||The making of Majolica
Historically, many of the ceramic towns were located along the Arno and Tiber riverbanks where naturally occurring deposits of clay are found. This, and the time consuming process of creating majolica, has changed very little over the centuries. Whether the piece is molded or hand thrown, there are five basic steps from the raw clay to the finished product.
Step one: The Potter
Using refined clay, the potter will create a piece by hand forming, hand turning on a wheel, or slip-molding. Once formed, the In Terra (or greenware) is left to dry naturally. Now light gray in color, the piece is ready for the kiln.
Step 2: The First Firing
Loaded onto large racks and wheeled into the kiln, the first firing is done at 750 degrees. The door to the kiln must remain closed for hours allowing the temperature to cool gradually; a dramatic change in temperature could cause everything to crack! It is during this firing that the pieces, now referred to as Biscotto (Bisque), acquire the typical terracotta red color.
Step 3: The Glazing
Using tongs, the bisque is dipped into a bath of fast drying liquid glaze called Primo Bianco (First white) or Smalto (enamel). This powdery glaze will bond with the subsequent colored glazes during the final firing. The chemical makeup of this liquid glaze, whether white or oatmeal colored, is a much-guarded secret from one factory to another.
Step 4: The Painting
This is where the true artist shines! The glazes used to produce the familiar rich and vibrant colors we associate with Majolica, start out muted and in some cases quite different from the colors that emerge after the final firing. In many instances a Spolvero or sort of pounce, is used to create a type of stencil to assist the painter with some of the more complex patterns; other artists may reproduce delicate Renaissance images and portraits entirely free-hand.
Step 5: The Second Firing
At this point, attention to the decorated bisque is critical; a scratch or smudge could literally wipe out hours of hard work. With great care, the bisque is now loaded into the kiln for the second 750-degree firing. This final firing can take as long as 24 hours, with more than 12 hours of constant high heat. Like the first firing, it is necessary to let the kiln cool down naturally to avoid the devastating effects of thermal shock. Whether the kiln is huge and in a factory, or a small home version, what comes out of this second firing is what we have come to know and love over the centuries, as Majolica.