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Ceramics through the history of Europe

Creativity with fired clay is limitless and since ancient times it has marked almost every civilization, and chronological and local varieties are deeply significant and defining. Today we are talking about ceramics through the history of Europe.

The term is wide-ranging and it would literally embrace all productions made with clay (including porcelain), but in general it refers to pieces made of terracotta, pottery or especially earthenware. The latter is a base on which the shape is created with the corresponding clay and after a first firing, it is given a glazing coat (of tin or lead), which makes it white or coloured and waterproof. After coating, earthenware could be decorated by applying colours or by painting it with pigments.

With a very direct authenticity, either the most aristocratic style or the most traditional one, ceramics offers certain features that allow us to assign it to specific times and places. This interest, together with the strength, firmness and beauty of the productions, have made ceramics to have loyal customers, both in terms of container objects and tiles, which are usually on sale at online ceramic auctions. Within the antiques field, it is not weird for ceramics to shine on its own merit. It is also worth noting the importance of stoneware, which is a harder ceramic, fired at high temperature and to which some artists of the late 19th and of the 20th Century were devoted and which has also given rise to active collecting.

1. European ceramics

Spanish ceramics, of major relevance during the Middle Ages, had Arabic roots and were massively imported into Italy via Mallorca, where it received the name of  “maiolica”. Likewise, the maiolica from Faenza (a city in central Italy), which was well known in France, was there called “faiance”.

In northern Europe, the Dutch production from Delft was the most outstanding and its name was often used to refer to productions from the Netherlands and England, where pieces were made using the same techniques. Therefore, with these ceramic groups we already have access to some of the main European production areas.

Since the Renaissance, Italian pieces made in Urbino, Deruta, Casteldurante, Cafoggiolo or Faenza had a great impact, as they were imported and imitated everywhere. In the 17th Century, earthenware from Castelli was also introduced into large Italian manufactures.

In France, also since the 16th Century, there were important earthenware manufactures such as Rouen, or important authors such as Bernard Palissy, while in the 17th Century were Nevers, Moustiers or Saint-Cloud the most famous ones.

On the other hand, the greatest styles and trends of the 18th Century were of great importance in Strasbourg and Marseilles, in addition to in the aforementioned manufactures. In Holland, the so-called city of Delft played a major role as an important production centre since the Baroque period, and it was there where the Dutch Indian Company was established in 1602, which had a determining influence by importing its ceramic creations.

2. The Spanish production

The earliest important centres were Paterna and Manises, in the East. The influence of gilt-reflection earthenware produced in this second town was fundamental. Jugs, pharmacy jars, bowls or large dishes are still very famous and preserved in main museums. Gothic ceramics created there was so important that it continued during the Renaissance and was imitated in many different locations such as Barcelona, Reus, Triana or Aragon.

Since the 17th Century, ceramics decorated in blue on white became very popular. Original and very distinctive series were created particularly in Catalonia, Talavera and Aragon, although polychrome series were also noteworthy. This trend remained in the 18th Century, when the Alcora manufacture was established. It entailed an approach to the formal and decorative aesthetics that were in vogue in Europe (particularly in France). There, it was especially important the influence of Moustiers and the series “a la Berain”, “Chinescos”, “Cacharrero” or the pieces made of pipe clay, which were very successful, among many others. In the 19th Century, as a result of the pressure of industrialisation, printed earthenware was developed, particularly in Seville (La Cartuja-Pickman), Cartagena (La Amistad) and Galicia (Sargadelos).

3. The importance of tiles

Also tiles have played a key role within Iberian ceramic tradition; from the great Sevillian creations of the Renaissance or the Gothic blue tiles from Manises, there have been developed some genuine specialities. In the 17th and 18th centuries, Catalan, Valencian or Talavera panels with scenes were very famous, as well as their borders, or the tiles with repetitive panels, also known as “sample” tiles. In Catalonia, the single pieces known as “d’arts i oficis” are particularly outstanding because of their diversity and liveliness.