Thursday, August 05, 2010

Tempting Talavera

We think of Talavera, a type of majolica earthenware, as a tradition of Mexico, but the plates, jars, vases, and tiles, also tell a story of the confluence of several extraordinary cultures in this type of art. Including characteristics of Spanish, Arabic, Italian and Chinese origin, and of course the magnificent creativity of the Mestizos and Indigenous people of Mexico. The colorful ware gets its name from Talavera de la Reina, Spain, but the Arabic influence can be seen in the use of mineral pigments. It was the Moors after all that conquered Spain and had tremendous influence on all the artistic expressions of Spain.

It is from the Mediterranean and the Italian influence that the term Majolica originates, and it refers to a process that the Italians used since the 14th Century to produce ceramics. This technique consisted of applying or brushing pigments on raw or unfired glaze.

The Chinese influence can be seen particularly in the blue Talavera. Because of the extensive imports from China to Mexico, Chinese ceramic were soon imitated.

There are several theories about its origin in Mexico, but the most accepted explanation is that Spanish monks from the Santo Domingo monastery in Puebla, sent for craftsmen from Talavera de la Reina to teach the indigenous people of the region how to work the clay so they could create pieces similar to the ones produced in Spain. They wanted to decorate with tiles and religious sculptures their many monasteries and churches.

Tradition was that the pigments to produce the color blue are the most expensive, and are to only be used on the finest ceramic. The customer could then easily distinguish the quality of fine ceramic from one of lesser quality. It was during the 18th Century that Talavera began showing colors such as green, mauve, yellow, in addition to the blue tones so popular in the 16th and 17th Centuries. When you buy an authentic Talavera piece, it must be signed at the base by the workshop that produces it, and it must state that it is from Puebla.

(c) 2009 - Ruth Mitchell - all rights reserved

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