Renaissance Maiolica

20 Oct — 29 May 2017 at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, United States

Renaissance Maiolica. Courtesy of The Met
Renaissance Maiolica. Courtesy of The Met
18 MAY 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.