Renaissance Maiolica: Painted Pottery for Shelf and Table

Exhibition Website

Oct 20 2016 - Jul 9 2017

This exhibition of Renaissance maiolica, drawn exclusively from The Met's world-renowned collection, celebrates the publication of Maiolica, Italian Renaissance Ceramics in The Metropolitan Museum of Art by Timothy Wilson. As Wilson writes, "Painted pottery, at its most ambitious, is a serious form of Italian Renaissance art, with much to offer those interested in the wider culture of this astoundingly creative period." This creativity was applied to a vast range of practical objects. The exhibition includes tableware and serving vessels, desk ornaments, storage containers, devotional objects, as well as sculpture, all made in painted and tin-glazed earthenware.

The maiolica tradition flourished from the 15th to the 17th century. Italian potters transformed techniques they owed to the Islamic world into something entirely unprecedented, and in turn laid the foundations for similar pottery traditions across Europe. Potters and pottery painters exploited innovations of the Renaissance goldsmith, sculptor, and painter in what was a relatively humble medium. That it was owned by the social elite of Italy, however, testifies to its artistic value.

This exhibition explores how the different functions of Renaissance maiolica dictated the ways painted pottery was seen and decorated. Groups of objects are installed in displays suggestive of their use. An assembly of storage jars give a sense of a pharmacy's shelves. Among the tableware on display are istoriato plates and dishes—their surfaces covered with scenes from mythology and ancient history—from some of the most important services commissioned by leading Italian families. The exhibition also shows maiolica-makers using ceramic, paint, and glaze to compete with other art forms, including a Madonna and Child that imitates a framed panel painting and a Lamentation group that likely once functioned as a sculpted altarpiece, the largest known example of sculptural maiolica to survive.

Exhibition overview from museum website

Whether you go or not,  the exhibition celebrates the publication of  Maiolica: Italian Renaissance Ceramics in The Metropolitan Museum of Art, which provides an in-depth look at the history of maiolica, told through 140 exemplary pieces from the world-class collection at the Metropolitan Museum. It offers a new perspective on a major aspect of Italian Renaissance art, the brightly colored tin-enameled earthenware called maiolica that was among the major accomplishments of decorative arts in 16th-century Italy.  Most of the works have never been published and all are newly photographed. The ceramics are featured alongside detailed descriptions of production techniques and a consideration of the social and cultural context, making this an invaluable resource for scholars and collectors. The imaginatively decorated works include an eight-figure group of the Lamentation, the largest and most ambitious piece of sculpture produced in a Renaissance maiolica workshop; pharmacy jars; bella donna plates; and more.

  • Decorative Arts
  • European
  • 15th - 17th Century
  • Ceramics / Porcelain / Pottery
  • Renaissance

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