Loza dorada – The Hispano-Moresque Ceramics and the Origins of Italian Majolica

Hispano-Moresque ceramicIn 711 a small army of North African Berbers invaded Spain and established an Iberian Islamic culture that would last for over 700 years.

This event was to make a major contribution to the development of art pottery in Europe.

Moors were great potters. Their techniques had traveled with them through North Africa to the Iberian peninsula, where they became well established, possibly as early as the 11th century.

They manufactured elaborate tin glazed pottery and metallic lusters which were still unknown in Europe. The success of their ceramics was immediate and soon they began to export them all over Europe.

Italian people were passionate about Hispano-Moresque pottery.
Local potters had never seen anything like that and wanted to investigate those innovative techniques. Collectors just loved them and ordered celebration plates, apothecary jars and tableware.

A massive import from Spain to Italy started in the 13th century. Vessels loaded with pottery arrived in Italy after a stop over in Majorca, the headquarter of the trade between Italy and Spain. Indeed, the term majolica by which such wares are now known may come from the name Majorca.

At the time, the main production area of Hispano Moresque ceramics in Spain was Malaga, situated in the Muslim reign of Grenade, governed by the Nasrid dynasty.

Hispano-Moresque ceramicThe “loza dorata”, the golden amber yellow lusterware from Malaga, was awesome.
Moorish potters applied a tin glaze over a design usually traced in cobalt blue. After the second firing a luster glaze made with silver and copper pigments was applied by brush over the tin glaze and the piece was fired again.

This splendid finish was first experimented to overcome a practical issue: the Holy Qran forbade the use of precious materials on the table. The “loza dorata” looked precious but it was made of ordinary materials (and hard work).

On January 2, 1492, the last Nasrid Sultan Boabdil surrendered to the Christian Spanish kingdom. That was the end of the Hispano Moresque ceramic production in Malaga. The most important pottery factories moved to Manises, near Valencia, from where they kept exporting their ceramics all over Europe.

In the meantime – from the 13th to the 15th centuries – Italian potters had been studying and copying the Hispano Moresque ceramics, which they called majolicas, first strictly meaning lusterware, then tin glazed earthenware in general.

Their technique was improving by the day, laying the ground for the Italian Majolicas that became so popular during the Renaissance.

Hispano-Moresque ceramicWe have evidence, though, that at least until the end of the 15th century, Italian collectors still had a special taste for Hispano Moresque ceramics.

They were a very hot trend in Venice. Nobleman and wealthy merchants ordered celebration plates decorated with their coat of arms and Monasteries ordered tableware decorated with short inscriptions in gothic letters.

The families who collected Hispano Moresque ceramics must have been very powerful if they could even influence the very strict Import Regulations of Venice: nothing could be imported from abroad but … pottery coming from Majorca or Valencia!

The rise of Italian Majolica however was steady and fast. Its beauty and original designs became more and more famous and the import of ceramics from Spain finally stopped in the early 16th century.

Important collections of Hispano Moresque ceramics are to be seen in many Italian Museums. They are an absolute must for pottery lovers and scholars. A new travel itinerary idea in our beautiful country.


  • Loza dorada – Le ceramiche ispano-moresche della collezione Corvisieri
    February 14 – March 14, 2008 – Roma, Palazzo Venezia
    A most interesting collection of Hispano Moresque Ceramics donated by the antique dealer and art collector Gustavo Corvisieri in 1935. Most of them, the so called “Golden Majolicas” were made in Spain in the 16th-18th centuries.
    The collection has been hidden in the Museum’s storage room for over 70 and will soon return there for lack of display space, therefore don’t miss this extraordinary opportunity if you can.


  • Museo Internazionale della Ceramica – Faenza
    The International Museum of Ceramics in Faenza houses the largest artistic pottery collection in the world: more than 3,500 works from all over the world.It also owns the largest collection in Italy of Muslim and Hispano Moresque pottery, beautiful pieces made in the 9th to 16th centuries that allow the visitor to experience the evolution of the Islamic pottery over time.
  • Galleria Giorgio Franchetti alla Ca’ d’Oro – Venice
    The Gallery houses Prof. Luigi Conton’s collection of Hispano Moresque pottery. He was a passionate scholar and collector. The history of Venetian ceramics and their tribute to Hispano Moresque pottery owes a lot to his relentless archeological studies run at the beginning of the 20th century.
  • Museo Nazionale della Ceramica “Duca di Martina” – Villa Floridiana, Naples
    Villa Floridiana is a magnificent 19th century villa overlooking Naples. It was built for the wife of Ferdinand I of Bourbon, King of the two Sicilies.The villa houses the collection of the Duke of Martina, consisting of Murano glasses, Capodimonte, Naples and Doccia works, a relevant collection of Hispano- Moresque ceramics from Manises, near Valencia, ceramics from Gubbio and Faenza, majolicas from Deruta and from Castelli.

2 thoughts on “Loza dorada – The Hispano-Moresque Ceramics and the Origins of Italian Majolica

  1. i have a full set of 18th century Hispano Mooresque in orange and cream, and I’m interested in selling. Can anyone give me some guidance.
    Thank you.

  2. Thank you for this interesting article. Could you possibly give me some relevant information regarding the first two plates illustrated on this page: the place and dates where they were made, etc.?

    (If you are interested, I can give you the reasons for my asking in a subsequent message.)

    Thanking you in advance,

    Ottawa, Canada

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