Maiolica: Italian Renaissance Ceramics from the Corcoran Collection
In Renaissance Italy, highly skilled artisans produced an impressive array of beautiful, functional objects to furnish homes and workplaces. Italians were particularly avid consumers of tin-glazed earthenware, or maiolica, whether local or imported, large or small, decorative or, most often, utilitarian. On view is a selection of maiolica from the William A. Clark Collection at the Corcoran Gallery of Art.
Maiolica held a significant place in Renaissance life. On the most practical level, maiolica was used to present and hold food and drink. Often these ceramics were decorated with sophisticated narrative scenes drawn from Greek and Roman mythology and history as well as from religious texts. Such compositions sparked conversation and encouraged sociability at the dining table.
Maiolica was also incorporated into daily life in ways that went beyond the table. Inkstands served as testaments to their owners' literacy. Devotional objects and votive plaques demonstrated the importance of religion in Renaissance life. Decorative ceramics made excellent betrothal or marriage gifts, and they were sometimes presented to women to encourage, celebrate, and commemorate childbirth. Collectors displayed ceramics in prominent locations, citizens gave them as gifts, notaries referred to them in documents, and merchants imported them from neighboring city-states and farther afield. Outside the home, apothecary shops displayed their stock on rows of open shelves, with each ingredient stored in its own ceramic jar. Useful and beautiful, maiolica played a prominent role in everyday life and helps us to imagine what Italian Renaissance society was like.
Timothy Wilson, Keeper in the Department of Western Art, The Ashmolean Museum of Art and Archaeology, Oxford University, will give a free public lecture about Italian Renaissance maiolica on Monday, March 7, at 3:00 p.m. in the Corcoran Gallery of Art Frances and Armand Hammer Auditorium. Seating is unreserved. Mr. Wilson is a noted authority on ceramics, glass, metalwork, and sculpture. He has a special interest in Italian decorative arts and with Dora Thornton he is cataloguing the maiolica collection at the British Museum.