Majolica is a soft, earthenware ceramic that is often associated with its southern European (Mediterranean) background from places like Italy and Spain. These ceramics were shipped from the port of Majorca which was the site where this style of earthenware got its name. The tin glazed ceramics were deemed “maiolica” or “majolica” wares going back centuries.
Majolica is a pottery that is enhanced with tin and lead glazes as majolica came out of the age of the Renaissance era of the 1400s-1500s alongside the sculptures of Michelangelo and the paintings of Botticelli and Fra Angelico. Majolica reminds me of the architectural enhancements and fine art of Luca della Robbia and others.
Since the early 2000s, Majolica has experienced a collecting rebirth of its own which was initially spearheaded in the 1990s by the fabulous tenor Luciano Pavarotti (1935-2007) who was an avid collector of majolica ceramic pieces. With great market success, the process of producing tin glazed earthenware ceramics quickly expanded from the southern Mediterranean region to Germany, Scandinavia, Holland and other countries.
Among many other forms of majolica, there are decorative forms of majolica which include flowers, goddesses, and fruits. Today, majolica pieces range in value from $250 to $3,000 for decorated tableware, figural teapots, and garden sculptures some of which command prices into the several tens of thousands of dollars range.
Pass the Palissyware
By the 1700s, a French ceramist named Bernard Palissy reformulated the Renaissance tin glazes and produced functional objects decorated with subjects such as marine life, seafaring imagery, fruits, and flowers during the 1500s. He referred to his work as rustic or in the rustic style however today, Palissyware is viewed as an elite style of majolica in terms of ceramic production. Called Palissyware the world over, these majolica pieces became a big hit with the socialites since the 1800s. In the late 19th Century when the Renaissance Revival was in full swing in Great Britain and America, majolica followed the classically-inspired southern Mediterranean trend and inspired collectors and decorators alike.
Majolica is regularly found in online auctions, estate sales, and antique shops. Collectors look for the most elaborate designs and colorful examples. One of my video call appraisal clients purchased a wonderful signed piece of palissyware at an online estate sale for $41 that was worth $3,000. So, there are bargains to be found in this collectible arena, too.
Bigger is better when it comes to majolica pieces as the sculptural forms and colorful glazes of majolica’s oversized pieces are among the most widely sought after pieces. Majolica pieces are used as statement pieces in regal homes and as centerpieces on dining tables featuring subjects of flowers or fruits.
Today, majolica is collected for its textural appearance, colorful body, formal ceramic properties, and fascinating sculptural forms. Majolica objects regularly relate to nature and its many forms—leaves, plants, flowers, insects, fruits, sea creatures, etc. are just some of the figural forms that are made of majolica. Majolica pieces are often found in the manner of autumn hunting or game subjects, in the shape of sea creatures for holiday feasts, delicate flowers abundant in spring and luscious, bulbous summer fruit forms. Of course, the favorite sunflowers of Tuscany in Italy and the imagery of the seaports of Spain are common subjects found in antique and vintage majolica wares. These tin and lead glazed ceramics remind today’s collectors of exotic places and the abundance of nature as they recall the Renaissance era and all its wonder.