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What is known today as "majolica" utilizes a technique of applying a tin or lead based enamel on soft, porous earthenware which can be dated back thousands of years to ancient Persia where it was used in the construction of mosques and monuments throughout history. It was first introduced to Europe in the 16th century via the Spanish Island of Majorca, from whence "majolica" is named. First adopted by Italian artisans, it thrived during the Renaissance under the patronage of the Medici family and was soon copied by the French, Dutch, and eventually England where arguably it was raised to the highest form. Forms of majolica were produced in many parts of the world, including Latin America where it was introduced by the Spaniards as they colonized and explored the new world. However, most collectors today refer to majolica not so much for the technique as for the works produced in 19th century England which have colorful, high gloss glazes. Majolica colors are very distinctive and used consistently by many manufacturers, and the designs were often bright and creative. Majolica artisans used the light color of their clay bodys and hand molding and modeling to create areas where the glaze would collect more heavily and coalesce naturally to create unique finishes. As such, the decorative pattern is part of the clay mold itself. After a first firing, majolica is then decorated with the bright, metallic glazes and fired a second time to create its distinctive look.

Victorian majolica is the most highly sought, produced from the mid 19th century into the very early years of the 20th century. Majolica of this period can also be recognized by the common themes repeated in majolica work of this period including leaves, fruit, mythological figures, lions, birds, lions, rams, and other plants and animals. Oriental influences also made their way into majolica production, introducing monkeys, elephants, and more exotic creatures foreign to Europe. Much majolica is unmarked from this period and must be recognized by specific characteristics of the manufacturer. However, the best and most highly collected pieces of English majolica are typically marked and were produced by Minton, Wedgwood, Royal Worcester, Holdcroft, Lear, and George Jones. American manufacturers of majolica included Eureka and Chesapeake Potteries and Griffin, Smith, & Hill; In continental Europe, probably the best known producers were Sarreguemines, Luneville, and Villeroy & Boch.

Minton majolica tends to be the most highly collected, first created by Minton art director Joseph Arnoux in 1848. He patterned his work on ancient "maiolica" but differs in having a much thicker body and an opaque white underglaze which was used as a foundation for application of the more brightly colored glazes forming the actual majolica decoration. Majolica is often confused with maiolica, a method of brushing color pigments on an unfired glaze developed in regions of Italy, Spain, and Persia beginning in the middle of the 15th century. Maiolica's base glaze is glossy and made whiter with the addition of tin oxide and firing at very high temperatures, and it is well suited for ceramics to be finely decorated with paint. This is different than majolica's use of free flowing glazes and bodies whose form reflects the design to coalesce glazes in the desired locations.

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