Majolica International Society

Artstor is collaborating with the Majolica International Society to share 1,000 images of Majolica pottery from the collections of its members in the Digital Library.

Majolica is a variety of brightly painted, tin-glazed pottery made of soft earthenware. It was first introduced to Italy in the 14th century by merchants from Majorca, leading to the name maiolica. In 1849, French ceramic chemist Leon Arnoux joined renowned British porcelain factory Minton & Co. to revive the tradition. Arnoux was responsible for the introduction of the brilliant glazes typical of Majolica. He also persuaded several French sculptors, including A.E. Carrier-Belleuse, Hughes Protat, and Paul Comolera to join him at Minton, bringing with them a new vitality to British ceramics. Minton & Co. introduced the renamed Majolica at the Crystal Palace Exhibition in London in 1851, where it was greatly admired by Queen Victoria and the general public.

Majolica designers drew on many sources, often combining them to make a Victorian statement in a single object. These sources range from Aestheticism, Chinoiserie, the Rococo, Antique and Renaissance periods, and animalier sculpture, to name a few. Majolica garden decorations took the form of storks and herons, while tableware designs were fanciful and often reflected their uses, with serving dishes representing the fish or game that they carried, cheese bells featuring cows, and strawberry-shaped serving dishes and spoons to be used for desserts. In the 1860s, Wedgwood joined in Majolica production; and it was soon produced all through Europe and the United States. By the 1870s Majolica was in wide everyday use, both on the dining table and in garden decorations. At the turn of the 20th Century, the ingredients in Majolica glazes were banned in England for their toxicity. Other nations followed suit. This, along with a glut of lesser quality materials, hastened Majolica's fall from public favor. The ascendancy of Modernism further hastened Majolica’s decline from popularity. A revival of interest in the 1970s by collectors brought back an appreciation of its aesthetic and historic worth. Today Majolica pottery is highly sought after in the art pottery market.

Among the first to recognize the vitality of Majolica was Indiana-based auctioneer Michael Strawser, who formed the original Majolica Society. At the same time, authors Marilyn Karmason and Joan Stacke Graham (Majolica, A History and Illustrated Survey, (Abrams)), as well as art historian Nicholas M. Dawes (Majolica, (Crown Press)) were independently writing about the subject. Dr. Karmason and Graham met with Strawser, and the Majolica Society quickly became the Majolica International Society, reflecting the importance of its many members across the globe. The Society's membership consists of scholars, collectors, dealers, traders, auctioneers, photographers, restorers, decorators, and lovers of this whimsical Victorian ceramic. The images appearing in the Artstor Digital Library are part of the photo archive of the Marilyn Karmason Majolica Reference Library.