European Earthenware

Gardiner Museum

The Gardiner Museum’s holdings highlight important developments in the history of European earthenware from the fourteenth to the eighteenth centuries, including tin-glazed earthenware, English slipware, and creamware.

Earthenware is the term given to ceramics that have been fired at a comparatively low temperature and have not vitrified. They have opaque bodies and are often glazed to make them impervious to liquids. Different types of earthenwares are given specific names that distinguish their bodies, glazes, and decoration. An important area of focus is tin-glazed earthenware produced in Italy, France, and England, where it was known as maiolica, faïence, and delftware respectively. Tin-glazed earthenware first appeared in the nineth century in present-day Iraq, and involved the addition of ashes of tin to a lead glaze to create an opaque white surface for decoration in emulation of Chinese porcelain. Throughout the next five centuries, knowledge of tin-glazing spread throughout the Middle East and the Mediterranean. The movement of objects and people further prompted its dissemination to Italy and Northern Europe.
Italian Maiolica
Italian maiolica is one of the most sophisticated and refined ceramics produced in Renaissance Europe. Maiolica is tin-glazed earthenware, a technique which involved the addition of ashes of tin to a lead glaze in order to create an opaque white background for decoration. Originating in the ninth century in present-day Iraq, the technique spread throughout the Islamic world, reaching Southern Spain by the twelfth century, before establishing itself firmly in Italy in the fourteenth century. One of the greatest artistic achievements of the Italian Renaissance, maiolica played important roles in the social and domestic lives of individuals. Ceramics held multiple functions; while some objects were deeply embedded in the humanist culture of the time, others served to commemorate important events, such as marriage and birth. Apothecaries also stimulated the maiolica industry with large commissions of pharmaceutical wares. Istoriato, or narrative painting, represents the most ambitious stylistic development in the history of maiolica. Istoriato wares were decorated with scenes derived from ancient texts, mythology, as well as religious sources. The high fashion from around 1500 to about 1570, istoriato was produced in various towns of north-central Italy, with the Duchy of Urbino as the leading centre. The Italian Renaissance maiolica collection at the Gardiner Museum is the most important in Canada. It forms part of the original donation made by George and Helen Gardiner.

Faenza was one of the earliest maiolica centres to produce the new istoriato style of decoration, where the surface of the vessel was painted with a narrative scene as if it were a fresco or oil painting. Maiolica artists frequently sought inspiration from prints and book illustrations, and chose to depict scenes from the Bible or classical stories, such as the Rape of Europa on this dish. So popular were ceramics made in Faenza, that almost all tin-glazed earthenware made in Europe eventually became known as faience.

Dish with Two Lovers

This large pharmacy jar contained Zucarū Rosatū, or rose-flavoured sugar, as indicated on the scroll beneath the centre scene. Roses were an integral element of Islamic and Renaissance medicine. They were used extensively as a purgative, to aid the healing of wounds after surgery, for the reduction of inflammation, and to induce sleep.

The scene is surrounded by a densely patterned border of scrolls and endless knots, coats of arms and an imprese, or personal device, of the Medici family — a roughly trimmed sprouting branch and the Latin word SEMPER (always). The Medici owned the pottery where this dish was made. It shows a perfect combination of Eastern and Western elements. Endless knots were a feature of Islamic ornament, whereas the dense cobalt blue scrollwork derived from Chinese porcelain. This type of decoration was called alla porcellana (like porcelain) in the 16th century.

The Madonna was deeply venerated during the Middle Ages and the Renaissance. This monumental sculpture is both an outstanding technical accomplishment and an expression of profound artistic tenderness. It comes from a small group of maiolica sculptural and relief works created for devotional use in churches or private chapels. The initials on the base may be those of the artist, whose name is not known.

When an artist’s name is not known, but a distinctive individual style can be recognized, the artist is often given a name that is associated with one of his works. The artist who painted this dish is now known as the Painter of the Coal Mine Service, named for this dish in the Gardiner collection.

Homer told the story of the Trojan War in the Iliad, one of the pillars of classical literature, which was widely read during the Renaissance. Aeneas, the Trojan hero, was seen as a model of devotion to duty, bravery and reverence, and was admired as a founder of Roman culture. In this scene from a large Urbino dish, Aeneas leaves the burning Troy after the city had been conquered and destroyed by the Greek armies. He tenderly carries his father Anchises to safety, and then washes his hands in reverence before taking charge of the family gods.

The hand of this gifted artist has been identified and named for a basin in the Musei Civici, Pesaro. The basin and this dish both bear the same date and have a rim painted with trophies and grotesques on a blue ground. This dish is distinguished by a bianco sopra bianco (white on white) rim, which creates a delicate lacework frame for the scene in the centre — the final meeting of Zeus with Semele, the mother of Bacchus, as told by Ovid in Book III of the Metamorphoses. Semele was destroyed when Zeus revealed himself with all his thunder and lightening.

English Slipware
Slip-decorated pieces, commonly known as slipware, were produced in the region of Staffordshire and Wrotham in Kent from the early 1660s to the eighteenth century. This type of earthenware is decorated with slip (coloured liquid clay), applied as relief decoration using a variety of techniques such as trailing and stamping. This resulted in bold and freely executed designs. Being more economical to produce than delftware and porcelain, slipware was accessible to a wider segment of society including the lower end of the middle class. Part of the original gift made by George and Helen Gardiner, this small collection includes ornamental chargers and drinking vessels in shapes derived from metalwork. Some examples present inscriptions, indicating that they may have been commissioned to commemorate important life events, such as births and weddings.

The large bird on this dish may symbolize The Pelican in Her Piety, more typically portrayed as a long-necked bird who pricks her breast to feed her starving young on drops of her blood. Although a Thomas Toft is normally associated with such boldly-trailed, trellis-bordered dishes from the 1660s and 1670s, the crude execution of the central bird may indicate that it was made by a similarly named, but later, member of the family.

The drinking rhyme on this rare vessel bears witness to such cups being lifted to the mouth for drinking. When one imbiber finished his turn at the punch, beer or other alcoholic beverage, the vessel was passed to the next person. Two spouted posset pots (for concoctions of spiced warm wine and milk) bear decoration much like that shown here, but are inscribed LYDIA MOVNTFORD HER POT 1700.

This rare jug is one of at least 26 Wrotham pieces with the initials GR. that can be dated from the early 1640s to 1683. Most of these vessels are attributed to George Richardson. They include mostly four-handled drinking vessels as well as some initialed, multi-handled candlesticks and puzzle jugs. The initials of his apprentice (NH for Nicholas Hubble) also appear on some Richardson pots.

Fragments from similar Lot’s Wife dishes, bearing references to the Bible (Luke 32:7), have been excavated in Burslem, in association with the Malkin factory, and in Yorkshire at Riveaulx Abbey. At least seven intact examples also survive, most of them with slip-dotted borders. Several other relief-modelled dishes with the initials SM also have religious or humorous motifs picked out in coloured slips.

English Delftware
Tin-glazed earthenware was introduced to England in the late sixteenth century by Flemish potters who settled in the region of Norfolk to escape religious persecution, however, potteries specializing in tin-glazed earthenware (known as delftware) flourished in the London area from about 1610. They served a wide segment of seventeenth-century society, with the highest demand coming from the gentry, rich tradesmen, and members of flourishing guilds. Increased market demand stimulated the emergence of potteries in Brislington near Bristol, and throughout the British Isles. The collection illustrates a broad range of functional and decorative objects, embellished with popular heraldic and royal motifs, and showing the new fashion for chinoiseries and the impact of Chinese blue-and-white porcelain. Until England started producing porcelain domestically from 1745 onwards, delftware potteries supplied better-quality ceramic tableware to a middle-class clientele who could not afford Chinese porcelain, nor the continental imports from France and Germany. The production of delftware started to decline in the 1770s when creamware, a new and technically superior earthenware body was introduced to the market. The Gardiner Museum’s collection of English delftware was largely donated by George and Helen Gardiner and was expanded with a significant gift from Joan Clark from the collection of Thomas Henry Clark.

Painting and reliefs on these shoes imitate flowered chintz fabric (imported from China), patterned cloth tapes, and glass-paste buckles that were featured on their fashionable, wearable counterparts. In traditional English society, shoes symbolized good luck: real shoes sometimes were placed in chimneys to ward off evil, or more recently, were tied to the bumpers of newlyweds’ automobiles. Ceramic shoes probably were gifts wishing the recipients well. Dated English delft shoes are known from 1654 to 1768, and some bear the original owners’ initials.

Most portrayals of William and Mary together are thought to predate the queen’s death in 1694. On this dish, the king’s small stature is apparent. When in public, the monarch sometimes stepped onto a low stool, the better to reach his wife’s height. English and Dutch delftware portraying William and Mary has an early history in North America (excavated from sites in Virginia and New York, and passed down in families from Massachusetts).

This distinctive basin is decorated with barbering tools: soap balls, scissors, perfume bottles, folding razors, a hinged box of bleeding tools, bone-shaped wig-curlers, needles, combs, a tea kettle (for steaming curls?), a wig-powdering brush and a mirror reflecting a face. Barber basins were also produced for private and professional use in many other ceramic and metalwork types.

This rare and early puzzle jug bears an unusual portrayal of Charles II without a moustache. Known from the Middle Ages on, puzzle jugs commonly feature a hollow rim with one or more nozzles and a hollow handle that opens into the body near the base.

In drinking games, wagers were won by imbibers who could cover the appropriate nozzles and other holes to suck out the contents of the vessel.

This flower or bulb vase form is rare. The motifs in the few extant pieces consist of scenes from nature (as in this example) or of Chinese figures in a landscape. Multi-socketed flower containers were also made in other English models, in a range of Continental tin-glazed shapes, and in Chinese export porcelain for the European market.

English fecundity dishes modelled much like this one bear dates from 1633 to 1697, and were displayed similarly to prints or paintings. The central scene symbolized the owners’ hopes for the successful bearing and raising of children. Such classical motifs form a peculiarly English contrast with the large leaf elements, in the wells, drawn from the Eight Precious Things motif found on some Chinese export porcelain. Traditionally, fecundity dishes were thought to have been inspired by Bernard Palissy’s wares made in Saintonge, France, during the late mid-16th century, but no closely similar prototype has yet been identified.

Posset was a warm concoction of wine, spices, and milk: the milk curdled and rose to the top, and the liquor was drunk through the straw-like spout. It began as a medicine but eventually became a popular drink. In the late 17th century, the term posset pot was more common than the earlier usage of wassail pot and syllabus pot.

French Faïence
This collection surveys the production of some of the most important centres of production of tin-glazed earthenware in France, where the wares were known as faïence. Knowledge of tin-glazing reached France in the second half of the sixteenth century when Italian artisans settled in the cities of Rouen, Lyon, and Nevers. In the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, production spread to other centres such as Marseilles, Moustier, and Sceaux. Tin-glazed earthenware was used in the making of both functional and ornamental objects. Pieces in the Gardiner Museum’s collection also show how faïence makers first worked under the influence of Italian maiolica before turning to Chinese porcelain as their main source of inspiration. Faïence provided a less expensive alternative to Chinese porcelain and to the European hard-paste and soft-paste porcelain produced in the eighteenth century. The discovery of kaolin sources in France, which enabled the production of more durable hard-paste porcelain, as well as the spread of less expensive creamware, caused the decline of the faïence industry in the late eighteenth century. The Gardiner’s collection of French faïence was donated by Pierre Karch and Mariel O’Neill-Karch.

The motifs of antiques and a vase with flowers on this dish were inspired by Chinese porcelain. Faïence makers were the first to produce porcelain in France, so the exchange of designs is not surprising.

Warriors, pineapples and coconut trees… This charger featuring an exotic landscape evokes images of distant lands which most Europeans only encountered through the travel narratives that circulated since the Renaissance, providing perhaps an imaginary conception of the Caribbean islands where France had colonies. The Manufacture of Madeleine Héraud and Louis Leroy was, along with the Veuve Perrin, the most important and prosperous faience enterprise in Marseille.

Decorated with grotesque ornaments finely outlined in blue on a white ground, the trays exemplify the impact of Jean 1er Bérain’s designs on the decorative arts of the 18th century. Bérain (1640-1711) was a painter, draftsman, engraver and Louis XIV`s official court designer, providing theatrical decors and costumes for royal entertainments. Artisans adapted his ornamental designs known through prints in various media, including textiles, tapestries and furniture.

Ewers and basins were essential components of the morning ritual of the toilette, used for washing the face and hands, the basin serving as a portable sink. They were also used for washing hands after eating in bedchambers or private apartments. Made fashionable by its chinoiserie ornament, this faience ewer and basin would have provided a less expensive alternative to examples made of porcelain or silver.

The inkstand and desk tidy is decorated with quills, instruments to sharpen them, coins, as well as a coat of arms, thus reflecting the use of the object as well as the identity of its owner. The inscriptionJC which appears twice inside the round containers are probably the owner’s initials. On the back, the chinoiserie scene of a scholar meditating on a rock while gazing at the moon – a common motif of Chinese art – reflects intellectual pursuit. Used everyday, such objects have rarely survived.

Creamware is a type of fine earthenware with a cream-coloured body produced in England and Europe during the late eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Various versions of creamware were developed by potters in the mid-eighteenth century.  Josiah Wedgwood, however, deserves recognition for improving the formula in the 1740s and for transforming it into a popular, mass-produced commodity in the 1760s. Creamware possessed many of the same practical and aesthetic qualities as porcelain, but could be produced for a fraction of the cost.  For this reason, it quickly emerged as the ceramic tableware of choice for middle class consumers.  Competition from creamware producers put great pressure on many English and European porcelain and earthenware factories, forcing some of them to modify their products and others to go out of business. The creamware collection, which was donated by Jean and Ken Laundy, includes objects made in Staffordshire and illustrates the spread of the medium to other regions of England and to factories of continental Europe.

This coffee pot was probably modeled on a silver prototype. Very similar forms were produced by many different creamware factories in Staffordshire and Yorkshire during the 1770s and 80s. Coffee was enjoyed by people of the time as a stimulant that inspired conversation and aided digestion.

The Creil factory was founded in France in 1795 to produce English style creamware pottery. This tureen and stand reflect the Neo-classical Empire style that was popular in France at the beginning of the 19th century. It may have been modeled on a Wedgwood prototype.

Creamware glazes provided light grounds that were well suited to both painted and printed decoration, and many creamware vessels were decorated with these techniques. This Wedgwood dish is decorated with a neo-classical design inspired by ancient Greek painted pottery.

This undulating vessel, a monteith, was used for chilling wine glasses in ice water. Its name derives from the name of a Scottish aristocrat at the court of King Charles II who wore a cloak with a scalloped hem. The form was first offered in a creamware body in the 1774 Wedgwood factory catalogue.

Other Earthenware and Stoneware
The Gardiner Museum’s holdings include examples of earthenware and stoneware produced in European factories in Germany, England, Italy, and Switzerland.

While the use of blue and white decoration emulated Chinese porcelain, this plate shows the increasing influence of Japanese sources in the 18th century. The peacock’s tail or fan motif seen here derives from Japanese Imari designs, and became characteristic of the Dutch repertoire of the mid-18th century.

The Bird on Rock design derives from Chinese hard paste porcelain that was made some time during the late Ming dynasty (1573–1619). This popular motif was also copied on tin-glazed earthenware in 17th-century England, Spain and Portugal. Archaeological fragments indicate that ceramics with this type of decoration – Chinese porcelain as well as English and Continental tin-glazed earthenware – were also used in colonial North America.

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