Bright and Whimsical, Majolica Pottery Makes for a Stylish Accent

A tabletop vignette with Majolica pottery.
Photography by William Dickey, Styling by Amy Wilson

Text By Holly Seng

Boasting a variety of functional objects including planters, tableware, and tea sets, Majolica
pottery is earthenware covered in a colorful tin glaze. Ancient history, exotic creatures, and agrarian imagery account for popular themes that are sure to include at least one of these five jewel tones: cobalt blue, antimony yellow, iron red, copper green, and manganese violet.

A stack of Majolica earthenware plates.
Photography by William Dickey, Styling by Amy Wilson

Majolica pottery finds its origin in the Italian Renaissance. Italian ceramic artists observed new Spanish imports and adopted their techniques. Molds and three-dimensional pieces were introduced during the 19th century when the Minton company began producing the decorative pottery, debuted at London’s Great Exhibition in 1851. Following the Industrial Revolution, Minton hoped to capture the attention of the emerging middle class with the lively, practical earthenware pieces. Changes in tastes led to the eventual decline in its production until a series of exhibitions in 1970 organized by London art dealer Jeremy Cooper helped to revive the popularity of the style.

A footed Majolica serving dish filled with pears.
Photography by William Dickey, Styling by Amy Wilson

Original Majolica pottery ranges in price from $35 for common pieces to thousands of dollars for sets featuring intricate patterns and raised decorations. As demand for vintage pieces increased, inexpensive reproductions were produced. Identify authentic pieces by analyzing the glazing methods and choosing designs with a softer color intensity and glossy finish. The method used for firing the pottery would create a shiny luster on the surface, and the detail of the molding and painting is essential for determining authenticity, as sloppy mistakes indicate a reproduction.

A Majolica pitcher with a bird and tree branch design.
Photography by William Dickey, Styling by Amy Wilson

Although originally intended for functional use, early authentic Majolica pottery includes lead in the enamel and should be used for decoration only. From fanciful wall accents to playful additions for a bookshelf vignette, the versatility and variety of sizes, shapes, and colorful compositions make Majolica pottery a collector’s dream.

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