|Manuel Mafra, ca.1865-1867
Caldas da Rainha, Portugal,
impressed M Mafra, Caldas da Rainha Portugal with crown,
15 1/4 in. diameter
The legend and legacy of Bernard Palissy (1510-1590), the famous sixteenth-century potter who burned his floorboards and household furniture to fuel his kilns,1 was renewed during the second half of the nineteenth century in France, and slightly later in Portugal. Palissy ware also spread to Victorian England, but its popularity was not nearly as widely accepted as its southern neighbors.
The Palissy revival period owes its birth to the Tours-born, French ceramist, Charles-Jean Avisseau,2 who after fifteen years of frustration and experimentation, in 1843, rediscovered and surpassed Palissy's lost art, and energized a Palissy revival that would last for fifty years. But it would not be until ten years later, in 1853, that a Portuguese potter, Manuel Cipriano Gomes Mafra, would begin his own Palissy revival in the small ceramic center of Caldas da Rainha, located approximately sixty-five miles north of Lisbon.
The history of Caldas da Rainha, originally
called Caldas de Óbidos, draws its origins from the fifteenth-century
discovery of a thermal sulfurous water spring of such exceptional quality,
that its healing powers drew visitors from near and far. Its most famous
visitor, Queen Leonor de Lencastre (wife of King João II, 1481-1495),
found the curative waters so healing that she established a hospital on
its very source which today bears her name (as does Caldas da Rainha meaning
Queen's Bath).3 Even to the present
this town of 20,000 people welcomes hundreds of daily visitors to the
Leonor Thermal Hospital to bathe in its healing waters, especially known
to soothe and help relieve asthma and rheumatism, among many other debilitating
Caldas da Rainha suffered greatly from the political and economic crises during the first decade of the nineteenth century. The Portuguese government converted the thermal hospital to an army field unit depriving the town of this important income source. Later the town would be devastated by the military occupation of Napolean's troops, and its economic engine would nearly come to a standstill. These dire circumstances caused a major decline in ceramic production. Despite the repel of the French by British troops the following year, both countries remained at war on Portuguese soil for nearly another decade.5
It would not be until 1820 that Maria dos
Cacos, about whom records and accounts are very sparse, opened a ceramic
workshop in Caldas, and for more than thirty years produced inexpensive,
monochromatic tableware in highly-glazed faience which she sold at county
fairs throughout Portugal.6 Her varied
production included diminutive figurines of people
Between 1853 and 1900, five major ceramists founded and sparked the Palissy movement in Portugal, all in the town of Caldas da Rainha: Manuel Cipriano Gomes Mafra, José Alves Cunha, José Francisco de Sousa, Rafael Bordalo Pinheiro, and Manuel Gustavo Pinheiro.
Manuel Cipriano Gomes Mafra (1830-1905)
In 1850 a part-time waiter and potter, recently arrived from the nearby town of Mafra (thirty-five miles southwest of Caldas), began employment at the factory of Maria dos Cacos. His name was Manuel Cipriano Gomes. Born in 1830 in Mafra, Portugal, a small tourist town known primarily for its Manueline style,7 eighteenth-century palace and basilica, little is known of Gomes' early life until his move to Caldas da Rainha at age twenty. He was the grandson of Manoel Gomes and Anna Dorothea, and the son of Cipriano Gomes and Izidora Maria. The father, Cipriano, is believed to have been a potter which he learned from his father (Manoel), and which he taught to his son, Manuel.
In 1853 Gomes executed a long term lease for the Maria dos Cacos factory in partnership with fellow worker, Antonio Domingos Reis, about whom little else is known.8 Gomes would become the dominent ceramist in Caldas for the next thirty years and adopt the last name "Mafra" after his original birth place. Thereafter, he would become known in Portuguese as "O Mafra" ("The Mafra") which he is called to this day.
Mafra's ceramic accomplishments in Caldas would become monumental and establish the foundation for the local ceramic industry for the next fifty years. The most important of these was the founding of the Palissy revival movement in Portugal. It is widely held by Mafra scholars that Mafra was shown a Palissy plate of either sixteenth- or nineteenth-century origin purchased in Paris by his collector friend, José Palha.9 And like so many of his French predecessors and contemporaries, he was so captivated by the Palissian creations that he adopted the style to his own which would predominate his works for his entire career.
Yet Mafra's adaptation of Palissy ware differed markedly from his French counterparts. He changed the characteristic Palissy setting from tranquil and peaceful pond life to a fierce struggle for survival, usually between snake and lizard. This style would become so popular that it would be copied by nearly every subsequent nineteenth-century Caldas ceramist. In addition to snakes and lizards, Mafra incorporated many of the other traditional Palissy elements into his works such as shells, fish, frogs, crayfish, moths, beetles, caterpillars, and local flora and fauna. But unlike Palissy himself, or his nineteenth-century French followers, Mafra incorporated a new element into his designsmusgo or moss. Mafra often placed his creatures on a bed of thick green moss utilizing a more than 2000-year-old Egyptian technique of pressing wet clay through a sieve.
Mafra also pioneered many other innovations in the local ceramic movement. He greatly enlarged the color palette to nine basic colors and shades by introducing the widespread production of polychrome ceramics using generally multiple shades of earthtones such as greens and browns with accents of yellows, blues and reds. His use of lead, tin and other metallic oxides helped him to achieve more brilliant colors and glazes than the existing local industry.
Mafra was the first in Caldas (and perhaps in Portugal) to refine the jasper technique10 first developed by Bernard Palissy in the sixteenth century, and incorporated in numerous wares. His glazes were especially thick and luminous, and compare favorably to the better of his contemporary artisans around the world. Mafra travelled extensively throughout Portugal exhibiting his wares at ceramic fairs and major industrial and commercial exhibitions. He is credited with the development of ceramic exports from Caldas which to this day remain an important source of revenue for the town.
The renown of Mafra did not escape the attention of Dom Fernando II who was both an amateur potter and ardent ceramic collector. He both purchased and commissioned works for the royal collection, and bestowed upon the factory the title Royal Supplier to the King. He even granted authorization to use the royal crown as part of the Mafra mark.
Although Manuel Cipriano Gomes Mafra was the founder and leading proponent of the Palissy movement in Portugal, other Caldas ceramists adopted the Palissy style and made important contributions to the local ceramic industry. Mafra died on November 11, 1905 at the age of seventy-five. His legacy lives on in his ceramics which are displayed in museums and collections throughout Portugal.
José Alves Cunha (also known as José Alves da Cunha (fl. 1860-c.1880)
One of the most prolific potters whose works are found most often in the market second only to Mafra was José Alves Cunha, who established a small factory in Caldas da Rainha in 1860. Of all other ceramists, Cunha's work mostly closely resembles Mafra. Many of their works are impossible to distinguish from one another were it not for their respective marks. Cunha is best known for his rendition of the famous cabbage leaf tea service with snake handles, a Portuguese design originating at the Royal Ceramic Factory in Lisbon in the latter eighteenth century. Among Palissy followers, Cunha was one of the most important. He retired in the mid-1880s. His date of death is unknown.
José Francisco de Sousa (fl.1860-1893)
Another respected follower of the Palissy tradition, and one of its more artistic proponents was José Francisco de Sousa who acquired a factory in 1860 from fellow ceramist, António de Sousa Liso, who founded the factory five years earlier.11 The works of José Francisco de Sousa are largely unrecognized outside Portugal because of his predominent mark "JFS" in fancy but unreadable script inside an oval. His diversified color palette and artistic rendering place him among the best Caldas ceramists. He operated his workshop until 1893 when he retired and turned control to his son, José Auguste de Sousa.
Rafael Bordalo Pinheiro (1846-1905)
The most famous and successful Portuguese ceramist and Palissy follower remains virtually unknown in the United States except in knowledgeable ceramic circles. Rafael Augusto Bordalo Pinheiro (1846-1905) was born in Lisbon into a family of distinguished artists. He was one of nine children many of whom continued the family artistic tradition. Around age eleven, Rafael received his first lessons in drawing and modeling in his father's workshop, and three years later was enrolled at a nearby fine arts school, Liceu das Merceeiras.12 Despite his art training, Rafael displayed an inclination towards acting, and upon graduation joined a local dramatics society. At first he made repairs to stage sets, but eventually he secured minor acting roles and was later accepted to the prestigious Escola Dramática (School of Dramatics).
In 1863 Rafael's father, Manuel Pinheiro, not wanting the son to squander his arts education, secured a civil servant job for him in the Câmara dos Pares (similar to the House of Lords in England). Probably to please his father, Rafael applied simultaneously to a civil arts school taking a variety of courses including ancient Greek and Roman architectural design. He spent all but his drawing classes making caricatures of his teachers.13 In 1866 at age twenty, Rafael married, but his dedication to drawing was so consuming that he even made sketches, watercolors and charcoal drawings during his honeymoon. By 1870 his drawings had turned into full-scale political and social caricatures and were appearing in magazines and pamphlets. In the same year, he launched his first publication, Achilles Heel, the first true political caricature album in Portugal. In 1871 and 1872, he published two additional caricature pamphlets, Berlinda and Binóculo, but sales were disappointing.
In 1875 after co-publishing a short-lived magazine, Lanterna Mágica, Rafael was invited to Rio de Janeiro in August to direct a satirical magazine, O Mosquito. One year later he moved his family to Rio de Janeiro and remained four more years, having enjoyed considerable success, purchasing the magazine, arid publishing booklets of political caricatures. In 1879 Pinheiro returned to Lisbon and continued publishing his political cartoons and satire to a receptive public. Throughout his life, he would publish newspapers, journals, magazines, booklets and books containing his political satire and caricatures. His last magazine, Paróda, was started in 1900, only five years before his death.14
First Ceramic Period 1884-1885
It was his brother Feliciano's urging for partnership that drew Rafael to the full-time profession of ceramics at age thirty-seven. Feliciano had been a frequent visitor to the spa at Caldas da Rainha and an admirer of the local ceramic industry and beautiful countryside. Convinced the pottery factories there were primitive and outmoded, Feliciano gathered a group of investors and persuaded Rafael to lend his artistic talent to a modern enterprise. In October, 1883 Feliciano drew plans for the new business to be known as Fabrica de Faianças das Caldas da Rainha (Faience Factory of Caldas da Rainha). Rafael moved with his family to Caldas the following April, purchased land for the new factory, and immediately began using an existing facility for experimentation and practice.15
In September, 1884 the initial phase of the new factory was completed. Rafael assumed the artistic direction while his brother managed the plant. At first the factory concentrated its production on industrial products such as constructIon brick and commercial floor and wall tiles. By June, 1885 the second phase of the factory was completed, permitting production of a full line of decorative and household tableware. The final phase for producing large quantities of commercial tableware would not be equipped until 1888.
Rafael threw himself into his work with such passion that the factory achieved high-quality production almost from the start, although Feliciano's contributions to this result are unknown. In 1885 the company exhibited at the Portugal Commercial Exhibition in Lisbon and enjoyed considerable success. Despite numerous orders, however, the factory was underfunded.
Second Ceramic Period 1886-1889
For the next several years, Rafael continued to oversee the factory's artistic direction. Unfortunately, he and his brother were poor businessmen, and the enterprise which employed more than fifty workers, continued to decline. Nevertheless, Rafael produced a prodigious number of works whose variety of colored glazes, intricate modeling, depth of color, and artistic design brought the ceramist fame. The works in which he represented crustaceans, batracians and other sea life were influenced by two concurrent revival movements that had begun centuries earlier. The more important was Palissy ware renewed by Manuel Mafra thirty years before, and to a lesser extent, the Manueline decorative style,16 which originated during the reign of King Manuel I (1495-1521).
The sales of Palissy-inspired and Manueline-type ceramics, notwithstanding Rafael Pinheiro's extraordinary artistic gifts, could not generate enough revenue to overcome lagging household wares and commercial tableware that were the mainstay of the business. By 1889 despite a very successful commercial exhibition in Oporto that same year, the factory needed another cash infusion. The Portuguese government granted a loan that staved off impending bankruptcy and enabled the company to exhibit at the Paris International Exhibition later in the same year. The exhibition was a great success: Rafael Pinheiro received the Legion of Honor from French president, Sadi Carnot; the factory was awarded gold and silver medals; and the company received many orders, some paid in advance. Whether the orders were misplaced is not known, but none was ever delivered. Thus began a final decline in the affairs of the enterprise which Pinheiro was never able to reorganize.
Third Ceramic Period 1889-1905
During this period Pinheiro's creative output
was unabated. He created many of his greatest works including in 1889,
a monumental, eight-foot urn entitled Jar to Beethoven which is
now in the collection of the Rio de Janeiro Museum of Fine Arts. His most
compelling work, perhaps, in the style of Bernard Palissy [illustrated
at the top of Pinheiro article] which was produced on multiple occasions
beginning in 1893, is nearly four inches high and employs a Caldas technique
of ceramic basket weaving.17 This highly
realistic depiction of fish and leaves both artistically and exquisitely
rendered in complementary, contrasting colors, represents the pinnacle
of Pinheiro's Palissy-inspired repertoire.
Many other skilled ceramists worked in Caldas da Rainha during both the latter part of the nineteenth century and early twentieth century who included Palissy-inspired ceramics among their repertoire. Among the best known was Manuel Gustavo Bordalo Pinheiro (1867-1920) who assumed the artistic direction of his father's factory in 1900 until it was sold in 1907. One year later he started a new enterprise called Fábrica de Faianças Artisticas Bordalo Pinheiro "San Rafael" which he directed until his death in 1920. Although a gifted ceramist in his own right, he did not design Palissy-type ceramics, but continued the production and sale of his father's popular Palissy designs utilizing the original molds until the factory closed in the year of his death.
Other Caldas potters who plied their skills
and contributed to the Palissy revival were Francisco Gomes de Avelar
(fl.1875-1897), João Coelho César (1856-1901), Herculano
Elias (fl.1888-c.1898), Francisco Elias (1870-c.1935),
complete description of this event is contained in Palissy's own writing,
"L' Art de Terre," which was first translated into English in
1852 by British writer Henry Morley in his book, "Palissy The Potter,
The Life of Bernard Palissy of Saintes."