The earliest objects of Italian impermeable potteries are those found in the Presbytery of the Church of San Maria-Mare, built in the Xlllth century at Castro-Nuovo, and those of the steeple of Atri, dating about the year 1279. Of course we do not mean to exclude the fragments found at Tarsus and preserved in the museums, which date back to the Greco-Roman period, and bear evidence of plumbeous glaze.
But the use of stanniferous enamel was not perfected in Italy until about 1432, by Lucca della Robbia (1400-1481), who applied it upon a terra-cotta base and produced a new ware erroneously called Majolica. The earliest date affixed to a piece of Lucca della Robbia’s work is 1438, and is not lustred. Lucca della Robbia was brought up a goldsmith, and subsequently studied sculpture ; he was a pupil of Ghiberti, and is reputed to have assisted him in making the superb bronze gates of the Baptistery of the Cathedral at Florence.
The earliest date upon a piece of Italian lustred ware is 1489. After 1570 its production decreased rapidly; the earlier Italian lustred pieces are now called Mezzo-Majolica, because, unlike the majolica ware, they were lead and not tin glazed. The ground was of a buff color, which was sometimes, before glazing, covered with a thin coating of fine white clay, making it resemble more the true majolica. The sgraffiati or incised ware was produced by engraving through this white surface and exposing the terra cotta beneath. This mezzo-majolica was first produced at Pesaro, in whose archives it is frequently mentioned, and afterwards at Gubbio and Diruta.
Federigo de Montefeltro, the second Duke of Urbino (1444-1482), both soldier and scholar, did much to assist and incite the production of artistic work of all kinds. Lucca della Robbia produced works for him. Under the third Duke of Urbino, Guidobaldo (1482-1508), stanniferous enamel or true majolica was produced at Faenza, Florence, Urbino, Pesaro, and other places in Italy. The production increased and was perfected under succeeding dukes until 1631, when Francesca Maria II, the sixth and last Duke of Urbino, died, and the artists losing their protectors soon lost their art. The rich collections which had been formed at the palaces of the Dukes of Urbino fell into the rapacious hands of Ferdinand de Medici and were removed to Florence. Attempts to revive this industry have been several times made with mediocre success, and at the present day Ferlini in Bologna, Ginori in Doccia, Joseph Devers in Paris, and Minton in England, imitate della Robbia’s ware, and recently some very fair specimens of lustre have been produced.
The development and increase of the production of majolica in Italy were due to the protection and assistance of the noble families which arose to power and distinction in Italy during the XIVth, XVth and XVIth centuries, especially to the six Dukes of Urbino (1443-1631), and to the Medici family, who first appeared in Florence in 1380, attained great power under Lorenzo, about 1350, and were banished from 1498 to 1512, when they returned to attain greater influence and wealth. After 1631 the dukedom of Urbino reverted to the Pope, who failed to encourage or assist the artists in the production of fine work, and soon the invasion and conquest of Italy by Charles V, of Spain, overturned the existing noble families and inaugurated a new order of things.. About this date Oriental porcelain was introduced, and it superseded the production of majolica, which soon became almost a lost art.
At Castelli, near Naples, in 1450, mezzo-majolica was produced, and from 1525 to the present day, stanniferous enamelled faience has still been made. Beautiful pieces were produced at this factory in the XVIth century, and it was from here that Naples called artists to found its potteries in 1524.
The Royal Factory of Capo-de-Monte was founded in Naples in 1736 by Charles III. A kind of porcelain and a very beautiful faience were produced. This factory is still noted for its artistic bas and haul reliefs, which are beautifully colored.