The origin of the production of Faience in Portugal goes back to said malegueira Earthenware, production which is documented in Lisbon in the 16th century associated with Andalusian craftsmen.
In the 1st half of the 17th century, Portuguese Earthenware is characterised by its original adaptation of ornamental motifs from the Orient (painted in tones of cobalt blue), alongside the quality of manufacture, proven by the recent theories indicating the exporting of this Earthenware to Europe during this period.
The specific nature of this Faience derives from the growing fascination in the Chinese porcelain which was invading national markets at that time. Oriental symbols, without any meaning for the Portuguese ceramists, are well handled by these craftsmen who reinterpret them in new compositions where oriental-style influences are blended with the permanence of traditional values in a hybrid style. A characteristic element of this new style is the famous aranhões plates which dominated until the end of the 18th century.
But the 2nd half of the 17th century brought some changes to this scenario. Owing to restrictive measures imposed by the European markets, the export of Portuguese Faience dwindled. As a result of this fall, the production, which then started being made only for the national market, acquired new characteristics: the contours became more rigid, the themes which emerged in the more ample areas of the bottom of the dishes adopted a more western nuance, with the representation of allegories, zoomorphic figures and everyday scenes.
In the transition from the 17th to the 18th century, also associated with this movement was lower demand by Portuguese orderers who were more inclined towards silver tableware and Chinese porcelains made to order, financed by the economic growth afforded by the discovery of the gold and precious stone mines in Brazil.
The crisis in Portuguese Earthenware was to be overcome with an in-depth reform – the industrial reform which was promoted during the reign of King José (1750-1777) by the Marquis of Pombal in the second half of the 18th century. Between 1767 and 1810 56 ceramics’ factories were set up in Portugal, to be found in Lisbon, the Northern Region (Viana and Oporto), the Central Region (Aveiro, Coimbra, Caldas da Rainha) and the South (Estremoz).
It is against this backdrop that major alterations were made which promoted the updating of the ceramics by contracting foreign technicians, adopting and renewing production models, shapes and equipment, and granting commercial privileges.
However, despite all these endeavours, the Portuguese ceramics’ factories, seemed to be cursed and were hit by various tragedies from fires to bankruptcies and multiple letting arrangements, political crises and also the French invasions, culminating in its almost total extinction.
28 April 2008