The Difference Between Pottery, Ceramics And Majolica, With Special Regard To Italian Ceramics

As an Italian, when I have to write in English or talk with one of my American Customers I am always uncertain: should I say Italian Pottery, Italian Ceramics or Italian Majolica?

In order to do away with any doubt, I did some research and ran some tests.

I learned quite a lot on the subject and I would love to share my findings with you.

Let’s start with technicalities.

Here is a short review of the definition of the words Ceramics, Pottery and Majolica. Once we know exactly what we are talking about, we will define what they really mean to people.


Ceramic is the most general term. It is derived from the Greek word keramos, meaning “clay”.

Historically, ceramics were prepared by shaping clay, decorating it, often glazing it and firing it at high temperatures in a kiln.

However, this definition has changed. The term ceramics now refers to a diverse group of materials, including cements and glass. While all are fired at high temperatures, clay is no longer a key component of ceramics.

That is why, nowadays, the category ceramics technically includes both pottery and porcelain, which, with their standard formulas, have come to popularly represent quality grades.


Pottery is an ornamental or useful ware shaped from moist clay and hardened by heat.

The type of clay used and the temperature at which it is fired give pottery a different appearance and strength. There are three major pottery types.


  • Earthenware It is also know as bisque or biscuit and it is fired at low temperatures – 1800°to 2100° Fahrenheit. It is usually reddish or white. Due to its high porosity, earthenware must usually be glazed to enable it to hold water. Earthenware pieces have been found that date back to 1400-1200 BC, making this craft the oldest pottery ceramic oil burner in history.
  • Stoneware It is made of a heavier clay mixture, which can be fired at much higher temperatures – 2200° to 2400° Fahrenheit. It is dense, impermeable and hard enough to resist scratching by a steel point. It’s brownish gray and it can be used both blazed and unglazed. Ideal for cooking and baking.
  • Porcelain It’s made of a specific clay, containing kaolinite, and it is fired at high temperatures – 2200° to 2500° Fahrenheit. It is hard, impermeable (even before glazing), white, translucent and resonant.



Majolica – also spelled Maiolica – is the beautiful ware prepared by tin-glazing earthenware and firing it a second time. After the first firing, the bisque is dipped into a bath of fast drying liquid glaze.

When dry, the glazed piece is ready to be hand painted. A final firing at 1690° Fahrenheit will make the glaze interact with the metal oxides used by the painter to create the deep and brilliant translucent colors specific to majolica.

This technique originates in the Middle East in the 9th century. By the 13th century majolica ware was imported into Italy through the Isle of Majorca, headquarter of the trade between Spain and Italy.


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