Majolica versus Faience

What's the difference?

Majolica is pottery with a textured surface painted in floral patterns in earthy colors.

Faience has a shiny white surface and is painted with brightly-colored decorations.

Majolica comes from the Spanish island of Majorca; faience comes from the Italian village of Faenza. Right? Yes and no. I began with these assumptions and set out to find: What's the difference? Similarities? Do these terms refer to types of pottery or to pottery produced in these particular places? Is there a broader name for these types of objects? Are they simply Spanish and Italian names for painted pottery? Are they distinct styles or can the terms be used interchangeably?

History provides answers to these questions; we can follow the technique across time and space. We are talking about tin-glazed pottery. At high temperatures the tin glaze oxidizes, creating a shiny white surface. Before firing in the kiln the pot can also be painted with various metal glazes - cobalt, copper, iron, etc. - that oxidize in brilliant colors. The earliest examples of tin-glazed pottery come from 9th-Century Iraq. From there the technique spread - most significantly for our purposes - across North Africa and into Spain. From there it spread to Italy, then to France, Holland, and England.

The island of Majorca was a center of trade between Spain and Italy. The Italians called to pottery they got from there Maiolica, though it was not produced on the island. The Italians began producing their own tin-glazed pottery, calling it also Maiolica. It was produced throughout Italy, but the town of Faenza was known for the quality of its wares, particularly in the Sixteenth Century.

Okay, so, Majolica, Faience, same diff, right - two names for tin-glazed pottery. But what about that stuff with a textured surface painted in floral patterns and earthy colors?

In 1851 Minton & Co., an English manufacturer, introduced what it called Palissy Ware; we call it Victorian Majolica. The clay is molded in relief and then colored with various lead glazes. It looks very different from tin-glazed pottery. It is made in imitation of the pottery of Bernard Palissy, a French potter who lived in the Sixteenth Century. This style of pottery is sometimes called Rusticware. This type of pottery was imitated throughout the 20th Century.

So, whether you are looking for Majolica or Faience, you will find it at Pigfish Lane Antiques and Interiors, where we have many fine examples of both.

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