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How to Style Majolica Displays

A grandmillennial approach to styling Majolica displays with bold color, charming patterns, and natural decor.

Majolica, silver, brass, books, and rose medallion mix in this bookcase arrangement

Oh Majolica! Your rich tones, whimsy, and natural motifs charm me every time! I love seeing you proudly hanging on plate walls, reclining on hutches, and beautifying traditional interiors.

If you are a fan of the French or English country looks, then you have probably spotted a piece or two of majolica while perusing magazines and Pinterest. Other designers incorporate displays of this antique pottery into chic rustic cabins or mountain chalets. But how should we neo-traditionalists and grandmillennials adopt Majolica displays into our homes?

Sure you can display Majolica on a Welch dresser or hutch, but why not get as playful as majolica’s fanciful designs and mix this antique ceramic in new ways?

What is Majolica?

Majolica //mah-JOLL-ick-ah// is a soft-paste earthenware fired to biscuit stage then coated with opaque lead or tin glaze. After drying, majolica pottery was hand painted with metal oxide glazes and fired again to produce the luster surface. Majolica takes many forms, including plates, urns, vases, tableware, and decorative objects.

The primary glaze colors are cobalt blue, antimony yellow, iron red, copper green, and manganese purple.

History of Majolica:

Today, Majolica mostly refers to the Victorian pottery popularized by the English ceramicist Herbert Minton at the Great Exhibition in 1851. Designed for the Minton Factory by Leon Arnoux, Victorian Majolica advanced fanciful charm, visual pun, exuberant colors, and unique forms.

The pottery technique for producing Majolica dates back to 14th century Spain and was then introduced to Italy via the island Majorca. This style of pottery is known as Maiolica. 18th century French Faience is also a direct pre-curser to Majolica.

Images via Majolica International Society.

Majolica quickly caught on among Europe’s middle and upper classes, and by 1860 more than 30 major majolica manufactures thrived. Themes common to Majolica included: antiquity, natural history, the countryside, exotic creatures, and Renaissance art. Many of the most popular forms were focused on the natural world and probably delighted Victorian consumers who were increasingly leaving countryside behind for urban dwelling.

Some of the important manufacturers of Majolica included: Minton, Wedgwood, Griffin, Smith & Hill, Onnaing, and Salins.

By 1900, Majolica had largely fallen out of favor as Art Nouveau forms gained popularity. Majolica was also hurt by the dangerous manufacturing conditions resulting from working with the glazes, which caused lead poisoning.

Know Before You Buy:

  • Get Glossy! Antique Majolica has a shiny luster to the surface caused by the top glaze and second firing.
  • Discriminating Details! Look for fine details in the molding and painting. Sloppy mistakes or dripped color is a sure sign of a reproduction.
  • Marks are Up in the Air! Many of the major Majolica manufacturers like Minton and Wedgwood did mark the bottom of their pieces, but other smaller companies did not. The lack of a mark does not out rule authenticity. You can check marks against known pieces here.
  • Garish Beware! Antique Majolica shows jewel like tones in a softer intensity. The colors should not be overly bright or garish.
  • Bright White is Not Right! If white does show on the underbody or in highlights it should not be blindingly white, but more creamy.
  • Heft is Good!  Antique earthenware has a heft to it and should feel solid in your hands.
  • Age Leaves its Mark! Look for pitting, crazing, cracks, chips, and scratches. Antique Majolica will likely have a use related blemish after all it may be as old as 168 years.
  • Don’t Eat, Cook, or Serve on Me! Lead is poisonous! Reproductions generally don’t use lead based glazes.

Reproduction Example:

Majolica spaniel pitcher filled with magnolia, cotton, and wheat with tortoise shell candle holder

Take a look at my sweet begging spaniel pitcher. It is a reproduction majolica piece. This is evident for several reasons: 1. It is light weight. 2. The glaze has been dripped and washed on, intermixing colors. 3. The white is too bright and has a blueish tint. 3. The molding is not finely detailed. 4. The condition is too perfect.

Adding a reproduction Majolica piece to your collection is perfectly acceptable just as long as you recognize it as such and don’t overpay for something that is inauthentic.

Click through the pink tabs below to learn about styling Majolica Displays!

Place of Pride

Undeniably, Majolica deserves a place of pride in your home. Each authentic Majolica piece is a work of art in its own right.

Some of the most classic choices are simply the best. Majolica displays look fabulous on mantels, shelves, and gallery walls. Tried and true is probably best when it comes to location. But don’t be afraid to mix it in with a charming coffee table vignette or use large jardinieres or cachepots as vases for flowers on the dining room table or sideboard.

Mantel Inspiration:

Traditional interior with chic fall mantel decor, gilt mirror, and green gingham curtains

In my home, mantels get changed up seasonally, and I love to use Majolica for autumn themes. The rich tones and predominating greens, golds, and aquas make for charming companion to the autumn foliage outside. This year I paired my reproduction Majolica begging spaniels with Wedgwood style leaf plates and a faux bois planter filled with fall flowers for a unique seasonal look.

Traditional interior with chic fall mantel decor, gilt mirror, and green gingham curtains

Head here to see all the details and photos of this mantel style!

In the Bookcase:

Majolica display in bookcase

Bookcases, hutches, and china cabinets are classic locals for your Majolica displays. For a traditional look, if you have enough pieces, go whole hog and style the shelves in all Majolica. But for a more contemporary feel, I like to pair Majolica with other ceramics and decorative arts. This is particularly useful for those of us just building a collection!

See “Perfect Pairings” and “Proper Playmates” tabs for tips and inspiration.

Majolica oyster plate displayed in bookcase with clock and pink camellias

Mirror Surround:

Hang Majolica plates around mirror for a playful Majolica display

Majolica dishes also look fabulous mixed in a gallery wall or plate display wall. I have been toying with the idea of showcasing my Majolica around this wicker mirror. Before hanging anything, layout your design elements on the floor and play with the arrangement to achieve the desired effect.

Click the next pink tab “Perfect Pairings” to learn about the design elements that pair beautifully with Majolica.

Perfect Pairings

Let the pairing begin!

This truly is my favorite part of styling decor: playing with patterns, textures, and design elements to coordinate and highlight. Yours too? I knew we were two of a kind!

Pattern & Majolica Displays

Majolica works well with a variety of patterns, particularly when your pieces lean toward the nature inspired motifs. Two of my favorite pattern pairings with this antique earthenware are gingham and marbled.

Gingham works because its straight lines are a pleasing contrast to the natural forms and curving lines of Majolica. Try adding a gingham ribbon to a jaunty piece like I did here with my begging spaniel to amp up the whimsy or mix majolica dishes with gingham plates on a gallery wall.

Marbled surfaces like this antique biscuit jar also work with Majolica albeit for the opposite reason. The waving lines of the marbleized surface harmonize with the natural lines of Majolica. This pairing can get busy, so stick with simpler ceramic forms and color palettes.

Other Patterns for a Perfect Pairing:

  • Tortoise Shell
  • Embossed Leathers
  • Ikat
  • Unfussy Chintz (yes I believe there is such a thing!)
  • Trellis
  • Stripes

Natural Elements & Majolica Displays:

Bring nature inside to enhance your display of antique Majolica. The botanical, animal, and country themes of the Majolica will play off natural design elements to create a charming vignette.

Majolica, silver, brass, books, and rose medallion mix in this bookcase arrangement

As you can see from my bookcase Majolica display, I brought in a variety of natural elements from feathers to oak leaves and pine cones to camellias. This is bold mix that won’t work for everyone, but play with different flowers and foliage to see what works best with your collection. Head out to the yard and gather from there for budget friendly options.

Other Natural Elements for a Perfect Pairing:

  • Pinecones
  • Magnolia
  • Cotton Stems
  • Acorns
  • Feathers
  • Evergreen Branches
  • Tulips
  • Seed Pods

Click the next pink tab “Proper Playmates” to learn about the styles, ceramics, and designs that work well with Majolica.

Proper Playmates

Let the mingling among playmates begin!

So you’ve tried pattern mixing and bringing in natural elements, now it’s time to get funky. Don’t shy away from mixing Majolica with other ceramic forms, design styles, and decorative mediums.

Break up Majolica with other China patterns and decor styles for a more interesting vignette! Here Rose Medallion and Majolica plates mingle.

Several New Traditional designers are mixing Chinoiserie and Majolica to beautiful effect. Think of the rooms by James T. Farmer, Mark D. Sikes, Maggie Griffin, Avery Cox. Here I’ve paired plates in Rose Medallion with my Majolica. The color palettes work so well together!

For other Chinoiserie Majolica mixes try classic blue and white ginger jars and Majolica floral plates or Chinoiserie birds of paradise with leaf motifs.

See more about decorating with Chinoiserie here.

Hang Majolica plates around mirror for a playful Majolica display

Metallics like vintage brass and antique silver are another great mix!

Try mixing metallics like brass and silver in your Majolica displays. Here vintage brass pineapples and silver tableware mingle with Majolica.

For a more rustic, casual feel pair Majolica with faux bois, bamboo, and/or wicker.

A coffee table vignette featuring a faux bois planter filled with flowers, wicker candle holders, and Majolica leaf plate.

For that true grandmillennial feel to your Majolica displays pair it with bright colors: orange, fuchsia, coral, aqua, lime green, and sunny yellow. Forgo the earth tones!

Most importantly – have fun styling your collection, and choose pairings that delight you!

Learn More About Majolica

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