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Secret Life of Antiques: French Majolica I

I’m excited about the latest issue of Victorian Homes Magazine for Fall. Fall is my favorite season, and it seems it can’t get here fast enough once August begins. This issue features my article about Antique French Majolica, with an emphasis on French Asparagus plates, platters and other pieces collectors and fans of French Country style adore! I will share this article in this, and the next post. I hope to ignite your passion for these hand made, hand painted treasures from France, the favorite of interior designers, they are graphically stunning, with amazing bright color, and stories to share of many dinners, both simple and grand.

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Antique majolica excites collectors and designers alike with its strong, vivid colors. With a seemingly unending variation of colors, styles, and shapes, these functional pieces of the past make stunning décor today. Made in an infinite variety of naturalistic designs, majolica can be found in many colors and forms to enhance any interior, and displayed as decorative art. Many of these colorful antiques were designed for the Victorian dining table, each piece beautifully illustrating what it was used for.

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History of Majolica
Herbert Minton, the English ceramist, is credited with coining the phrase Majolica. Exhibiting his new line of ceramics at The Great Exhibition of 1851 in London, he called his colorful pieces Palissy ware, an homage to the 16th century Frenchman Bernard Palissy, whose high relief, vididly colored lead glazed pieces inspired Minton’s French born art director Léon Arnoux.

The word majolica was also used to describe Minton’s collection of ceramics, since it resembled the tin-glazed 16th-century Spanish and Italian earthenware of the same name. Minton’s work quickly became known by aficionados as majolica.

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A soft paste earthenware that was fired to biscuit stage, majolica was coated with opaque lead or tin glaze which was allowed to dry. The piece was then hand painted with colorful metal oxide glazes, and fired again, creating the glossy lustrous glazed finish for which majolica is most admired.

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Majolica was mass produced, making it possible for the middle class to emulate the sumptuous lifestyle of royals and the extremely wealthy, since a majolica set of plates was much less costly than the gilded porcelain sets favored at court.
Excitement about majolica traveled across the chanel, and before long there was a majolica renaissance in late 19th century Europe, in particular in France. Called barbotine, many of the French factories started producing striking serving pieces with diverse designs.

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At the same time, asparagus was the most favored delicacy to serve to important guests. Once a luxury food for the extremely wealthy only, the industrial revolution made it possible for the middle classes of Europe to obtain and partake of this delicacy. So popular was the vegetable, that there were asparagus competitions, asparagus fairs, towns crowned asparagus Queens, and “asparagus frenzy” spread throughout western Europe.

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As a result of asparagus’s extensive popularity in France, the barbotine factories expanded their production to design and market a seemingly infinite variety of asparagus serving pieces. Magnificent Asparagus serving cradles, platters and plates made in the Alsace Lorraine region of France, from the ceramic artists in Tours and Paris, and the factories of Sarregeumines, St. Clement, Choisy-le-Roi and Luneville are especially appealing.

A few of our currently available Antique Barbotine Asparagus and Artichoke pieces are shown below.

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 1. Longchamp Cradle. 2. Keller Guerin Set of 6 Plates. 3. Luneville Cradle. 4. Keller Platter and Plates. 5. Purple Asparagus Plate Set. 6. Sarreguemines Cradle. 7. Purple Asparagus Plates.
Do you have a collection of Majolica pieces you love? Please share about your collection, or one prized piece, below… we love hearing about your treasures! In my next post I will share the types of asparagus majolica and also how to display your majolica collection. Read Part 2 HERE.

Shop for the best in French Antiques, furniture with the patina of age, vintage accessories to delight you and your family & friends, and French Country utilitarian pieces. Treasures that make your home fresh, beautiful, inspirational and uniquely yours. Visit our shop FrenchGardenHouse.com.

6 Responses to Secret Life of Antiques: French Majolica I

  1. Hi, Love the site. Majolica is one of my favorite things to collect . I change out the collection using the darker greens and browns for the fall. In the spring the blues and pinks go beautifully with the spring tulips daffodils and other flowers available. I always put aliner glass of plastic if I use the large pitchers for vases. Thanks for sharing the beautiful objects of the past.

  2. Lidy, I read the article in Victorian Homes on Majolica. It was very interesting, I have always loved these pieces but didn’t know that much about them. My grandmother had several and I always adored them. Thank for posting your beauties. Hugs, Jo

  3. Thanks so much for taking the time to visit, and leaving a comment, Fifi! Coming from you, editor of many gorgeous magazine, I take this as the highest compliment!

  4. Wonderful article, Lidy–I love majolica, but up to this point it’s been mostly out of reach to me. I’ve owned some pretty American-type but never French. I’m pinning this to my Antique & Vintage Resources board 🙂

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