d probably say it should be.  He was potter to a queen.  Still, Wedgwood might assert that his 1763 marketing coup of labeling himself potter to royalty was a first.  It made him rich.  And famous.  But the assertion would be wrong.  He wasn’t the first.

150 years earlier, German immigrant Christian Wilhelm called himself “Gallipotter to the King.”  A “gallipotter” made delftware.  Or faience.  Or maiolica.  Whatever you want to call it.  He called it, for reasons lost to time, “gallipots.”  The king to whom he was potter would a few years later also lose something.  His head.  He was Charles I.

At the time, the colorfully painted earthenware coming out of Holland was all the rage.  Charles, as any self-loving king would, liked to surround himself with finery.  And as far as European pottery went, Delftware was right up there.

The English were enthralled.  They sought out delftware potters and their knowledge.  In 1567, Antwerp potters Jaspar Andries and Jacob Janson were two of the first to be enticed  (as refugees with no choice?) to England.  They set up shop in Norfolk.  In 1571 they moved to London, near the future lodgings of William Shakespeare in Aldgate.  They probably chose Norfolk first because of it’s clay, the primary source for potters back in Delft throughout the 17th century.  It also didn’t hurt that practically all the tin used in Holland and Italy for this kind of work came from Cornwall.  The locals eagerly learned the trade.  Delftware potteries in London, Bristol and Lambeth would flourish – until Wedgwood came along.

There was an awkward spell during the Commonwealth era.  With ornamentation out of official favor, most delftware decoration was either subdued or non existent.  G.F. Garner, author of English Delftware, felt this to be a particularly delightful period in that the charming forms were allowed to exist on their own merits.  But some highly decorated items were still made.  Even chargers with images of Charles I.

Christian Wilhelm died in 1630, about 20 years before Charles lost his head.  Had Wilhelm lived maybe he, like so many others, would have knuckled under and produced plain Commonwealth delftware for a time.  Maybe he would have made some of those Charles I chargers that still found their way out the shop door.  And just maybe, had he come up with a more pleasant sounding name than “Gallipotter” to the King, he might have been as well known today as Josiah Wedgwood.

Readings:
English Delftware. GF Garner.  Van Nostrand Co., Inc./New York.  1948.

Dutch Pottery and Porcelain. W. Pitcairn Knowles.  Scribner’s/New York.  1940?

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