Magnificent Majolica: South Kensington

“Magnificent Majolica” is a bimonthly series where we focus on the opulence and exuberance of the Archive’s majolica designs. Every other month we’ll highlight one or more artworks from our special Art & Design folio as detailed images, galleries, or interactive comparisons. If you’d like to find out more about majolica and why it is synonymous with Minton you can do so through our In Depth introduction to the series.

Until the 1850s the South Kensington area of London had been a relatively undeveloped part of the city but after the Great Exhibition of 1851, which had taken place in the nearby Hyde Park, it was transformed into a hub of educational and cultural institutions nicknamed the Albertopolis. Part of this transformation included the construction of the South Kensington Museum whose collection – to go full circle – included work shown at the Great Exhibition. Below we’ve highlighted three designs which, according to their 1871 Art Catalogue entries, were all “copied” from “South Kensington” and which are also helpfully annotated “au museé de Kensington.

4 Water Colour Drawings, Majolica, Copies of small majolica plates, South Kensington, G18 to G21

The South Kensington Museum would later become The Victoria and Albert Museum, meaning we’re able to search their online collections for information about the original pieces. For example, the copy illustration below is of a maiolica plate from 1533 showing the huntsman Actaeon turned into a stag (V&A Museum No. 1700-1855).

9 Water Colour Drawings, Majolica, Copies of plates South Kensington, G25 to G33

Our third and final design was copied from a maiolica plate made in 1510 (V&A Museum No. 1717-1855) and depicts a “painter at work” – likely a representation of the original artist – and his wealthy patrons alongside. The copy illustration even includes the monogram found on the base of the piece alongside the main design.

2 Water Colour Drawings, Majolica, Copy of two majolica plates by Kirkby from South Kensington, 23 a painter at work 24 a soldier, G23 to G24

View the source artwork for the highlights above