A Brief History of Hand-Painted Majolica Tile

Posted by William Buyok on

We're thrilled to have a guest post today written by , author of Ceramic Dictionary from Barcelona, Spain. If you're lucky, you may even find her hand-decorating tiles using the Majolica Method in her tile studio/shop, BenSu Ceramics.

Pottery has always been popular in Spain, as evident with existence of earthenware pottery for thousands of years. During the years the Arabs were in Spain, they brought with them the Majolica method of decorating pottery, as well as to create beautiful tile and ceramics. Today's post provides a brief history of Majolica, a method of hand-painting or glazing ceramic tile. 



Making wine:
12 individual tiles showing the process of making wine with a separate border.


The following are links to Susan's Web Ceramic Dictionary that cover the intricate history of this centuries-old method; Majolica - History and Majolica - History in Spain.

One tile design:
One tile is repeated 16 times so the pattern it forms can be fully appreciated.


As the Arab influence decreased, tiles, pots and plates decorated with the Majolica method grew in popularity. Small businesses went through the whole process of working the pottery from start to finish, including collecting the earthy material to selling the finished pieces in the market.

One Tile:
The one tile used to create the pattern above.


What makes the Majolica method different from others? The Majolica technique utilizes bisque (already fired clay) that is covered with an opaque glaze-base and decorated with colors. Then, they are both fired together to vitrify at 980º C (1796º F). Firing leaves the tile with a brightly colored, glossy surface that makes it non-absorbent to water.

Mare De Dél De La Demunt:
One of the many Virgins we have painted for the wall of the Monastery of Montserrat in Barcelona.
The image shows 15 tiles and a separate border.


Nowadays, Majolica is better known as In-Glaze. There are many different ways of using this technique, which is also classified under the names Dry-cord and Stenciling. The method is the same but the manner of applying the colors is different. The photos show some of our tile designs to illustrate the various ways for using the Majolica method.

Villefranche de Conflent;
This picture shows a walled town in France.
The design features 9 tiles and a border.


It's important to keep in mind that with the Majolica method, the tile base and decoration are fired together in the kiln. It not only integrates the colors that overlap (to form other colors), but also adds to the fluidity, movement and intensity of the artisan's brush strokes. The white of the base is left as the lightest part to accentuate the dimensions. It's very difficult to correct mishaps. If you scrape off a mistake, once the tile is fired, the different strengths of the base or colors will be seen.

Delving further into the history of Majolica, the art became an illustrated method of informing the illiterate public by showing figurative conventions, as well as images decorated with church walls telling Bible stories. There are hundreds of one-tile designs showing craftsmen doing everyday jobs and collections showing the different processes of working; making wine, baking bread and may other occupations. Chemists pots were decorated with medical plants and their Latin names.

Fish in the Sea:
Nine tiles show how colors can be given textures,
when integrated with the white of the base.


Interestingly, as this glazing and firing technique made its way through Italy in the 15th century, it became known as Maiolica in the towns of Deruta and Gubbio. In 16th century Holland, it became known as Delft, while in France it was called Faience. Finally, in 17th century England where the method lasted nearly 150 years, it regained its original name of Majolica.

Further, during the 19th century industrial revolution of mass production, the first World Industrial Fair was held in London in 1851. This event was an international success and helped to globally influence all industrial and artistic crafts. As a result, the Majolica method gained a lasting foothold in England until about 1910. Since then, each piece has become a trophy for collectors

The name of a pottery shop is adorned with 20x20cm tiles
which have been cut to fit the shape of the door.


Sadly, since industrialized factories no longer employ hundreds of men who create each piece by hand, the Majolica method is dying out. Fortunately, you can learn the technical process of the Majolica method, but in decoration, you will need to learn how to paint and draw with a paint brush onto a crude glaze base. To accomplish this, you'll of course need to practice.

I hope you enjoyed this post and the in-depth look at the historical Majolica hand-painted tile technique.

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