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The Economic and Social World of Italian Renaissance Maiolica*

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  20 November 2018

Richard A. Goldthwaite*
The Johns Hopkins University


Italian maiolica has a long history extending back into the Middle Ages. That history recounts a slow evolutionary process, with its main themes being: first, the importation of tin-glazed pottery from the Islamic world in the eleventh and twelfth centuries, which has survived primarily as architectural decoration (the bacini inserted into church façades); secondly, the development of the local production of ceramics with lead glazes and then improved tin glazes and with modest painted and incised decoration; thirdly, the diffusion of that production, presumably from Sicily and southern Italy, throughout the rest of the peninsula; and, finally, beginning in the later fourteenth century, the elevation of the quality of production to the level of a veritable art form. Our knowledge of this history has been amply expanded in the last few years by an extraordinary amount of very solid research conducted into the subject by medieval archaeologists and by ceramic scholars—many of the latter talented amateurs who work on their own local traditions in Italy; and this lively interest has had reverberations in both the museum world and the art market.

Copyright © Renaissance Society of America 1989

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This paper had its original form as a lecture at a symposium on maiolica organized in April 1987 by the Los Angeles County Museum of Art and the Getty Museum. I am indebted to Timothy Schroder of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art and his colleagues for the invitation that generated this work and to the other participants of the symposium for their critical comments.


1 The best general surveys of recent archaeological work illuminating the early stages of this history of Italian pottery are by Hugo Blake and David Whitehouse. Blake's papers include: “Medieval Pottery: Technical Innovation or Economic Change?” British Archaeological Reports. Supplementary Ser. 41 (Papers in Italian Archaeology I) (1978):435-72; and “The Archaic Maiolica of North-Central Italy: Montalcino, Assisi and Tolentino,” Faenza, 66 (1980):91-106. Whitehouse's papers include: “Medieval Pottery in Italy: the Present State of Research,” in La céramique médiévale en Méditerranée occidentaieXe-XVe siècles (Paris, 1980), pp. 65-82; “Proto-maiolica,” Faenza, 66 (1980), 74-83; “Note sulla ceramica dell'Italia meridionale nei secoli XII-XIV,” Faenza, 68 (1982):185-96; “La Liguria e la ceramica medievale nel Mediterraneo,” in Atti del IV Convegno Internazionale della Ceramica (Albisola, 1971) 265-86 (henceforth: Atti Albisola). The bibliography on Renaissance maiolica is too vast to cite here, consisting as it does of so many items widely scattered in publications ranging from exhibition catalogues to articles in local journals, many of which have escaped the attention of the standard art-historical bibliographical guides. Only a small part of this material is cited in the notes below, since much of it regards purely stylistic problems. Two recent catalogues are useful for their bibliographies: Watson, Wendy M., Italian Renaissance Maiolica from the William C. Clark Collection (London, 1986)Google Scholar, and Wilson, Timothy, Ceramic Art of the Italian Renaissance (London, 1987)Google Scholar.

2 Rackham, Bernard, Italian Maiolica (London, 1963)Google Scholar 3. Technology is the least studied and understood aspect of maiolica, and one looks forward to the study otistoriato work from this point of view by David Kingery of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

3 The authoritative edition of Piccolpasso is now The Three Books of the Potter's Art, trans, and introd. Ronald Lightbown and Alan Caiger-Smith (London, 1980).

4 Francovich, Riccardo, La ceramica medievale a Siena e nella Toscana meridionale (sea. XIV-XV) (Florence, 1982)Google Scholar chap. 2; idem and Gelichi, Sauro, La ceramica medievale nelle raccolte del Museo Medievale e Modemo di Arezzo (Florence, 1983)Google Scholar 50-52.

5 L'antica maiolica di Pesaro dal XIV al XVII secolo (Florence, 1984) chap. 7.

6 “La ceramica medievale a Genova e nella Liguria,” Studigenuensi, 7 (1968-69)110- 130.

7 Storia delta maiolica di Firenze e del contado, secoli XIV-XV (Florence, 1973) vol. 1, 487-88.

8 The towns with guilds are listed by Marsilli, Pietro, “Ars orcelariontm: la corporazione dei maiolicari di Faenza,” Faenza, 68 (1982)Google Scholar:15.

9 For Fano: Castellani, Giuseppe, “L'arte ceramica a Fano,” Faenza, 9 (1931)Google Scholar:62ff. For Pesaro: Albarelli, Giuseppe M., Ccramistipesarcsincidocument! notarilidel!'Archiviodi Stato diPesavo, secc. XV-XVII (Bologna, 1986)Google Scholar 138-39, 154-55, 193-94. For Siena: Gabriella Picinni, “Per lo studio della produzione di ceramica e vetro nella prima metà del Quattrocento, ” Archeologia medievale, 8 (1981):590. For Venice: Bortolotto, Angelica Alverà, Maiolichc venezianc (Florence, 1987)Google Scholar 6-7.

10 For Bologna: Sighinolli, Lino, “Per la storia dell'arte ceramica,” Faenza, 4 (1916)Google Scholar:81. For Fano: Berardi, Maiolica di Pesaro 49. For Grand-ducal Florence: Cora, Galeazzo, “Sulla fabbrica di maioliche sorta in Pisa alia fine del ‘500,” Faenza, 50 (1964 Google Scholar):25- 30. For Imola: Liverani, Giuseppe, “La ceramica in Imola,” Faenza, 42 (1956)Google Scholar17. For Mantua: Campori, Giuseppe, Maiolica eporcellana di Ferrara nei secoli XVe XVI (Pesaro, 1879)Google Scholar 79. For Milan: Guido Donatone, “Contributo sulla maiolica napoletana del XVI secolo,” Antichità viva, no. 3 (1976):34. For Pavia: Nepoti, Sergio, “Ceramiche a Pavia dal secolo XV al XVII,” in Pavia Pinacoteca Malaspina (Pavia, 1981)Google Scholar 70. For Venice: Bortolotto, Alverà, Storia delta ceramica a Venezia dagli albori alia fine della Repubblica (Florence, 1981)Google Scholar 18-20.

11 Tiziani Biganti, “La produzione di ceramica a lustro a Gubbio e a Deruta tra la fine del secolo XV e l'inizio del secolo XVI—primi risultati di una ricerca documentaria,” Faenza, 73 (1987):209-25.

12 Marsilli, Pietro, “I servizi compendiari faentini,” Atti Albisola, 15 (1982)Google Scholar:31.

13 Pub. by Carlo Grigioni, “Documenti: serie faentina,” Faenza, 22 (1934):143-53.

14 Marsilli, “Servizi compendiari,” 31.

15 Ibid.

16 Varaldo, Carlo, “L'esportazione di ceramica savonese nella documentazione archivistica del XVII secolo,” Atti Albisola, 5 (1972)Google Scholar:342-44.

17 Antichi documenti sulla ceramica di Castelli (Citta di Castello, 1985) 135.

18 Ballardini, Gaetano, “Una cooperativa fra maiolicari e un ‘boicotaggio’ nel Quattrocento faentino,” Faenza, 33 (1947)Google Scholar:114-19.

19 Franco Negroni, “Niccolo Pellipario: ceramista fantasma,” Notizie da Palazzo Albani, 14 (1981):18 n. 33.

20 Biganti, “Produzione a Gubbio.”

21 This manuscript, at the Museo Internazionale delle Ceramiche at Faenza, has never been published; see Lama, Melisanda, Il libro del conti di un maiolicaro del Quattrocento (Faenza, 1939)Google Scholar.

22 Cora, Maiolica di Firenze 1:422-23.

23 Marsilli, Pietro, “Da Faenza in Moravia: ceramiche e ceramisti fra storia dell'arte e storia della riforma popolare,” Atti Albisola, 18 (1985)Google Scholar:12.

24 Much of the material on Faenza is surveyed by Grigioni, Carlo, La bottega del vasaio del bcl tempo (Faenza, 1937)Google Scholar. Subsequent issues of Faenza are rich in publication of documents on the industry in this city.

25 Sighinolfi, “Arte ceramica” 81.

26 “Documenti,” Faenza, 1 (19i3):17-18.

27 Biganti, “Produzione a Gubbio” 215.

28 For Florence: Cora, “Fabbrica di maioliche.” For Ferrara: Ugolini, Grazia Biscontini, “Un nuovo pezzo del celebre servizio nuziale di Alfonso II d'Este,” Rassegna di studi e di notizie, 3 (1975)Google Scholar: 158-60. For Ferrara, Mantua, and Savoy: Campori, Maiolica di Ferrara 68, 79-83.

29 A concise survey of this production is Hugo Blake, “La ceramica medievale spagnola e la Liguria,” Atti Albisola, 5 (1972):55∼96; and for exports abroad, see esp. the contributions of Francovich and Gelichi, Berti and Hurst, Tongiorgi, and Nepoti in Segundo coloquio international de ceramica medieval en el Mediterrdneo occidental (Madrid, 1986)Google Scholar.

30 Origo, Iris, The Merchant of Prato: Francesco di Marco Datini, 1335-1410 (Boston, 1986) 89 Google Scholar; Spallanzani, Marco, “Maiolica di Valenza e di Montelupo in una casa pisana del 1480,” Faenza, 72 (1986)Google Scholar :164-69.

31 Around 1400 Benedetto di Baldassare Ubriachi wrote down instructions for making lusterware, but he was not at all well informed on the matter; it was not until the very end of the century that the technique was used at Deruta. Caiger-Smith, Alan, Lustre Pottery: Technique, Tradition and Innovation in Islam and the Western World (London, 1985)Google Scholar 127-28.

32 Gardelli, Giuliana, ‘A granjuoco': mostra di maioliche rinascimentali dello stato di Urbino da collezioniprivate (Urbino, 1987)Google Scholar 17-18.

33 Baart, J. M., “Ceramiche italiane rinvenute in Olanda e le prime imitazioni olandesi,” Atti Albisola, 16 (1983)Google Scholar: 161-70; Hugo Blake, “Pottery Exported from Northwest Italy between 1450 and 1830: Savona, Albisola, Genoa, Pisa, and Montelupo,” in G. Barker and R. Hodges, eds., Archaeology and Italian Society: Pvehistoric, Roman, and Medieval Studies, vol. 102 of British Archaeological Record. International Series (1981), pp. 99- 124; Claire Dumortier, “Les fäienciers italiens à Anvers au XVIe siècles: aspects historiques,” Faenza, 73 (1987): 161-70; Gayraud, Roland Pierre, “Importations de céramique occidentale dans l'Empire des Mamelouks,” in La ceramica medievale nel mediterraneo occidentale (Florence, 1986)Google Scholar 611; Hurst, , “Produzioni locali e mercato. La transizione tra Medio Evo e post Medio Evo nella ceramica europea occidentale e transalpina,” Atti Albisola, 8 (1975)Google Scholar: 31-38; Lister, F. C. and Lister, R. H., “Ligurian Maiolica in Spanish America,” ibid., 9 (1976)Google Scholar:3n-17; J. V. G. Mallet, “L'importazione della maiolica italiana in Inghilterra,” ibid., 5 (1972)1251-56; Redman, Charles L., “The Role of Italian Tradeware in an Early 16th Century North African Colony,” Archeologia medievale, 9 (1982)Google Scholar1227-36; Varaldo, “L'esportazione di ceramica savonese”; Vindry, F., “Les céramiques italiennes médiévales en Provence orientale,” Atti Albisola, $ (1972)Google Scholar1241-47; and for central and eastern Europe, the issue of AttiAlbisola, 18 (1985).

34 Pietro Marsilli, “La ceramics faentina nei suoi rapporti col potere pubblico,” Faenza, 68 (1982):164. For an example of a potter at Pesaro whose family entered the nobility, see B. Bonini, Albarelli and Bonini, C. F., “Documenti,” Faenza, 24 (l936)Google Scholar:III.

35 Bonini, C. F., “Maestro Giorgio da Ugubbioedi lustri a riflessi metallici,” Faenza, 19 (1931):90.Google Scholar

36 Medieval archaeologists have been more sensitive than scholars of Renaissance ceramics to the relation between changes in form and quality of pottery to economic and social change: see esp., for Italy, Blake, Hugo, “Technology, Supply or Demand,” Medieval Ceramics, 4(1980 Google Scholar) 13-11; and his various other studies, some cited herein. For north Europe, see Christopher Dyer, “Social and Economic Changes in the Later Middle Ages and the Pottery of the Period,” ibid., 6 (1982), and H. E. Jean Le Patourel, “Pottery as Evidence for Social and Economic Change,” in Sawyer, P. H., ed., Medieval Settlement: Continuity and Change (London, 1976)Google Scholar. Of considerable interest also, for the evidence bacini provide for the wider commercial interests of one great medieval Italian port, is David Abulafia, “The Pisan Bacini and the Medieval Mediterranean Economy: A Historian's Viewpoint, ”rept. in his Italy, Sicily and the Mediterranean, 1100-1400 (London, 1988).

37 For hospitals in Florence, see Park, Katherine, Doctors and Medicine in Early Renaissance Florence (Princeton, 1985)CrossRefGoogle Scholar 101-6; and for their architectural development see Goldthwaite, R. A. and Rearick, W. R., “Michelozzo and the Ospedale di San Paolo in Florence,” Mitteilungen des Kunsthistorischen Institutes in Florenz, 21 (1977)Google Scholar:275-80.

38 Cora, Maiolica di Firenze 1 :239-40, lists 34 pharmacy shops (identified by signs) in fifteenth-century Florence. The enormous demand of a private pharmacy in late fourteenth- century Imola has been studied from its account books by Biavati, Eros, “La medievale maiolica arcaica fabbricata a Imola dal 1356 al 1367…,” Atti Albisola, 13 (1980)Google Scholar:253-54; and a 1424 inventory of a private pharmacy in Florence has been published by Spallanzani, Marco, Ceramiche oriental! a Firenze nel Rinascimento (Florence, 1978)Google Scholar 155-58. Cora's study documents purchases by hospital pharmacies. Of interest also is the exhibition catalogue Unafarmaciapreindustriale in Valdelsa: la spezieria e lo spedale di Santa Fina nella citta di San Gimignano, secc. XIV-XVIII (San Gimignano, 1981).

39 Park, Doctors and Medicine 109-10.

40 J. V. G. Mallet, the leading authority on the istoriato style, tends to think that even these elaborately decorated pieces were made for use, even though many show little signs of wear: “The Gonzaga and Ceramics,” in David Chambers and Martineau, Jane, eds., Splendors of the Gonzaga (Milan, 1981)Google Scholar 42. Mallet has also speculated that the proliferation of forms, which created problems for this kind of pictorial decoration, is to be explained by their functional use: “Gonzaga Patronage of Maiolica,” Apollo 114 (1981): 162-63 . Marco Spallanzani has unequivocally stated the practical function of imported Chinese porcelain on the table of the Grand Dukes of Tuscany: Ceramiche orientali 130.

41 See the Conclusion to my The Building of Renaissance Florence: An Economic and Social History (Baltimore, 1980).

42 Donatone, Guido, “Maiolica napoletana dell'eta viceregnale,” Faenza, 58 (1972)Google Scholar:87.

43 Donatone, Guido, “La maiolica napoletana dalle origini al secolo XV,” Storia di NapolS 4 (Naples, 1974)Google Scholar 604.

44 Campori, Maiolica di Ferrara 18, 56.

45 Donatone, “Contributo sulla maiolica napoletana del XVI secolo” 34.

46 anzani, Marco Spall, “Maioliche di Urbino nelle collezioni di Cosimo I, del Cardinale Ferdinando e di Francesco I de’ Medici,” Faenza, 65 (1979)Google Scholar:117, where the documents earlier published by Ballardini, Gaetano, “Maiolicari faentini e urbinati a Firenze,” Faenza, 10 (1922)Google Scholar:147, are more accurately transcribed.

47 Spallanzani, Marco, “Un ‘fomimento’ di maioliche di Montelupo per Clarice Strozzi de’ Medici,” Faenza, 70 (1984)Google Scholar:381-87.

48 For Venetians’ impression of plate in England as conspicuous hoarding, see C.Lane, F. and Mueller, R. C., Money and Banking in Medieval and Renaissance Venice; 1, Coins and Moneys of Account (Baltimore, 1985)Google Scholar 67.

49 Campori, Maiolica di Ferrara 18.

50 Adami, Antonio, Il novitiato del Maestro di casa (Rome, 1657)Google Scholar 165.

51 Ibid. 23.

52 Some interesting comments on this subject are made by Otto Mazzucato, “Sulla definizione del ‘servizio da tavola’ nella ceramica,” and by Pietro Marsilli, “I servizi compendiari faentini,” in Atti Albisola, 15 (1982)119-35 (this volume is dedicated to “il servizio da tavola in ceramica“).

53 Malagola, Carlo, Memorie storiche suite maioliche di Faenza (Bologna, 1880)Google Scholar 427-28.

54 Soave, Decio and Siviero, Giovanni Battista, “Il grande servizio conventuale del Museo Civico di Padova e considerazioni sulla ceramica conventuale veneta,” Atti Albisola, 15 (1982)Google Scholar:113-16.

55 Grigioni, “Documenti” 144, from a 1556 shop inventory.

56 Campori, Maiolica di Ferrara 57.

57 Grigioni, “Documenti” 145, from a 1556 shop inventory.

58 Fabiani, Giuseppe, Ascoli nel Cinquecento (Ascoli Piceno, 1970)Google Scholar 2:275-76.

59 Ballardini, “Maiolicari a Firenze” 145.

60 Spallanzani, Marco, “Ceramiche nelle raccolte medicee da Cosimo I a Ferdinando I,” in he arti del Principato mediceo (Florence, 1980)Google Scholar 94.

61 Spallanzani, ,“Maioliche veneziane per Cosimo I de’ Medici ed Eleanora di Toledo,” Faenza, 67 (1981)Google Scholar:73.

62 Biavati, Eros, “Leonardo Bettisi fu Antonio ed il figlio Antoniojunior detti ambedue 'don Pino,’Faenza, 65 (1979)Google Scholar:369.

63 Campori, Maiolica di Ferrara 62.

64 Spallanzani, “Ceramiche nelle raccolte medicee.”

65 Mallet, “Gonzaga Patronage” 162-63.

66 For analysis of the growing vocabulary, see Genevieve and Henry Bresc, “Cucina e tavola a Palermo nel Tre e Quattrocento,” Atti Albisola, 9 (1976)121-33 (for inventories), and Santa Nepoti Frescura, “Cucina e ceramica nei ricettari dei secoli XIV-XVII,” ibid.: 129-47.

67 Cited in Mennell, Stephen, All Manners of Food: Eating and Taste in England and France from the Middle Ages to the Present (Oxford, 1985)Google Scholar 70-71.

68 Gherardo Ortalli, “Cibi e cultura nel Medio Evo europeo,” in A. Pertusi, G. Ortalli, and Paccagnella, I. , eds., Civilta delta tavola dal medioevo al Rinascimento (Vicenza, 1983)Google Scholar 32-33.

69 This last proposition is the thesis of Mennel, All Manners of Food, which, however, does not deal with the Italian background of developments in France and England. Likewise, only English evidence is cited by Goody, Jack, Cooking, Cusine, and Class: A Study in Comparative Sociology (Cambridge, 1982)CrossRefGoogle Scholar, esp. 133-53.

70 Giovanni Pontano, I trattati delle virtù sociali, ed. Francesco Tateo (Rome, 1965).

7 I Christoforo Messisbugo, Banchetti, composizioni di vivande et apparecchio generate (Ferrara, 1549); Eustachio Celebrino, Opera nuova chc insegna apparechiare una mensa … (n.p., n.d., but later sixteenth century); Vittorio Lancellotti, Lo scalco prattico (Rome, 1627); Adami, Antonio, Il novitiato del Maestro di casa (Rome, 1657)Google Scholar; Liberati, Francesco, II perfetto Maestro di casa (Rome, 1658)Google Scholar.

72 Elvira Garbero Zorzi, “Cerimoniale e spettacolarità: il tovagliolo sulla tavola del principe,” in Sergio Bertelli and Crifò, Giuliano, eds., Rituale, cerimoniale, etichctta (Milan, 1985)Google Scholar 67-83. This volume explores various aspects of food, table settings, and table manners in Renaissance Italy. These studies take as their point of departure the work of Norbert Elias (who did not deal with Italy) and try to push his argument into the realms of anthropology to uncover deeper social meanings. Zorzi's article, however, is the only one firmly anchored in materials of the epoch.

73 Lc latere di Tovqiumto Tasso, ed. Ccsare Guasti (Florence, 1854)1:42.

74 Moryson, Fynes, An Itinerary, 4 vols. (Glasgow, 1907-08)Google Scholar 4:98.

75 Cited by Braudel, Fernand, Civilization and Capitalism, 15th—18th Centuries 1 (London, 1981)Google Scholar 205-06.

76 Moryson, Itinerary 99.

77 Lorna Weatherill, “Consumer Behaviour and Social Status in England, 1660- 1750,” Continuity and Change, 1 (1986):191-216; Thomas, Hugh, A History of the World (New York, 1979) 238 Google Scholar.

78 See Appadurai's, Arjun Introduction to the volume of conference papers edited by him, The Social Life of Things: Commodities in Cultural Perspective (Cambridge, England, 1986)CrossRefGoogle Scholar. esp. 29-41.

79 Campori, Maiolica di Ferrara 15-16.

80 Ibid. 13.

81 Giuseppe Papagni, La maiolica del Rinascimento in Casteldurante, Urbino e Pesaro (n.p., n.d.) 106.

82 Donatone, “Maiolica napoletana” 605.

83 Campori, Maiolica di Ferrara 13.

84 Spallanzam, Ceracmiche orientali.

85 Biscontini Ugolini, “Nuovo pezzo,” 158-59.

86 For some ideas on this subject, see the Introduction to Giovanni Conti's ed. of Piccolpasso, , Li tre libri dell'arte del vasaio (Florence, 1976)Google Scholar.

87 The efforts at Ferrara to make porcelain are described by Campori, Maiolica di Fcrrara. For Medici porcelain, see Liverani, Giuseppe, Catalogo delle porcellanc dci Medici (Faenza, 1936)Google Scholar. The enormous collection of Chinese porcelain belonging to the Medici grand dukes is described by Spallanzani, “Ceramiche nelle raccolte medicee.”

88 There is hardly any direct evidence, however, for the contemporary appreciation of this aspect of maiolica; see Augusto Campana, “Poesie umanistiche relative a ceramiche,” Faenza, 32 (1946):59-68.

89 CarloPiancastelli, “Notiziediduepiattifaentinidel 1540,”Faenza, 8(192o):49-58.

90 Quoted in Wilson, Ceramic Art 10.

91 Palmieri, Matteo, Delia vita civile, ed. Battaglia, Felice (Bologna, 1944)Google Scholar 154, 164.

92 Tateo, Francesco, Umanesimo etico di Giovanni Pontano (Lecce, 1972)Google Scholar 171-77.