Judith takes a holiday

02 Apr

Or I could say “Judith took a holiday.”  And actually both are true.  I took a holiday from the blog (well … to be honest, the material ran out) and I am going to take a holiday.  In preparation for this holiday, I have been reviewing the location of several Judith’s and have hopes of continuing my visits — a finally shook out some unexamined artwork about our heroine.  I always wonder how I missed it in the first place.

Keep in mind: the primary purpose of this trip is not viewing Judith’s but I may be able to sneak some in. The primary site where I can hunt Judith  is London’s Victoria and Albert Museum.  What a treasure trove!

So for the next few days, I will share the works I will be tracking, in hopes I can memorize their traits and incorporate their unique characteristics so that I will recognize them in an instant — because that may be all the time I have,

First, I will start with a piece I have discussed before in “Judith the Equestrian” which features the only known signed maiolica by the talented painter Jacopo (di Cafaggiolo).

Judith (1510 c) Jacopo

Jacopo (di Cafaggiolo), “Judith with the head of Holofernes,” c. 1510, earthenware with tin glaze (maiolica), 32.5 cm diameter, Victoria and Albert Museum, London, UK


Maiolica is the white-glazed pottery of the Italian Renaissance, adapted to all ceramic objects, such as dishes, bowls, serving vessels, and jugs of all shapes and sizes.  It is also known as “earthenware with tin glaze” because maiolica is distinguished by a white, opaque glaze containing tin-oxide — which now leads to the chemistry part of this art history lesson.  When I hear “tin” I think cheap and thin and noisy, like a tin roof.  But then I am a philistine.  In the actuality of the Renaissance, tin was an expensive imported substance, making maiolica a more expensive commodity than ordinary pottery. And perhaps explains why these pieces received enough care to have survived five centuries.

The process of making maiolica was learned from Islamic Spain that advanced both technically and aesthetically in the 16th century.  The name is thought to come from the medieval Italian word for Majorca, an island on the route for ships bringing Hispano-Moresque wares from Valencia to Italy.  Florence was the original center of maiolica production, but experienced potters were set up in 1495 at the Medici’s at Villa Medicea di Cafaggiolo north of the city.  Records indicate the Manica Lunga, the “long wing” was used for the manufacture of maiolica and the 1498 inventory notes that the fornaze col portico da cuocere vaselle (“kilns for baking pottery”) in the piazza murata (walled enclosure) were let to Piero and Stefano di Filippo da Montelupo, the “kilnmasters” of the workshop.

A maiolica workshop usually employed about eight workers, under the leadership of a master potter who most often owned the workshop.  Each worker had a special task — gathering fuel, preparing and firing the kilns, preparing the raw clay, throwing or molding it into shapes, mixing and applying the glaze, and decorating it with ceramic pigments.  The process of painting was difficult, requiring great control by the painter since the surface in its pre-fired condition readily absorbed the colors. Maiolica from Cafaggiolo dishes known for the istoriato style, which depicted a biblical, historical, or mythological scene that covers the entire piece.

And so I imagine Jacopo working for the the Medici’s under Piero and Stefano — an accomplished painter who designed his wares to satisfy the powerful visions and artistic patronage of the Medici family, depicting a female member as victorious … and her little dog, too!

See you at the V&A!


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Posted by on April 2, 2015 in Exploring


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