Maiolica is Italian tin-glazed pottery made in dazzling colours. New methods for making varied colours of glazes were initially brought to Sicily by the Arabs of North Africa in medieval times, and the art of making Maiolica then spread from Sicily throughout Italy during the Renaissance.
Nowadays the art has shrunk back down again and Sicily is by far the most vibrant and active centre for Maiolica or Majolica production. It is made with a passion in towns throughout Sicily, but some stand out, such as Santo Stefano di Camastro and Caltagirone. There are many different styles, distinguished by their colour-schemes, the type of objects made and the motifs painted on the pottery.
I went to Taormina recently and was introduced to a particular shop (OK, dragged there through the streets) by a friend who told me I absolutely MUST see this particular ceramics shop. I wasn’t complaining. I am not sure which of the two of us is more potty about these magnificent pots.
Luckily I had safely installed hubby and our son with another friend in a coffee shop nearby, which meant I had the chance to look around and make a small sneaky purchase without being harassed. Hubby is still enforcing The Great Economy Drive.
This is the shop owner holding a Moorish head which my friend bought. Her husband doesn’t seem to be on an economy drive at all at the moment. Lucky her.
The very nice lady in the shop gave me permission to photograph every plate, pot, vase, sculpture and Moorish head in the entire place. Which I duly did.
She told me they stock work by about a hundred different artists – when you look along a row of Moorish heads on a shelf, for example, it is clear in an instant that they are made in radically differing styles. These were the ones I fell in love with at first sight.
The shop contained every type of object you could possibly think of making out of ceramics. Here is a pedestal sink and a selection of table tops in various sizes. The pine cones in various colours around the sink are traditionally used to top gateposts, as are the Moorish heads.
I would love to know who or what that creature below on the right represents. He is vaguely like a Sphinx, but he looks so upset, poor little thing. The lady’s head below him, with three legs and no arms, is called a Trinacria and is the symbol of Sicily. It derives from the triangular shape of Sicily.
From the shop doorway, we could see this Moorish head in a turban, mounted high on a gatepost with a plant growing in it, as they are supposed to be.
Moorish heads, also called Saracen heads, are typical of Caltagirone, which is near Taormina and which was the first centre of majolica production established by the North Africans in Sicily. The shop stocked them in all sizes, ranging from larger than a real human head down to as small as an egg cup.
Majolica ceramics are so much a part of the culture in Sicily that you see shop signs and walls like this everywhere. I photographed this example in Taormina.
I also snapped this majolica satellite dish in Taormina. Aren’t these Sicilians inventive?
The shop I photographed for this post is called Il Girasole and it has its own website with hundreds of photographs. The artists they work with also make anything you want, to order. You can have a dinner service made with your name or portrait all over it, you could get a complete set of tiles with a landscape on them to decorate your kitchen. The more you look at this wonderful art, the more you realize your house needs completely redecorating!
They ship all over the world and, if you bear in mind these items are all hand made, one-off pieces of art, their prices are extremely modest. So modest, I may even have a chance of convincing hubby to let me buy just one more thing!