Santo Stefano di Camastra is one of Sicily’s ceramics centers. There is an entire street of the town lined with ceramics shops that are filled with majolica ceramics (maiolica in Italian). Majolica describes a technique of decorating earthenware (ceramics made with red clay, AKA bisque or biscuit) that has been fired at a relatively low temperature (1800-2100 degrees Fahrenheit). After its first firing, it is coated with a primary layer of white chalky glaze. Once that is dry, the artist paints his or her designs using a paint containing metal oxide pigments. When the earthenware is fired a second time at 1690 degrees Fahrenheit, the glaze interacts with the paints, creating brilliant colors like the ones you see on the ceramics pictured.
According to the book “Sicilian Food and Wine: The Cognoscente’s Guide” by Francesca Lombardo and Jacqueline Alio, “Majolica was probably introduced into the Arab world sometime during the ninth century … Early majolica may have reflected the Arab’s attempts to reproduce Chinese porcelain; the painted white ground may have been an effort to duplicate porcelain’s naturally light color.”
According to Tiziana Manzetti, writing for the Italian Pottery Journal, she explained that by the 13th century, majolica was imported into Italy from the Isle of Majorca, which is located off of eastern Spain in the Mediterranean and was Arabic from the early 10th century until the 13th century. The Italians called the earthenware Maiolica, erroneously, thinking it originated from Majorca. “They were fascinated by this new way of making ceramics, and soon started to copy the process, adapting it to their own creativity and traditions.”
I’m thrilled to understand why majolica is so spectacularly colorful and its historic origins!