Second Term Material Culture Overview for Renaissance Maiolica
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These two plates (slide mouse over image to change the plate), commonly known as Piatti da Pompa, or 'show plates' are both produced in the Archaic (fourteenth century) style of the Umbria region, which is characterized by the limited colour palette of yellows, blues and browns. Courtesy of Stoneroads ceramic collection.

The depiction on each plate of a merchant and a merchant's wife, along with the inscription of their names in the scroll surrounding their portraits, indicates the plates would have been exchanged as gifts and hung on a wall as a personal momento. (the names are 'Corradino di Svevia' for the man and 'Caterina Bella' for the woman')

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Questions that Arise from Artifact Analysis

After analyzing various objects in my maiolica study, certain questions arise which I will integrate in the further analysis of my objects:

1. Where was maiolica made and who commissioned the pieces? Also, how lucrative was their production and how were they distributed?

2. What symbols and implications were associated with giving these objects during specific occasions and for certain periods of one's life?

3. How were these objects used and what was their position within the Renaissance household?

4. Why was maiolica which was specifically created for certain purposes popular during the Renaissance? What kind of cultural norms and rituals supported the production, purchase and giving of these objects?

5. How did certain styles of maiolica express particular notions of humanistic philosophy, ideals of Renaissance beauty and harmony, and certain superstitious symbols which was popular during this time?

6. Are collections of maiolica listed in the inventories of certain individuals which are to be found in historical texts (such as the Merchant of Prato)which may indicate the extent of the popularity and prestige of these objects?

7. Why was there such an emphasis on colour and design in the decoration of maiolica? Did the painstaking intricacy of these objects limit the extent of their use (for example, were parturition bowls put away permanently after the child was born? How would this then change the status of these bowls, in that they become heirlooms, and the deference accorded to them within the household?

8. How do these objects fit within the cultural styles of the Renaissance and in the more general scope of art history and anthropology?

9. How did maiolica styles of the Renaissance transform through geographical and temporal parameters to become associated with the various styles of maiolica in Spain and Portugal, and the Victorian ware of England which became known as 'majolica'?

10. Why does the style and production of Renaissance maiolica permeate to the present day, where their popularity remains high as reflected by the various retail and online outlets which sell these objects?

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Additional Information for the Second Term Research Paper


Formation of Topic based on Questions: I will take the ten questions that I have indicated in the table above and narrow the broader overview of maiolica to specifically concentrate on the maiolica of the Italian Renaissance which depicts particular gendered themes, such as scenes of domesticity, portraiture of men, women or children, or specific themes associated with certain gendered roles- such as those of childbirth, marriage, religious iconography, etc. These categories are quite wide and may include many kinds of pieces, so I will make general categories with various sub-categories to help organize the pieces and direct my understanding of them. I will also attempt to connect these pieces with the later interpretations of maiolica in Spain, and the majolica of Victorian England.



Thesis: By analyzing various kinds of maiolica pieces from a stylistic and cultural perspective, I hope to understand the societal values which inspired their production. Moreover, I would like to uncover the symbolism of these pieces with regards to Renaissance ideology regarding art and humanism, such as the stress on artistic conventions, portraiture and design beauty. Finally, I hope to uncover the implications that such pieces had within the context of the ritualized relationships among various gender groups, such as those of brides and grooms, mothers and fathers, husbands and wives, children and parents, professional guilds and confraternities, and religious orders of priests and nuns.


Sources to aid in compiling Research: With regards to maiolica research, I will conduct much of it at the Gardiner Museum of Ceramic Art, located on Avenue Road, south of Bloor Street, in Toronto. The Museum possesses one of the finest collections of historical maiolica pieces in North America, exemplifying two great tin-glaze traditions: Italian Renaissance Maiolica and 17th century English delftware. Equally important is the Royal Ontario Museum, located across the street from the Gardiner Museum, and its collection of European decorative pieces. This collection contains a vast array of Renaissance decorative pieces, including maiolica.

Other sources which might be helpful are the accounts of inventories in the wills of various individuals during the Renaissance, which may further broaden my understanding of the popularity of maiolica and their societal status. Sources which describe the nature of the Renaissance interior would help in the placing of these objects within their proper space, so that certain attitudes towards these objects and their usages would become more clear. Finally, any anecdotal information, like the description of the marriage dowries or the types of gifts given for certain occasions, either in prescriptive literature or personal accounts, would be useful for my research.

Further historiographical research will also be conducted to broaden my understanding of the styles of Renaissance art and the implications of humanism and ideals associated to concepts of beauty and religious devotion among others. I will also broaden my research by investigating various works associated with gender history of the Renaissance.(Second Term Bibliography)


In order to aid with the systemization of both object and textual sources, I will maintain a database gathering both, which will then be applied in the construction of both the research paper and the final website. The model for Maiolica object analysis (see Model for Maiolica Analysis Form) will be an integral part in connecting the object analysis to the broader research regarding art history, Renaissance design ideals, societal values and gender relations. A final conclusion regarding the role of these pieces within the modern day context will situate my research in the broader sphere of modern values and ideals, on the various levels previously described.

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