Lyon: French Faience Made by Italian Maiolica Potters and Painters

The technique for producing tin-glazed earthenware was introduced in France by several Italian maiolica potters and painters who sought opportunities outside Italy and established themselves in Lyon during the second half of the sixteenth century. Lyon was a culturally rich city at the crossroads of Italy, France, and the Holy Roman Empire, with a large Italian community documented since 1512. Many Italian ceramists are known to have worked in Lyon at that time, but their work has not yet been identified. The only recorded objects with signatures are those painted by Gironimo Tomasi and produced throughout a career spent in Urbino and Albissola, as well as in Lyon. Stylistic comparison allows for possible identification of three, possibly four, pieces in the Knafel Collection as being made by Tomasi in Lyon, sometime between his arrival in the city in 1581 and his death in 1602 (cats. 1, 2, 3, 4). This rare group of early French faience pieces of very high quality is painted in the tradition of Italian maiolica produced in the second half of the sixteenth century, in the Fontana workshop in Urbino, where Tomasi received his early training. Urbino wares were celebrated for their colorful narrative scenes, or istoriati, and grotesques, combining sphinxlike creatures, winged figures, horses, and fantastic birds, all painted on a white ground. Because such maiolica continued to be produced in Urbino by the Patanazzi family, who took over the Fontana workshop until about 1620, and because so little is known about the production of the Italian potters working in Lyon, experts continue to debate the dates and attribution of such pieces. Some claim Italian origins and others French ones (cats. 1, 6).

  • Earthenware plate with a scene of a seated figure in a courtyard, under a canopy, talking to a standing group of people.

    Plate
    Urbino, ca. 1560, or Lyon, ca. 1582−85
    If Lyon, painting attributed to Gironimo Tomasi
    Faience (tin-glazed earthenware)
    Diam. 16 1/8 in. (41 cm)
    Inscription: on the reverse, Mose riprende il popolo e l’eforta! [Moses reprimands the people and exhorts them]
    Cat. 1
    © Christophe Perlès

  • Earthenware plate with a scene of God leading the Israelite's past soldiers in the parted Red Sea

    Plate
    Lyon, ca. 1582−85
    Painting attributed to Gironimo Tomasi
    Faience (tin-glazed earthenware)
    Diam. 17 3/4 in. (45 cm)
    Inscription: on the reverse, In columna nubis / israelitas Deus / proecedit / EXOD / XIII [In a pillar of cloud, God leads the Israelites / EXODUS/ XIII]
    Cat. 2
    © The Frick Collection

  • Earthenware dish with a scene of soldiers at a river in the center surrounded by small portraits and floral designs

    Dish
    Lyon, ca. 1582−1600
    Painting attributed to Gironimo Tomasi
    Faience (tin-glazed earthenware)
    Diam. 18 7/8 in. (48 cm)
    Inscription: on the reverse, Giedeô Selegit cô[n] tra / madian / IVD. IIIII [Gideon has chosen [in the fight] against Midian / IVD IIIII]
    Cat. 3
    © The Frick Collection

  • Earthenware bowl depicting a figure looking at a statue in the center, surrounded by a design of small half-human, half-animal figures.

    Fluted Bowl
    Lyon, ca. 1582−1600
    Painting attributed to Gironimo Tomasi
    Faience (tin-glazed earthenware)
    H. 5 3/8 in. (13.6 cm), diam. 14 1/2 in. (36.9 cm)
    Cat. 4
    © Beylard, Ferrier and Lewandowski

  • Earthenware plate with a landscape scene of various animals and two nude figures at the center exchanging a piece of fruit from the tree they are under.

    Plate
    Lyon, ca. 1580−1610
    Faience (tin-glazed earthenware)
    Diam. 10 7/8 in. (27.5 cm)
    Inscription: on the reverse, GENESE.III / Adam et Eve [GENESIS. III / Adam and Eve]
    Cat. 5
    © Christophe Perlès

  • Earthenware platter with a landscape scene at the center with three figures hunting and a design of mythical creatures on the outside.

    Platter
    Urbino or Lyon, ca. 1600
    If Urbino, attributed to the Patanazzi workshop
    Faience (tin-glazed earthenware)
    Diam. 18 1/2 in. (47 cm)
    Cat. 6
    © Christophe Perlès