GLASS OF A THOUSAND FLOWERS

Whether one is a general collector or a collector of pottery and
porcelain in particular, Italian maiolica will be found to be one of the
most interesting of “lines,” historically as well as intrinsically.
Pottery, both soft and hard, is distinct from porcelain, although the
term “old china” is commonly used to embrace the whole field of
ceramics–unfortunately, I think, as it is of importance to the
collector to be precise in the matter of definitions.

Pottery, as distinguished from porcelain, is formed of potter’s clay
with which an argillaceous and calcareous marl and sand have been mixed.
The wares usually designated as earthenware are soft pottery. It may be
scratched with a knife or file, and it is, generally speaking, fusible
at porcelain furnace heat.

Soft pottery may be divided into four sorts: unglazed, lustrous, glazed,
and enameled. The greater part of Egyptian, Greek Etruscan, Roman
medieval and modern pottery is unglazed, lustrous, or glazed, while the
centuries-later maiolica of Italy is of the fourth sort; that is, an
enameled or stanniferous glazed ware, the art of making which was
originally learned, we may suppose, from either Moorish potters of
Majorca (one of the Balearic Islands) or perhaps from certain Persian
sources.

Italian maiolica was originally called _maiorica_, a name which later
gave way to _maiolica_, as the Tuscans more often wrote it that way,
even when referring to the Island of Majorca, as one may guess
from the _rime_ of Dante, where is to be found reference to
“_Tra l’isola di Cipri è Maiolica_.” The coarser ware of
half-maiolica–_mezza-maiolica_–is not to be confused with the true
maiolica, which is a tin-enameled pottery, lustred, although the term
maiolica is generally used to designate the ware of both sorts.

The Italians ascribe to Luca della Robbia the discovery of the tin-glaze
sometime prior to 1438. We have no dated piece of Florentine or Tuscan
maiolica antedating 1477, and of this year but one dated example. The
next earliest dates–1507 and 1509–appear on maiolica of the Cafaggiolo
_fabrique_.

In the eighteenth century, as Chaffers tells us, Italian maiolica was
called Raphael Ware, as it was believed, for a time, that Raphael
himself had taken a hand at decorating some of it–an idea which quite
naturally originated, as a great many designs from compositions by
Raphael and other great masters appeared on maiolica ware. These,
however, were copied from drawings and engravings. The best period of
this pottery was subsequent to Raphael’s death, which took place in
1520.

A Cafaggiolo plate in the Victoria and Albert Museum possibly depicts
Raphael and La Fornarina watching a maiolica-decorator at work,
suggesting, I think, that had Raphael himself taken a hand at
maiolica-painting that fact would have led the artist of the plate to
show Raphael at such occupation instead of portraying him merely as an
onlooker. Again, Raffaello dal Colle, who designed maiolica for the wife
of Guidobaldo I, Duke of Urbino, may have been confused by early
students with Raffaello Sanzio, the great Raphael.

Of the development of maiolica in Italy, Fortnum says: “In the twelfth,
thirteenth, and fourteenth centuries native wares were produced in
various places, some of which still exist in the towers and façades of
churches, and in the façade of a palace at Bologna. These are
lead-glazed, rudely painted or with single colors, and in some
instances ‘sgraffiato,’ proving that the use of a white ‘slip’ or
‘engobe’ was known in Italy at that period, as affirmed by Passeri, who
further asserts that in 1300 the art assumed a more decorative character
under the lords of Pesaro, the Malatestas. An even, opaque white surface
having been obtained, the development of its artistic decoration
steadily advanced. The colors used were yellow, green, blue, and black,
to which we may add a dull brownish red, noticed in some of the Pisan
‘bacini.’ Passeri states that the reflection of the sun’s rays from the
concave surfaces of these ‘bacini’ at Pesaro was most brilliant, and
hence it has been wrongly inferred that they were enriched with metallic
lustre.”

For many years after the discovery or at least the application of
tin-glaze to pottery in Italy, large works were popular. But before the
end of the first half of the sixteenth century this practice had lost
its vogue. There was, on the other hand, an increased demand for the
tiles, plates, etc., of the maiolica, an encouragement that led to the
establishment of numerous maiolica potteries throughout northern and
central Italy, Romagna and Tuscany leading, and Urbino and Pesaro rising
to importance in the manufacture of this enameled ware. Both Pesaro
and, later, Gubbio, had attained fame for the pearly, the golden, and
the ruby lustre glaze given their wares, that of Gubbio proving the
finest in this respect. Deruta has also laid claim to the introduction
of the beautiful madreperla lustre. A few years ago the author visited
this tiny, out-of-the-way village to inspect the _botega_ of the modern
maiolica-makers, and well recalls the ingenious arguments advanced by
the gifted director in support of Deruta’s claim, which left one
convinced until Pesaro savants in turn sought to appropriate the glory
for their own town.

Fortnum says “the Piedmontese and Lombard cities do not appear to have
encouraged the potter’s art to an equal extent in the fifteenth and the
sixteenth century, and that neither can we learn of any excellence
attained in Venice till the establishment of Deruta and Pesaro artists
in that city in the middle of the latter period.” Fortnum says: “Perhaps
commerce did for the Queen of the Adriatic by the importation of
Rhodian, Damascus, and other eastern wares what native industry supplied
to the pomp and luxury of the hill cities of Umbria; for it must be
borne in mind that the finer sorts of enameled or glazed pottery,
decorated by artistic hands, were attainable only by the richer class
of purchasers, more modest wares or wooden trenchers and ancestral
copper vessels contenting the middle class.” The art of maiolica
flourished likewise in Ferrara, Rimini, and Ravenna. The Umbrian potters
probably did not adopt the use of white stanniferous glaze before the
close of the fifteenth century.

Federigo, who succeeded to the Duchy of Urbino in 1444, was a patron of
the arts and a great collector. After his death, in 1482, his son
Guidobaldo continued Federigo’s patronage of the ceramic art. The
introduction of the maiolica enamel did not, happily, lead to the
abandonment of the metallic colors and prismatic glazes of the earlier
potters. Authorities are agreed that the retention of these metallic
colors and prismatic glazes stimulated maiolica manufacture in other
localities. The botega which Maestro Giorgio established in Gubbio at
this period was probably the great center for the golden and ruby
metallic lustre maiolica. In his handbook, “Maiolica,” Fortnum says:
“Some technicality in the process of the manufacture, some local
advantage, or some secret in the composition, almost a monopoly of its
use was established at Gubbio, for we have the evidence of well-known
examples that from the end of the first to the beginning of the last
quarter of the fifteenth century many pieces painted by the artists of
Pesaro, Urbino, and Castel Durante were taken there for the lustre
embellishment.”

In Urbino the manufacture of maiolica reached its culminating point in
1540, in which year Orazio Fontana, Urbino’s greatest maiolica artist,
entered the service of the duke. From 1580 Urbino maiolica declined.

There are exceptionally fine examples of early Italian maiolica in the
Metropolitan Museum of Art and in other public and private collections
in America. These the collector may study to advantage. While the pieces
of supreme importance, like the canvases of the old masters, are not to
be had for a song, still, “finds” are possible, and even later pieces of
maiolica are beautiful and fully worth while. Such pieces, too, with the
interesting history of the earlier objects that inspired them, should
appeal to the collector. Perhaps if Italian maiolica were more studied
and understood in this country it would be more popular with collectors,
but just because so few of them are versed in its evolution the
advantage accrues to the collector who is wide awake enough to look
about him in time. In passing it

should be noted that there is much–one may well say quantities–of
modern maiolica to be found in the shops. Much of this is very
beautiful, but the collector will soon have no trouble in distinguishing
it from the old, even when the modern happens to reproduce the forms and
designs of the early pieces.

Time has crumbled many a granite monument erected to the memory of
monarchs of early Egyptian dynasties, but a tiny scent-bottle of yellow
glass, with the name Amenophis worked upon it in blue, has come down to
us from the Golden Age of the Pharaohs. King Amenophis little guessed
that his fragile gift at life’s parting from his Queen Thi would survive
the vicissitudes of the unguessed ages that have treated the pedestal of
his Colossus at Thebes with such scant courtesy. Yet here we may hold it
in the palm of a hand, a lovely trinket whose fragility has defied the
boast of bronze or the strength of stone! As Pliny says, it is no easy
matter to give novelty to old subjects, authority to new, to impart
lustre to rusty things, light to the obscure and mysterious. Yet he who
writes of antiques and curios may find the subject of old glass so wide
a field in which to browse that its restraints seem few indeed and its
interest of broad appeal.

The millefiori glass of yesterday and to-day offers to the collector a
fascinating study. It is the “Glass of a Thousand Flowers,” a pretty
name the Italians gave it centuries ago–_mille_, a thousand, and
_fiori_, flowers. Don’t you remember when you were little, very little,
the round, heavy glass paper-weights into which you could look like a
crystal-gazer and find mysteriously embedded flower-like forms of
colored glass? How you puzzled grandfather’s head, too, when you asked
him questions about it. These old millefiori paper-weights–long out of
fashion, alas!–were bought on faith as curiosities, and only the
sophisticated age that decreed such marvels unfitting the dignity of
maturity relegated them to hiding-places now for the most part
forgotten. The wonderful striated marbles, the attractive “glassies” of
our own Golden Age, maintained with us the tradition of attachment; and
now we have once more begun to display the paper-weights of the Thousand
Flowers, and antiquarians are doing such brisk business in them that
manufacturers are almost encouraged to place on the market again these
interesting objects of millefiori glass.

Since the time when the observing Herodotus wrote that the sacred
crocodiles of Memphis wore ear-rings of melted stone, the collecting of
glass has encouraged its finer development. The ancient glass-workers
were proud enough to sign fine pieces, though these are excessively
rare. There was, for instance, “Africanus, citizen of Carthage, artist
in glass.” Nero was an ardent collector of fine pieces of glass,
collecting them in his own peculiar manner, as we may infer from such
anecdotes as that which has already been related of Petronius having
broken a precious bowl (probably of murrhine) to atoms just before his
death, to prevent the possibility of its falling into the grasp of the
Emperor. So greatly was it prized at the time that its value had been
placed at a sum now equivalent to $250,000! The very high prices paid
to-day by museums for bits of antique glass are very likely to be far
less than the same objects brought in Roman times; this, of course,
refers only to glass of high artistic quality, such as would have
commanded the attention of connoisseurs contemporary with its product.

“Who,” says Dr. Johnson in “The Rambler,” “when he saw the first sand or
ashes by a casual intenseness of heat melted into metallic form, rugged
with excrescences and crowded with impurities, would have imagined that
in the shapeless lump lay concealed so many conveniences of life as
would in time constitute a great part of the happiness of the world?
Thus was the first artificer of glass occupied, though without his own
knowledge or expectation. He was facilitating and prolonging enjoyment
of light, enlarging the avenues of science and conferring the highest
and most lasting pleasure; he was enabling the student to contemplate
nature and the beauty to behold herself.”

We need not go into the early history of glass here, more than to say
the ancients were highly skilled in the making of mosaic and millefiori
glass, their products inspiring the millefiori glass of the Venetians
and their followers in Europe and America. One cannot do better than to
quote here M. A. Wallace-Dunlop’s “Glass in the Old World,” a most
interesting and instructive work, unfortunately long out of print. In
this volume the author says:

No method of glass working has probably excited more attention than
the wonderfully minute mosaics found scattered over the world both
in beads and amulets. Old writers have exhausted their ingenuity in
conjecturing the secret of their manufacture. Many of them are far
too minute for human eyes to have executed, but like many other
marvels the explanation is simple when once discovered. They were
made (and are now successfully imitated in Murano) by arranging
long slender glass rods of various colors so as to form a pattern,
a picture, or the letters of a name, and then fusing them together
and while still warm the rod or cane so formed could be drawn out
to almost any length, the pattern becoming perhaps microscopically
small, but always retaining its distinctiveness. A tube of glass
treated in the same manner never loses a minute hole in the middle.
Thin slices cut off such a rod would present on each side (face)
the exact picture (just as the pattern appears when slicing a
cucumber) or pattern originally arranged. When this idea had been
once suggested, thousands of patterns could have been invented, and
slices from these rods placed in liquid blue or other colored
glass, and cast in a mould and ground into shape, gave rise to the
endless combinations of Greek or Roman workers–The Millefiori
glass of the Venetian republic was simply a revival of this old
industry…. Under the Ptolemies the Egyptians acquired a rare
perfection in mosaic! We have, so far as I know, no Roman mosaic or
millefiori glass antedating the reign of Augustus. It is in the
Augustan age that we first learn the name of a mosaic glass artist,
Proculus of Perinthus, to whom the Alexandrian merchants erected a
statue.

The building of St. Mark’s in Venice, begun in 1159, gave impetus to
Italian glass manufacture. With the fall of Constantinople nearly a
half-century later, many Greeks, skilled artists in glass, undoubtedly
made their way to Venice and took thither the secrets of their trade.
Certain it is that the early glass-workers of Venice and of Murano,
where later the glass industry centered, gave curious and interested
study to the old mosaics of the ancients and in due course rediscovered
the art of millefiori and perfected it in a manner that would have
caused the Romans to open their eyes in astonishment. We must not forget
that with the ancients a crystalline glass was of great rarity, though
colored glass was common enough. Thus the crystalline products of the
Venetians were an achievement reserved for later centuries, and this
white glass, in combination with the colored glasses was so skilfully
employed by the workmen and artists of the Murano glass factories that
nothing has surpassed the Venetian products in millefiori for sheer
ingenuity and beauty. Often, of course, millefiori work was carried to
the extreme of becoming less a thing of beauty than a tour de force.
However, the collector will find interest in all pieces of the sort, and
their range was enormous. The glass of Venice was famous for its
extraordinary lightness and this added to its vogue. The Chaplain of
Louis XIV, Réné François, amusingly warned the world that Murano was
filling Europe with its fantasies of glass; but rare enough are the
early specimens of Venetian manufacture, more precious now than their
weight in gold.

After all, there must always remain the zest of the chase in the spirit
of the true collector, without which wonderful finds would never have
been made, though we need not to go to the extent of the Countess of
Fiesque, a lady of Louis XIV’s court. This lady died at Fontainebleau in
great poverty at an advanced age. Historians of the gossip of the day
have laid her indigent circumstances at the door of the rascally man of
business, but I fancy her passion for mirrors had something to do with
it. When almost in need of bread she astonished her friends by
purchasing an enormously expensive mirror. “I had a piece of land,” she
said in extenuation, “which brought me in nothing but corn. I sold it,
and the money procured this mirror. Have I not managed wonderfully to
possess this beautiful glass instead of dull corn?” Doubtless the
countess did manage wonderfully; contentment is a great thing!

Seven hundred years of glass-making in Venice produced an experience
that was useful to the rest of Europe and finally to America. Much
millefiore glass has been manufactured in the United States. The
Pennsylvania Museum in Philadelphia is especially rich in examples of
it. There are also many private collectors of millefiore glass in this
country, some collecting specimens in general, others confining
themselves to examples of American manufacture, while others specialize
in millefiore paper-weights already referred to. The late Dr. Edwin
Atlee Barber, a noted authority on American glass, gave in the
Pennsylvania Museum Bulletin the following information concerning the
process of its making:

The glass rods used in the preparation of modern millefiori glass
are usually made in metal moulds of comparatively large size. The
interior may be circular or scalloped. Into one of these moulds
ropes of colored glass are arranged in the pattern desired, to
which, when taken out, two workmen attach iron rods, one at each
end of the mass, and draw it out until it is of the requisite
slenderness. The design retains its exact proportions through the
entire length and is as perfect in a rod of an eighth of an inch
diameter as in the original thick cylinder. If an animal is to be
represented the mould is cut into the exact shape and when the
glass is released and drawn out each detail of legs, tail, ears and
other parts is uniformly reproduced in solid color so that even in
the tiniest representation of the figure every part appears to be
perfectly formed. Sometimes a cane will be composed of many threads
of various colors and designs, each of which has been formed in
this manner, arranged around a central rod and welded together.
When the rods are finished they are broken into small pieces, or
cut into uniform lengths or into thin slices, according to the sort
of paper-weights or other objects to be made. Into an iron ring the
size of a paperweight a cushion of molten glass is dropped and
while soft, the sections of rods are laid on the surface or stuck
in it side by side in a regular pattern, the tops of the rods being
pressed into a rounded or convex form. Over all more of the melted
glass is poured and the surface rounded into hemispherical shape by
means of concave spatula of moistened wood. The last process
consists in polishing the surface of the curved top and the flat
base after the ball has been again heated.

Dr. Barber was authority for the statement that the millefiore
paper-weights found their way into America from St. Louis in
Alsace-Lorraine (first to produce paper-weights of the sort, _circa_
1840) and from Baccarat in France. To the manufactories of the latter
town we look for the finest of the European millefiore paper-weights. At
first the filigree rods, cut or uncut, were imported; but soon American
glass-workers turned their attention to the complete production, and we
may mark the period of 1860 to 1875 as that of the heyday of
American-made millefiori glass.

It must not be thought that all the American millefiori glass has been
picked up or picked over; there is much of it remaining to reward
vigilant search and the collector will find it well worth going after.
Out-of-the-way villages in the East and South still secrete many such
pieces, and so does the householder of the Middle West; while one finds
Pacific-ward examples of the old Glass of a Thousand Flowers that had so
great a popularity before the Centennial turned the country to fresh
ingenuities.