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The Magic of Majolica

What is a table centrepiece designed to be if not something to be remarked upon? Nothing will start your dinner party conversation off like this fascinating and brightly coloured majolica centrepiece from renowned 19th century ceramics manufacturer, Hugo Lonitz and Co.

Majolica is the designation given to heavy earthenware ceramics with colourful stains, glazes, or paints on a white lead-tin opaque glazed background (Peterson, 2018). The name is thought to be inspired by the name of the Spanish island Majorca, from where the pottery style might have originated (Churchill, 2021). A quick Google search of ‘majolica’ will yield images of a variety of intricately patterned and pleasingly coloured pottery dishes and tiles with a distinct Mediterranean palette. Interlaced amongst these pictures, however, is the perhaps more unfamiliar sight of 19th century majolica.

19th century manufacturers and artists did not restrict themselves to the forms of plates, dishes, and bowls when it came to majolica. Pieces could be utilitarian or purely decorative in nature. For example, Hugo Lonitz manufacturers used the majolica technique to create a stunning pair of decorative owl statuettes (Ryle, 2019). Some pieces could be a combination of artwork and usefulness, such as this Hugo Lonitz Conch Shell spoon warmer (Madelena, 2021). No doubt this spoon warmer would have stirred fond memories of the seaside or ocean for its original Victorian owners.

19th century creators embraced an intensely vivid colour palette at times, which made the piece a natural centre of attention. These colourful pieces were designed to be stared at, talked about, and admired. A great example is the piece at hand, our Hugo Lonitz table centrepiece.

It features a set of bearded male heads with floral garlands flowing from their tendril-like moustaches to the mouths of lion heads. It has a turquoise interior and a dark blue exterior onto which light blue, yellow, white, and pink motifs were painted. The underside of the base is stamped with a pattern number and the Hugo Lonitz maker’s mark, which consists of two fish in an oval.

The makers themselves, Hugo Lonitz and Co, have an intriguing history. Not many precise details are known about them. This is potentially because the factory with all its records and history was destroyed during the World War Two bombing of East Germany (Majolica International Society, 2021). Oddly for a manufacturer of which so little is known about, Lonitz majolica is highly desirable. It is noted for its quality and the life-like vivacity of its naturalistic works.

The Hugo Lonitz and Co factory was located in Neuhaldensleben- now Haldensleben- in Germany. It operated during the second half of the 19th century and was most successful around 1886 when majolica experienced surging popularity.

Swan Deverell sold this piece of design and ceramic history in their April Antiques & Estates auction.

Article by Isabella Trope


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