Maiolica is the name given to tin-glazed earthenware manufactured in Italy and represented by only a handful of vessels in the Jamestown Rediscovery ceramic assemblage. These colorful objects arrived at Jamestown with their owners and were broken and discarded during the fort period of occupation, ca. 1607-1624.
Located in Tuscany on the Arno River between the Florence and Pisa, Montelupo monopolized the polychrome-decorated maiolica trade in the Mediterranean, north-west Europe, and the Americas in the 16th century. This ceramic type has been found on many 16th- and early 17th-century sites in Britain and Ireland. At James Fort, a large Montelupo maiolica dish with polychrome net decoration was recovered from the fill of Structure 183, the Blacksmith Shop/Bakery, in a later second decade of the 17th century context. Found in close proximity to the Governor’s House, it was a luxury item that would have been used in an elite household such as the Governor’s. Parallels to this dish have been recovered from English archaeological sites in England and Ireland. The rim of another dish is pierced with two holes, suggesting it may have served a decorative function.
Inductively coupled plasma-mass spectrometry analysis determined that Liguria in northwest Italy was the source of a second type of Italian maiolica recovered from James Fort. Sherds of two dishes with flange rims are decorated in the berettino style, a cobalt blue decoration on a light cobalt blue background. First produced in Faenza in the early 1500s, berettino was produced in Venice and Liguria, as well, and distributed throughout the Mediterranean, Great Britain, the Netherlands, and the Americas in the second half of the 16th century. Sherds of a third flanged rim dish, also believed to be from Liguria, are decorated with a hand-painted cobalt blue decoration on a yellow background. It is likely that all three Ligurian maiolica vessels arrived with one or more English colonists as luxury ceramics for use on the table or as decoration.
Fabric: Like delftware and faience, maiolica fabrics are refined, dense, and friable. Inclusions are invisible to the naked eye. Colors range from buff to light pink and light gray.
Glaze and Decoration: A lead-glaze with tin oxide appearing white covers the interior and exterior of the Montelupo maiolica dish from Structure 183; the exterior base is unglazed. It is decorated on the interior with a hand-painted polychrome lozenge net motif, which is the most common motif found on British sites of the era. The glaze is crazed and does not adhere well to the fabric. Thus, much of the glaze is missing.
The Liguria berettino flanged rim dishes are covered on the interior and exterior with a lead-glaze containing tin and cobalt oxides that appears light blue. The third Liguria maiolica flanged rim dish is covered on the interior and exterior with a lead glaze containing oxides of tin and antimony appearing yellow. All three dishes are decorated on the interior with hand painted cobalt blue dashes and foliage appearing blue. The glaze is crazed, and easily flakes from the fabric.
Form: The Montelupo form from James Fort is a large shallow dish with rounded, slightly down-turned rim. The base has a wide, slightly concave foot that is angular on the exterior edge. The Liguria berettino dishes are plate-like in form, with wide flanged rims, a shallow bouge, and a flat base with a short footring that is unglazed on the bottom edge.
Hurst, John G., David S. Neal, and H.J.E. van Beuningen (1986) Pottery Produced and Traded in North-West Europe 1350-1650. Rotterdam Papers VI. Museum Boymans-van Beuningen, Rotterdam.
Jaspers, Nina Linde (2011) ‘Clean, cheap & truly more enjoyable.’ Italian maiolica excavated in the Netherlands (1550-1700): the supremacy of Ligurian merchandise and rarities from other production regions. Archeologia Postmedieval 15: 11-39.
Straube, Bly (2017) Jamestown, Virginia: Virginia Company Period. In Ceramics in America, Robert Hunter and Angelika Kuettner, editors. University Press of New England, Hanover, NH.