Our October lecture was a fascinating talk on Italian Renaissance maiolica by Suzanne Higgott, Curator of Glass, Limoges Painted Enamels, Earthenwares and Renaissance Furniture at the Wallace Collection.
Susanne explained that maiolica was part of the collection formed by the first four Marqueses of Hertford and Sir Richard Wallace. It was bequeathed to the British Nation by Lady Wallace, wife of Sir Richard, in 1897. The diverse collection was opened by King Edward VII in 1900 and was in part composed of 150 pieces of maiolica, previously supplemented by four collections that became available after the fall of the second French Empire.
We were shown many of the exquisite pieces held at the Wallace Collection that date from the 15th-17th century decorated with scenes. Italian sixteenth-century maiolica (tin-glazed earthenware) was often colourfully painted with subjects and motifs from Classical antiquity. One of the most famous is ‘Women Bathing’ an exquisite monumental dish and an outstanding example of the virtuosity achieved by Maestro Giorgio Andreoli’s acclaimed maiolica workshop in Gubbio. The main areas of production were in the Urbino district and other areas in the north of Italy.
In the 16th century the lusterware Maiolica which was a specialty of Gubbio and Deruta was extremely popular for its rich, ruby red colour. Lusterware is pottery or porcelain with a metallic glaze; it gives the effect of iridescence. The lusterware decoration was highly prized as was the finely decorated maiolica, other pieces were also popular for their brilliant colours and the stories that they demonstrated. Many were given as wedding gifts in the 16th century and novelty puzzle jugs, with numerous spouts, were particularly popular,
There is still a thriving industry in Northern Italy, particularly in northern Umbria around Deruta, producing very similar items for tourists.
Examples of the maiolica held by the Wallace collection can be found on its website.