European pottery from before the Renaissance is scarce because the belief that the Black Death could be transmitted by pottery vessels led to their mass destruction.
In the 15th century, tin-glazed wares, often with a metallic lustre, based on Moorish techniques, were being produced in Spain mainly for storage jars.
The early Spanish tin-glazed wares had geometric or schematic decoration, based on Islamic designs. During the 14th century, European Romanesque and Gothic designs began to be produced.
These wares were imported into Italy via Majorca and, hence, were referred to as majolica.
Several factories were established in Italy to manufacture majolica. Some of the earliest were in Florence which specialised in the manufacture of pharmacy wares. Typical wares include two-handled drug jars with stylized oak-leaf decoration.
Factories making this type of pottery developed in Casteldurante, Siena, Urbino, Faenze and elsewhere. As production expanded, artists began to use the pieces as a canvas for their work and a style of painting over the whole surface developed. The influence of the Renaissance became apparent by the end of the 15th century with the use of architectural backgrounds and classical, religious and historical scenes. This style, known as “istoriato”, reached its peak around 1530.
By the mid-16th century, istoriato began to decline and be replaced by “compendiario”, which used a thicker, whiter glaze and a limited range of colours and decoration. Compendiario was pioneered at Faenza and was much imitated throughout Europe as “faience”.
Majolica ceramics available now
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