Yesterday was International Museum Day, so I am one day late with a museum post, but actually, every day is museum day, right? On Monday the MAK – Museum of Applied Arts in Vienna had a very special evening: Notte della Maiolica Italiana – Night of Italian Majolica. Why Italian? Because for one, the Italian Renaissance is what made this art form really big, and for another, they had a really special treat in store for visitors: the Italian contemporary maiolica artist Marino Moretti gave a demonstration workshop in which he showed all the steps of making a majolica piece, except for the firing part.
The exhibition “Tin Glaze and Image Culture” opened at the MAK in April and showcases the outstanding majolica collection of the MAK in the context of its history. Featured are majolica pieces from the 15th to the 18th century and a few pieces of more recent times, as well as some contemporary artworks using this technique. Majolica items are tin-glazed luxury ceramics that were developed in Italy in the Renaissance. Called maiolica in Italian, this type of pottery art came to Italy from Mallorca, Spain. It is made through a tin-glaze process (glaze dipping/pouring/brushing on, drying, painting the design, firing the ceramics) that results in an opaque white glazed surface that can then be further decorated with brush-painting in metal oxide enamel colour(s). Majolica ceramics became really sophisticated from the 15th century on. In the exhibition, which by the way is located in a “brutalist” cellar that makes quite a contrast to the fanciful art exhibits, the historical exhibits are juxtaposed with designs by contemporary Italian majolica artists.
The MAK collection includes objects from the imperial collection of Ferdinand von Tirol’s Kunstkammer in Ambras Castle and from the estate of Franz Ferdinand von Österreich-Este, the majolica from Neukloster Abbey in Wiener Neustadt, and a few artworks that were obtained for the exhibition through international loans from important European collections. Many of the pieces are decorated with historical and mythical scenes, they were produced for wealthy collectors and were highly coveted.
The colourful paintings on tin-glazed majolica tell us a lot about Renaissance culture. The way the glazing process has conserved the colours means that no other form of Renaissance painting is that colourful, although originally Renaissance paintings were in fact very colourful (and one can see this when pieces have been expertly restored).
Italian maiolica is still produced and very popular with motifs including folk art forms and reproductions of the historic style, but there are also contemporary artists making variations on the old themes. I was lucky to be able to watch one foremost maiolica artist at work, showing us how he draws the concept image, mixing the paints, pouring the glaze, and painting his design onto the ceramic.
I most admired Marino Moretti´s skill of turning two plain unadorned ceramic pieces into intricately designed majolica artworks within less than two hours. Of course, he told us, this was the express version of producing it, normally he takes a lot more time to produce his artworks.
The exhibition is guest curated by Timothy Wilson, who also gave a very interesting historical tour during the special Italian evening, and realized with the support of the Italian Cultural Institute in Vienna. The MAK´s own curator of the Glass and Ceramics Collection is Rainald Franz.
The exhibition at the MAK runs until 7 August 2022.