Now that we have written an introduction on Italian stamps and history, we can begin talking about some actual stamps. In this article, we will discuss the distinct Majolica style of pottery from Tuscany, Italy. As a reminder, the stamp being discussed is from a 1950 Italian definitive series depicting signature occupations from different Italian regions.
Il Tornio (The Lathe) - Toscana (Tuscany) - 5 Lire
First up is Tuscany's representative, the lathe. If you're like me and the word "lathe" isn't familiar, then maybe a more apt translation is: a machine that rotates materials like ceramics and glass to enable precise shaping and cutting. The concept behind this machine existed even in Ancient Egypt (Monroe), and as suggested by the beautiful ceramic pot above, it has been invaluable to traditional Italian pottery. According to the Museo Galileo (known previously as Istituto e Museo di Storia della Scienza and located in Florence, Italy), Tuscany has a rich history in ceramics and was home to industrial production during the Eutruscan period (Museo). However, the Tuscan style of Majolica, also known as "Maiolica" and introduced to Italy in the Middle Ages, is what the above stamp celebrates. The Italian Pottery Outlet has a nice description of Majolica (Italian Pottery Outlet):
Mailoican Italian earthenware with an opaque white tin oxide glaze. Its most outstanding feature is the beautiful, colorful decoration which never fades or loses its beauty.
The Italian Majolica style has roots in Moorish Spain, with the name itself coming from the Spanish island Majorca (Italian pottery outlet). If we were to go back 500 years to Florence, one of the biggest Majorca producers then, we may have seen bustling pottery workshops led by a master potter, perhaps pictured in the stamp (Met). Even aside from large cities like Florence, smaller towns on their outskirts, like Montelupo, also played huge roles given their easy access to clay deposits along nearby rivers (Italian Pottery). Every step in the manufacturing process was meticulous - even the clay was special, as it "was dug mainly from river beds and purified" (La Gazzetta Italiana). While Majolica manufacturing
diminished by the 17th century and even more so afterward, in part due to competition with cheaper importer products (Italian pottery), efforts were taken from the late 19th century onward to revitalize it in certain parts of Tuscany (Museo).
Majolica was a key aspect of the Renaissance, and its beautiful artwork and Tuscan heritage remain keenly appreciated today (La villa). It is certainly a worthy representative for Tuscany.
The Stamp Design
In this stamp, we see an artisan busy making a pot, likely from river bed clay as we have discussed. His right hand appears to hold a sharp tool being used to shape the pot on the lathe. Interestingly, none of the complete pots on the above shelf appear to be decorated in Majolica style, though perhaps this is due to the practical constraint of the stamp resolution. Outside we see the outline of a tower, which drives home the geographic location. Indeed, the tower being depicted is the famed Torre del Mangia (Tower of the Eater) in Siena, one of the original hubs for Majolica production. Located in the Piazza del Campo, the tower stands
at 102 meters tall and is named after its first bell-ringer (Giovanni di Balduccio, nicknamed "Il Mangiaguadagni, who apparently really liked to eat) (Tuscany.co). It can be seen throughout Siena and provides a beautiful panoramic view for those who venture all 400 steps to the top (discover Tuscany). This building is one of the centerpieces of Siena and is a great addition to the stamp design in explicitly commemorating Tuscany.
I do wish we could have seen this stamp had it been made with a more defined engraving method (like the Laotian stamps we have seen) and with a more diverse color scheme. Given the meticulous and technical quality of the Majolica pottery, it would have been nice for the design to take some luxuries in adding some drawings of finished products with their dazzling array of colors. However, given that these stamps were within a larger definitive set intended for basic mailing usage, I can understand that the design was ultimately a little more constrained than the depicted art form.
Well, this seems like a good place to stop for now. This was the first stamp in the set of four that we analyzed. In doing so, we learned a bit more about Tuscany as well as the beautiful Majolica pottery. Writing this article almost inspired me to check out some pottery stores for these lovely items! Thanks for tuning in, and get ready to look at bobbin lace-making in Abruzzo, Italy next time!
Barone, Villa Le. “Tuscan Crafts: Montelupo Earthenware.” Villa Le Barone Magazine |, Villa Le Barone, 21 Mar. 2015, magazine.villalebarone.com/culture-and-art-in-tuscany/tuscan-crafts-montelupo-earthenware/.
Fliegel, Stephen N. “Maiolica.” La Gazzetta Italiana, May 2015, www.lagazzettaitaliana.com/history-culture/7881-maiolica.
“History of Italian Ceramics.” Italian Pottery Outlet, Italian Pottery Outlet, 25 Jan. 2019, www.italianpottery.com/history-of-italian-ceramics/.
“How Does a Lathe Work?” Monroe Engineering, Monroe Engineering Products, 3 Jan. 2020, monroeengineering.com/blog/how-does-a-lathe-work/.
LigaDue. MontelupoFiorentinoPesa.jpg. Montelupo, 27 May 2012.
“The Manufacture of Ceramics in Tuscany.” Esposizioni on-Line - Istituto e Museo Di Storia Della Scienza, Institute and Museum of the History of Science, Florence, Italy, 10 Jan. 2008, brunelleschi.imss.fi.it/itineraries/itinerary/TheManufactureOfCeramicsTuscany.html.
McNab, Jessie. Metmuseum.org, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Oct. 2002, www.metmuseum.org/toah/hd/maio/hd_maio.htm.
McSpadden, David. Siena, Tuscany, Italy-12May2013.Jpg. Siena, 12 May 2013.
Museo Internazionale delle Ceramiche in Faenza. Montelupo XV 24876.JPG. Siena, 2009.
Scharnagl, Donna. “The Tower of Mangia.” Discover Tuscany - Fall in Love with Tuscany, Italy!, WebPromoter, www.discovertuscany.com/siena/tower-of-mangia.html.
“Torre Del Mangia Siena - Tower of the Eater in Siena - Tuscany, Italy.” Tuscany, Tuscany.co, 8 Jan. 2014, www.tuscany.co/monuments-siena/torre-del-mangia.html.