What IS Italian Maiolica?

Maiolica is tin-glazed earthenware made white by the addition of tin oxide to a lead glaze foundation, or background coat. (Today, lead is no longer used for safety reasons). This application gives the body a glassy, dense white cover that does not become highly fluid when fired. Decorations can then be painted with out running or blurring on the white surface. The white surface also serves as a strong complementary ground for the overlying colors. Firing at a low temperature fuses the glaze and sets the color of the decoration.
Maiolica is an art form dating back to 14th century Italy. The name originates from that date when the principal port for Italy was Pisa. Spanish Moors introduced the pottery to Italy sailing to Pisa via Majorca (in Italian, "Maiorca") . The Europeans thought the pottery originated there and hence the name was born.

Tin glazed items were not invented by the Italians, in fact the beauty of eastern ceramics had been well known to the Renaissance Italians for a long time. The first examples of this technique were found in Baghdad and dated to the 9th Century - there symmetrical patterns were painted in blue and white.

However by the by the end of the 11th century Islamic pottery, including lusterware, had been in widespread use for the embellishment of religious and civic buildings. It is thought to have been introduced by the crusaders at the as trophies demonstrating victories over the pagans by powerful Christian forces.

During the 13th through to the early 15th century Tuscany had good trade relations with Moorish Spain and imported large quantities of lusterware from Spain. This is when the Italians began to work with tin glazed ware. It is interesting to note that the only difference between the Italian and Spanish products of this period is the absence of metallic luster on the Italian wares. Italian Maiolica eventually dominated the pottery of Europe and set a trend that lasted more than three hundred years.

Each piece begins with "black" clay* (note: “black” clay is a dark greenish-gray color) ; it is fired once and becomes the recognizable terra cotta color. Once fired a second time with glaze and pigments, their trademark fiery colors emerge. The first historical period of Italian Maiolica encompasses part of the 14th century as well as most of the 15th century. During this period, the objects were created mostly for utilitarian purposes with decorations based on abstract and geometric motifs.

*Today, red, buff and even white earthenware is used. Using white earthenware with underglazes applied to greenware and clear glaze applied after the first firing (thereby eliminating the need for white glaze at all) is a relatively modern technique, as white earthenware was not known until after the Renaissance. However, CLAYCOOKPOT.COM creates Italian Maiolica in the Old World way, using only red or buff terra cotta and a white tin-based ground upon which colors are painted and then sealed with clear glaze. This time-tested technique is still practiced in Italy today.

CARE OF WARES: These wares are both food and dishwasher safe, and all glazes are lead-free. They can also be used in the microwave (except if decorated with gold luster), but must not be subject to extreme changes in temperature, as this will crack the pieces. Not for use in the oven.