THE MAKING OF MAJOLICA Historically, many of the “ceramic towns” were located along the Arno and Tiber riverbanks where naturally occurring deposits of clay are found. This, and the time consuming process of creating majolica, has changed very little over the centuries. Whether the piece is molded or hand thrown, there are five basic steps from the raw clay to the finished product.
IL TORNIANTE (The Potter)
In a process used for centuries, the art of Majolica begins with a plain lump of refined clay that is slowly brought to life by "Il Torniante". With the kick of the potter’s foot, the wheel spins into motion and, the lump of clay begins to take life masterfully shaping the raw chunk of clay into a vessel, a plate or a large urn.
LA PRIMA COTTURA (The First Firing) The naturally dried piece is then loaded into the kiln to be processed at the "Prima Cottura". The clay item that emerges from the kiln after this first 950-degree firing is referred to as "Biscotto" (Bisque), a baked terracotta piece featuring the typical red or white color depending on the type of clay used.
LA SMALTATURA (The Glazing) Once cooled, the Bisque is dipped into the "Smalto", a fast drying chalky liquid glaze.
This step, while simply described, represents an important part of the entire process because the next firing will melt the glaze with the colors, determining color tones, glazing texture, and uniform quality of the piece. The chemical composition of the "Smalto" is complex and every factory has it's own formula that is kept very secret! The Bisque, now wholly covered by the white powdery glaze, is ready for painting.
LA PITTURA (The Painting) The painstaking process of painting the Bisque is the essence of Majolica. The Painter, "Il Pittore", may paint a decoration freehand, or use a type of pounce, "Spolvero", to stencil sketches of the design taken from historical drawings. The painter must fully understand the complexities of coloration, as the raw glazes used for painting all have a very similar Gray/Black tone and the painting must be a error-free process as mistakes cannot be easily corrected. The true and brilliant colors will be produced only after the finished product emerges from the final kiln firing.
LA SECONDA COTTURA (The Second Firing) In this final step, the painted item is loaded again onto the kiln for a second firing at about 920-degrees. This delicate process requires great care to avoid scratching or touching any item to be fired. Depending on the size of the items, the ceramics may require up to 12 hours of firing at a constant high temperature. It is very important that the "cool-off" period be a "natural" cooling. The kiln's safe-type door must not be opened until the temperature is low enough to avoid "thermal shock", which would literally destroy (crack) the entire kiln load.
IT IS A MAJOLICA PIECE! A prestigious name earned with this centuries-old process!
The finished product emerges from this final firing, its brilliant colors safely protected by a robust and uniform glaze. Once cooled, the ceramic piece emerges to take its place in history to be cherished for time to come.
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