The Wallace Collection

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A Lustred Earthenware Dish from Medieval Spain (C3)
Treasure of the Month - February 2005

A Lustred Earthenware Dish from Medieval Spain (C3)

THIS REMARKABLE DISH was made by potters of north-African (Moorish) descent in Manises, Valencia, c. 1420-30.

Combining bold decoration and technical mastery, it is a stunning example of the finest ceramics produced as a result of collaboration between Moorish craftsmen and Christian entrepreneurs and patrons in the first half of the 15th century.

A pale, creamy tin glaze provides the foil for decoration in golden-brown, metallic lustre and cobalt blue. The heraldic shield testifies to Christian patronage, bearing the arms of Castile and Leon, probably for John II, king of Castile from 1406 to 1454. Islamic elements comprise the palette, the Trees of Life, bands of pseudo-Kufic script and the elaborately detailed lustre decoration, which exemplifies the Islamic love of dense ornament. However, this abundance belies a careful symmetry. Blue bands outline the shield and the dish itself, emphasising that there are two distinct areas of decoration. The decoration outside the shield is repeated, with the surface divided into four identical compartments. The back is exuberantly painted in lustre with a decorative displayed eagle.

The dish was formed using a mould. A moulded ridge encircles the dish near the rim and there is a concave circular moulding in the centre. The dish has suspension holes that were pierced before the first (biscuit) firing, showing that it was intended for display; the glaze, applied before the second The dish was formed using a mould. A moulded ridge encircles the dish near the rim and there is a concave circular moulding in the centre. The dish has suspension holes that were pierced before the first (biscuit) firing, showing that it was intended for display; the glaze, applied before the second firing, flowed into the holes. Like other lustred table wares, the dish may also have been functional.

Several factors led to Manises becoming the leading centre for the production of fine lustred earthenware at this period. Moorish potters moved from unstable areas during the Christian re-conquest of Spain. The Boil family, lords of Manises, recognised that the potters’ skill with tin-glaze and lustre was well in advance of their European counterparts, and encouraged them to settle on Boil lands, near the Mediterranean harbour of Grao. Tin, and silver for lustre, were expensive commodities and the successful application of lustre, resulting in a glowing metallic sheen produced during a third firing, required great expertise. These wares dazzled contemporaries and by the 1420s there was a ready market for them amongst the highest ranks of society in France and Italy.

Collecting medieval Spanish lustreware in the 19th century

  • Known as Hispano-Moresque ceramics, these wares were collected alongside Italian maiolica by Sir Richard Wallace and like-minded contemporaries.
  • For more Spanish lustrewares, and some pieces of Italian maiolica which reflect their influence, see cases A, C1, C2, C4-C9, C40 and C81.

Further Reading

  • A. V. B. Norman, Wallace Collection Catalogue of Ceramics 1, Pottery, Maiolica, Faience, Stoneware, London, 1976 (Available from the Wallace Collection shop)
  • Anthony Ray, Spanish Pottery 1248-1898, London, 2000