Tag Archives: design

Majolica – Made in Faenza, Italy

Becky’s lovely Tavira vase post reminded me of the beautiful ceramics we saw a few years ago on a trip to Faenza in Italy, the town between Bologna and Florence which produces work of great originality from old, traditional, designs and occasional new designs.  These ceramics go by different names, depending on who is speaking about them: sometimes they are called Majolica ware, and sometimes they are called Faience, the French word for the ceramic, and the word from which the town derives its name.

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Faenza has been a flourishing city from the 2nd century AD; from the 11th century it started to really expand and grow and by the Renaissance period it had reached its peak, thanks to good relations with nearby Florence, the centre of Italian artistic life.  The city we see today with fine Renaissance architecture and Neo-classical monuments is a testament to this period of prosperity and growth.  P1090225

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Faenza majolica was born here because the land was rich in the type of clay needed for the production of fine pottery and because the inhabitants were able to mould the clay into beautiful objects.  Over the years the craftsmen absorbed the knowledge flowing from Florence and became experts in shape and line as they perfected the pottery and became artists.

Crowns, crowns and more crowns - a very popular subject
Crowns are one of the most popular objects and are very traditional

Majolica is terracotta clay, glazed with powder and water which makes the object waterproof and gives it a high gloss surface on which traditional designs are painted.  Sometimes the object is fired twice to give it strength and sometimes it is baked in a plaster cast which is then broken to expose the piece.

Crowns awaiting embellishment

The designs are etched on to the glaze, or sometimes the object is covered in paper on which pin-pricks are made, after which black coal-dust is used to stamp the lines through the pin-pricks – a form of stencilling.  Precious metals are also used and this makes the object more expensive, of course, as gold, silver and platinum need 3 firings and to be heated to 750 degrees.

Birthing set - for the new mother after baby is born
This set is given to a woman when she gives birth. It is for her first meal and includes a soup-bowl, egg-cups, plates, teapot etc.

One of the expert painters works on a design

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ceramic Plaque on Wall in Faenza

This is the sign for the oldest workshop in Faenza

Crowns are a very popular subject

In September and October international contemporary and classical ceramic art events draw majolica amateurs, collectors and artists to Faenza from all over the world.

This 'silver' decoration is pure platinum
The ‘silver’ stripe is actually platinum and the vase was priced at €1,400.

The ceramics alone make the trip to Faenza worthwhile and there are over 50 workshops most of which welcome visitors – look for the signs outside the shops (see one above).

However, Faenza is also a town of outstanding artistic and architectural features, two beautiful squares in Renaissance style, elegant arcaded streets, palaces, a 15th-century cathedral and an 18th-century theatre add to the aesthetic enjoyment while the food is superb.

Not to be missed:   The magnificent Museo Internazionale delle Ceramiche in Faenza has some of the world’s most beautiful pieces of majolica from every epoch and from all over the world, including a section dedicated to pottery from the Renaissance period.

A very expensive group of ceramics
Most items here are expensive.  For example,  the animal skin ceramic tea set was €400.

FOOTNOTE=

A ‘Majolica line’ can be traced from Faenza to the UK, through the centuries right up to the nineteenth when the technique of tin and lead glazing was further developed in London and Brighton before moving to Stoke-on-Trent, Staffordshire.   Herbert Minton’s porcelain factory in Stoke on Trent was already quite famous when, Leon Arnoux, the great French ceramic chemist joined it in 1841 to help regenerate the production of lead-glazed pottery based on Renaissance designs.

These early pieces were destined for English gardens as the lead glaze protected urns, fountains, garden seats and ornaments from the English weather.  Minton then used the same process for their fast-growing trade in culinary dishes, each piece descriptive of the food that would be served on it, oyster plates, fish platters crab, lobster and sardine boxes,  and game dishes showing rabbit, partridge, pheasant and quail.

(I have seen references to the effect that the word Majolica refers to the fact that the goods were first exported to Majorca and then re-imported,  It seems plausible but I haven’t been able to ascertain that this is, in fact, where the word came from).

 

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The Japanese Doll Studio

It was the window full of beautiful dolls dressed in exquisite kimonos that stopped me in my tracks as we strolled along Sanjyo Avenue, an area with many Meiji and Taisho-era buildings in Kyoto, former Imperial capital of Japan. This is a city where traditional arts and crafts flourish, where the scent of green tea drifts from the many long-established tea shops, and where it is customary to hire a kimono in which to stroll around and even to have matching make-up applied.

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Lured into the shop, Doll Studio Tomo, by the window display, we found a veritable heaven full of dolls, each one exquisitely dressed in costumes made from antique kimonos, each with a slightly different facial expression and posture. The dolls are the product of carefully selected materials and technical skills and have the faces, forms and postures of young children, projecting the image of an ideal child.  These are not dolls for children, but ‘collectables’ for very sophisticated grown-ups.

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Speaking to the proprietor of Studio Tomo, a member of the family that has been making these dolls since 1983, he explained that the dolls, which measure 26cm – 64cm, are the product of the maker’s awareness of the feelings of those who will look at them and enjoy them in their everyday lives, or as we would say, someone who knows his customers.

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The uniquely patterned costumes of these traditional Japanese dolls are made of priceless antique kimono fabric dating from the late Edo period (1600-1867) to the early Showa era (1926-1989).  The heads and bodies are made of pulverised seashells combined with a heated natural glue, which is poured into moulds until it hardens.  After this, the moulds are removed, the parts are polished with soft cloths, and the eyes, mouth, and other features are individually incised with a chisel.

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The eyes are made in the same way as artificial human eyes, then they are fixed in position to give the dolls a slightly shy, downturned glance.  The hair should sway naturally, so Tomo Studio is as careful in its selection of hair as it is in all other aspects of doll-making and the hair moves so that it evokes the image of the child doll.

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The costumes for all Tomo dolls are made from antique fabric. According to my research into the subject, Masako Morishige, who produces the dolls’ clothes, says that

“the history of these textiles goes back as far as the Momoyama period (1568-1600). Most of the dyed and woven cloth for the kimonos was made from the later Edo period to the early Showa era. The vivid reds and purples that are striking even in a dim exhibition hall cannot be produced by modern industrial methods. The patterns and design of traditional kimonos are reworked into fresh new creations. Valuable silk crepe from the Edo period and examples of Yuzen dyeing are also used”.

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Antique kimonos sell for huge sums, and £10,000 is nothing to spend on a garment, hence the high price of the dolls.  Alongside one of the dolls photographed above, is the price of 850,000 Yen and this is fairly average. The costumes are made from the undamaged parts that can be cut without ruining the original embroidery and the patterns in the cloth, a skill that demands artistic insight and an ability to be able to see the completed figure. Nothing is wasted, tiny pieces left over are used to make accessories.

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Doll Studio Tomo occasionally has exhibitions outside Japan (they were in London in 2015). Contact the Japanese National Tourism Board to enquire as to when they may be in your area.

Doll Studio Tomo Gallery, First Floor, SACRA Building, 20 Nakanomachi Saniyo Tominokouji, Nakagyoku, Kyoto, Japan 604-8083

Tel: +81 (0)75 211 5914     http://www.doll-tomo.com/english/

Montpelier: Antigone Area

Montpelier had been experiencing rapid growth since the 1970s.  The city was on line to become the new regional technology centre and there was a need for expansion and for more public housing.  In 1979, the newly elected municipal council of Montpelier, with far-seeing vision, decided to develop a whole new district to provide for this expansion and link the centre to the River Lez.  The plan for the stunning development incorporated a west-east axis consisting of a landscaped boulevard and a series of squares enclosed by residential blocks each of seven-stories, to terminate in a new waterfront “port” along the Lez.

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Magnificent Buildings along the 1 Kl-length of Antigone – Mari Nicholson

Thus did Antigone, surely the most attractive of new developments in France, c0me into being.  The 1-Kilometre length of this development was built on the grounds of the former Joffre Barracks, located between the old centre of Montpelier and the River Lez which meanders along the eastern side of the city.  It is known as the Champs-Élysées of Montpelier and the master plan was designed by Spanish architect, Ricardo Bofill – who also designed the majority of the buildings – as a series of grand neo-classical structures with pediments, entablatures and pilasters on a gigantic scale.

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Neo-Greek Statues with Fountain – Mari Nicholson

The Antigone squares are idealised, perfectly proportioned Renaissance spaces with grand names like La Place du Nombre d’Or.  Neo-classical Greek statuary that harks back to another age is dotted about the boulevards and plazas in streets that were planned to allow a paved walkway from Place des Echelles de la Ville to the River Lez.  A continuous movement of wheeled devices and small battery-powered minibuses provide transportation within the mall.

Antigone is an enormous project in every respect.   It includes about 4,000 new dwellings and 20,000 sq. meters of commercial space, the Languedoc-Roussillon regional government headquarters, office space, various government offices, restaurants and cafes, schools with special housing for students and artists, sports facilities, and underground parking.  This new development is town planning n a grand scale.

among the water spouts with Greek statue centre – Mari Nicholson

The only other project of this size and scale designed by one architectural firm is the Karl Mark Hof in Vienna, but this has a mere 1500 dwellings as compared to the 4,000 at Antigone and almost no other services.

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On the River Lez there are various watersports for the public – Mari Nicholson

A visit to this remarkable area of Montpelier makes it easy to see why it continues to attract worldwide attention.

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