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  • Place of origin:

    Italy (south; possibly, made)
    Sicily (possibly, made)

  • Date:

    1230-1250 (made)

  • Artist/Maker:


  • Materials and Techniques:

    Tin-glazed earthenware, painted with copper, manganese and iron oxides

  • Credit Line:

    Given by Mr C.D.E. Fortnum

  • Museum number:


  • Gallery location:

    Ceramics, Room 145, case 4, shelf 2

This bowl was said to have been found embedded in a church tower in the city of Pisa in Italy. Numerous ceramic vessels have been embedded in Italian church facades, especially in the coastal towns on the west coast and most commonly in Pisa. These vessels, or 'bacini' in Italian, were primarily imports from lands bordering the Mediterranean, east and west. It is significant that a large number of these bacini are found in and around Pisa because the Pisans and Genoese were prominent in the Mediterranean trade from the 10th century on into the 13th century. Undoubtedly, these bacini were brought back by Pisan and Genoese shipping merchants and were then given to local institutions who prized their decoration.

This bowl is covered with a thin layer of tin-opacfied lead glaze and then painted with oxides of copper and iron and possibly also antimony. The border decoration is characteristic of decoration produced on vessels in Sicily which are known as 'Gela ware'. Gela is a town on the southern coast of Sicily and it is known that ceramic production has occurred here for over two thousand years. Many ceramics have been excavated around Gela with this characteristic border decoration. However, it is also found in the southern Italian region of Apulia which has many shared characteristics with Gela type of ceramics. Ultimately, the ceramics produced in these two areas derive from North African ceramics.

The painted tin glaze technique of decorating ceramics began in the Middle East and spread along the Mediterranean trade routes. The technique was adopted in pottery centres which were probably established during the Roman period. It is known that Pisan and Genoese shipping merchants had their own trade centres in North Africa. It is likely that these ceramic techniques were introduced into Italy, into the south and into the Tuscan and Umbrian regions, by these shipping merchants.

Archaeologists have been excavating in and near Savona in the Ligurian region near Genova for over forty years. Ceramic finds indicate that lead and tin-opacified lead glazing of ceramics began here around the year 1200. Excavations in southern Italy have indicated that tin-glazing began shortly after this date. It seems likely that tin -glazed ceramics imported from North Africa into Sicily and Southern Italy and also directly into Liguria influenced the start of Italian tin glaze production.

Physical description

Bowl, of buff-coloured earthenware and of shallow form with a broad flat everted rim, covered with a thin white slip opacified with tin oxide, which is incised in the centre with two large and two small leaves and around the rim a border design of inverted 'V's interspersed with coloured dots, heightened with copper-green, brown-iron and purple-manganese oxide pigments, under a clear lead-glaze.

Place of Origin

Italy (south; possibly, made)
Sicily (possibly, made)


1230-1250 (made)



Materials and Techniques

Tin-glazed earthenware, painted with copper, manganese and iron oxides

Object history note

C.D.E Fortnum, dealer and collector of Italian maiolica, gave this dish to the museum in 1871. He stated at that time that it came from the tower of a church at Pisa and it was 13th century in date.

Descriptive line

Bowl of tin-glazed earthenware (maiolica) painted in green, brown and yellow. South Italian or Sicilian, 1230-1250

Bibliographic References (Citation, Note/Abstract, NAL no)

Henry Wallis, Persian Ceramic Art, 1891
C. Drury E. Fortnum, A Descriptive Catalogue of the Maiolica, Hispano-Moresco, Persian, Damascus and Rhodian Wares in the South Kensington Museum, London, 1873
Graziella Berti and Liana Tongiorgi, I bacini ceramici medievali delle chiese de Pisa, Roma, 1981
Le ceramiche medievale delle chiese di Pisa, Museo Nazionale di San Matteo, 1981
Christopher Lloyd, 'Fox Strangeways and Fortnum: Two Collectors of Italian Art', Apollo, 1983
J.V.G. Mallet, 'C.D.E. Fortnum and Italian Maiolica of the Renaissance', Apollo CVIII (1978), pp.396-404
Timothy Wilson, '"Il papa delle antiche maioliche": C.D.E. Fortnum and the study of Italian maiolica', Journal of the History of Collections, 11(1999), pp.209-12

Labels and date

Bowl formerly built into the tower of a church at Pisa.
North Syrian (Port St Simeon (Port Saint Symeon)), 1188-1268
Given by Mr. C.D.E. Fortnum [1871]
Bowl formerly built into the tower of a church at Pisa.
Italian, 13th century. [post 1871 and pre 1960]
Bowl found inserted in the masonry of a church-tower at Pisa
South Italian, 13th century [1960]
8. Bowl, so-called 'Gela ware'
South Italy or Sicily, 1230-1250
Earthenware painted with colours into the opaque tin-glaze
This bowl's colours and decoration are common to Tunisian, Sicilian and southern Italy ceramics.
Museum no. 15-1871 . Given by C.D.E. Fortnum [2007]
28 Bowl with stylized leaves
Southern Italy or Sicily, 1230-50
The dish was originally built into the façade of a church in Pisa.
Museum no. 15-1871 . Given by Mr C.D.E. Fortnum [2007]

Production Note

This bowl is of the type known as 'Gela ware' which probably originated in North Africa but was characteristic of the pottery making centres in Gela, Sicily. This style was also produced in Apulia in southern Italy.




Painted; Tin glazed


Ceramics; Earthenware


Ceramics Collection

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