Maiolica, Majolica, Faience, Delftware, Tin-glazed Earthenware

What is it?

All these terms refer to ceramics, earthenware, covered with a white opaque tin-lead glaze (I use modern lead-free glaze) and decorated with various designs painted into it with pigments based on metal oxides. The various names generally refer to variations based on place and time of origin. Here are but a few examples.

Early maiolica, green and manganese decoration. Italy, first half of the 15th century. The MET.

Lustreware. Spain, second half of the 15th century. The MET.

Italian "istoriato" maiolica - armorial dish. Probably Urbino, 1550-60.
The MET.

Dutch majolica, 1620 -1635.
The Rijksmuseum.

How is it made?

The item is first shaped from clay either on a potter's wheel, by modelling, or in a mold. When dry, it is fired in a kiln for the first time.  The fabric can be red, yellowish or white, depending on the properties of the clay available. After the first firing, the object is referred to as bisque or bisqueware. 


It is then covered with a white opaque glaze and the design is painted with pigments. Today, non-toxic pigments are available, so I prefer to use those and my ceramics are certified as safe for contact with food. The glaze absorbs the pigments readily allowing little space for mistakes. Sometimes, a thin layer of transparent glaze, "cristallina", is sprayed over the painted design.
The painted object is fired in the kiln for the second time at a temperature around 1000°C (depending on the materials used). Pigments bind with the glaze, the glaze creates a smooth, glossy covering and connects firmly with the clay.

Sometimes, lustres are applied (popular in Hispano-Moresque wares and some 16th century Italian maiolicas), and these require a third firing at a lower temperature.