Faience or faïence (/faɪˈɑːns/ or /feɪ-/; [fajɑ̃s]) is the conventional name in English for fine tin-glazed pottery on a delicate pale buff earthenware body. It is originally associated by French speakers with wares exported from Faenza in northern Italy. The invention of a white pottery glaze suitable for painted decoration, by the addition of an oxide of tin to the slip of a lead glaze, was a major advance in the history of pottery. The invention seems to have been made in Iran or the Middle East before the ninth century. A kiln capable of producing temperatures exceeding 1,000 °C (1,830 °F) was required to achieve this result, the result of millennia of refined pottery-making traditions. The term is now used for a wide variety of pottery from several parts of the world, including many types of European painted wares, often produced as cheaper versions of porcelain styles.
- Ancient faience
- Western Mediterranean
- French and northern European faence
- United States
Technically, lead-glazed earthenware, such as the French sixteenth-century Saint-Porchaire ware, does not properly qualify as faience, but the distinction is not usually maintained. Semi-vitreous stoneware may be glazed like faience.
The term faience broadly encompassed finely glazed ceramic beads, figures and other small objects found in Egypt as early as 4000 BC, as well as in the Ancient Near East, the Indus Valley Civilization and Europe. However, this material is not pottery at all, containing no clay, but a vitreous frit, either self-glazing or glazed. The Metropolitan Museum of Art displays a faience hippopotamus from Meir, Egypt, dated to Dynasty 12, ca. 1981–1885 BC. Examples of ancient faience are also found in Minoan Crete, which was likely influenced by Egyptian culture. Faience material, for instance, has been recovered from the Knossos archaeological site.
The Moors brought the technique of tin-glazed earthenware to Al-Andalus, where the art of lustreware with metallic glazes was perfected. From Málaga in Andalusia and later Valencia these "Hispano-Moresque wares" were exported, either directly or via the Balearic Islands to Italy and the rest of Europe.
"Majolica" and "maiolica" are garbled versions of "Maiorica", the island of Majorca, which was a transshipping point for refined tin-glazed earthenwares shipped to Italy from the kingdom of Aragon in Spain at the close of the Middle Ages. This type of Spanish pottery owed much to its Moorish inheritance.
In Italy, locally produced tin-glazed earthenwares, initiated in the fourteenth century, reached a peak in the late fifteenth and early sixteenth centuries. The name faience is simply the French name for Faenza, in the Romagna near Ravenna, Italy, where a painted majolica ware on a clean, opaque pure-white ground, was produced for export as early as the fifteenth century.
French and northern European faïence
The first northerners to imitate the tin-glazed earthenwares being imported from Italy were the Dutch. Delftware is a kind of faience, made at potteries round Delft in the Netherlands, characteristically decorated in blue on white, in imitation of the blue and white porcelain that was imported from China in the early sixteenth century, but it quickly developed its own recognisably Dutch décor.
"English Delftware" produced in Lambeth, London, and at other centers, from the late sixteenth century, provided apothecaries with jars for wet and dry drugs. Many of the early potters in London were Flemish. By about 1600, blue-and-white wares were being produced, labelling the contents within decorative borders. The production was slowly superseded in the second half of the eighteenth century with the introduction of cheap creamware.
Dutch potters in northern (and Protestant) Germany established German centres of faience: the first manufactories in Germany were opened at Hanau (1661) and Heusenstamm (1662), soon moved to nearby Frankfurt-am-Main.
In France, centres of faience manufacturing developed from the early eighteenth century led in 1690 by Quimper in Brittany, which today possesses an interesting museum devoted to faience, and followed by Rouen, Strasbourg and Lunéville. In Switzerland, Zunfthaus zur Meisen near Fraumünster church houses the porcelain and faience collection of the Swiss National Museum in Zurich.
The products of French faience manufactories, rarely marked, are identified by the usual methods of ceramic connoisseurship: the character of the body, the character and palette of the glaze, and the style of decoration, faïence blanche being left in its undecorated fired white slip. Faïence parlante bears mottoes often on decorative labels or banners. Wares for apothecaries, including albarello, can bear the names of their intended contents, generally in Latin and often so abbreviated to be unrecognizable to the untutored eye. Mottoes of fellowships and associations became popular in the 18th century, leading to the Faïence patriotique that was a specialty of the years of the French Revolution.
In the course of the later 18th century, cheap porcelain took over the market for refined faience; in the early 19th century, fine stoneware—fired so hot that the unglazed body vitrifies—closed the last of the traditional makers' ateliers even for beer steins. At the low end of the market, local manufactories continued to supply regional markets with coarse and simple wares.
In the 19th century Minton revived tin-glazed pottery in the style of Renaissance Italian maiolica and at the Great Exhibition of 1851 exhibited earthenware pottery with colored translucent glazes over low relief decoration. These so-called majolica wares were later also made by Wedgwood and numerous smaller Staffordshire potteries round Burslem and Stoke-on-Trent. At the end of the nineteenth century, William de Morgan re-discovered the technique of lustered faience "to an extraordinarily high standard".
Many centres of traditional manufacture are recognized, as well as some individual ateliers. A partial list follows.