evolution in quality is due, however, to technology, and to the change
of shape of the objects produced. During the time lapse the
technologicalaesthetic improvement of the ceramics found in the most
important centres of production throughout the Peninsular, is evident
above all in the production of maiolica.
expectancy that city salary earners had for a better economic situation
and the concomitant demographic crisis, described by writers of the same
generation like Boccaccio and demonstrated by economic historians like
Abel, accentuated the idea of reaching a decent lifestyle for some of
the social groups was in this way possible. By the consequent lowering
of the social prestige of certain objects, among which the traditional
archaic maiolica — the only enamelled ceramic in circulation at that
time and, for this reason, considered a luxury item — now became more
This growth could have induced a diversification of the offer as a
counteraction to the new demand for quality.
|| Filippo Brunelleschi e
Francesco della Luna
portico dell’Ospedale degli Innocenti di Firenze
Together with the new economic situation, not only determined by the
demographic void created not just by the acute stage of the plague in
1348-49 but also by the endemic rooting of the illness in the cities,
were probably the reasons why the so called “international gothic” style
spread in the arts. It was a formal elegant style, rich with ideological
references and at the time incisive, but which, in our eyes, may appear
For Italian ceramic craftsmen of that period, an aesthetic improvement
of enamelled products, implied using the whitest surface possible. A
technological tradition, developed at the end of the 12th century in the
so called “graffite tirreniche” (scratching) was re-appropriated in the
“proto-maiolica” phase, a phase which had already experimented the
technique of the white paste spread over the vessels before the first
firing, that is, the white “ingobbio” technique.
This procedure underwent a period of adjustment in some areas of
production, in particular, in the Senese centres and in Southern
Tuscany. Only later was this procedure consecrated by technical writers
like Biringuccio in De pirothecnica.
the Florentine area, instead, a completely different method was adopted
to achieve the same results. Instead of using a whitish “ingobbio” paste
on the surface of the clay objects ready for firing, whose prime
material was extracted or collected from the local quarries and yielded
a reddish shade, the clay itself was lightened as much as possible.
A similar chromatic correction could have been obtained by adding
calcium, probably in the form of lumps of lime, during the phases of
cleaning and ‘maturing’.
This technical development, characterises the difference between
maiolica produced in the Florentine area from that of most contemporary
Senese and Pisan products. It began during the last twenty years of the
14th century and, after a long period of experimentation, was concluded
by the middle of the 15th century. The intrinsic quality of the new
whitish paste was, in the end, generally adopted in the “Florentine”
genre from the beginning of the 15th century. The blend of different
components in the mixture reached its maximum balance in this same
period and was, perhaps, the result of an appropriate and skilful
procedure of maturation. A harder and more compact supporting base was,
thus, obtained in comparison to the one used during the previous thirty
years of the century.
difficult to say how much this technique originated locally or came from
other traditions such as Spain or Islam.
We know that clay mixing, not only for their thermal qualities but with
the scope of favouring the glazed coating, was a current process of
Eastern ceramists and probably of North African craftsmen, too. This can
already be seen in the late 13th century, in the “Pula” type maiolica
from Eastern Spain, a “sandwiched” composition apparent after the first
firing. When seen in crosssection, the outlines are highlighted where in
contact with the glaze, while the inside is orange coloured. Without
specific documentation it is believed that the creation of the whitish
base originated from the local experiments in the Florentine area, but
it cannot be excluded they were imitations of those from other places in
the Mediterranean, particularly from Spain.
Together with the tin used in the production stage, a better quality of
glazing gave purer whiteness to the finished product, in so much that
the finishing effect did not depend on the contrast (“ingobbio”) but to
the original whitish support, giving the Florentine craftsmen a greater
advantage. The amalgamation of the glaze and the “ingobbio” where the
adhesion of the selenium-metallic layer to the support, often caused
other problems, the clay with calcium mixture, ART AND LIFE:
“RENAISSANCE OF MAIOLICA” 41 favoured the fixing of the glazing. During
the first firing, the surface covered with this rich calcium paste,
naturally screened for the loss of gas, and having this small web of
microscopic holes, permitted the glaze to adhere.
Unfortunately, it is impossible to know where this process of treating
clay (also used for higher quality products in the Senese area)
originated from. From our knowledge of the energy and precocity the
ceramists from Bacchereto had and from their travels, the honour might
be given to those valid craftsmen, but this hypothesis cannot be
confirmed without specific documentation.
The perfection of the clay mixture at the base of this whitening could
have come from an outside source to Montalbano.
nonetheless, had an effect on the vase-makers who moved from Bacchereto
to other places, especially to Florence, in the second half of the 14th
century. So the diffusion of this technique was a merit of these and
A great development in ceramic technology did, however, take place in
Florence, even though no recordings of its qualitative turnout have yet
been found. The regional archives throw further light on the importance
this change had on the developing market in the 14th century.
The technological development of these years, that is, this new whitish
glaze obtained after the first firing process of Florentine vases,
obviously influenced other significant innovations. The quality and
quantity of this glazing also had an impact on the significant
introduction of cobalt blue decoration.