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Updated: Nov 24, 2023

The ancients of Mesopotamia were the originators of the oldest examples of tin-glazed pottery, from as early as 750 AD, Abbasid Iraq. When the Moors of North Africa conquered Spain in the 8th century, they naturally brought their techniques with them. Of the two glazes employed for Islamic Hispano-Moresque pottery, the more popular were pieces were finished with the tin-glazes that resulted in a cream coloured background, complimentary to vivid colours. This pottery was introduced to artisans of Talavera de la Reina in Spain, then further developed using Christian motifs. To further complicate the historical value of this pottery, historians have traced the ancient trade between the Abbasid Empire and ancient China that coincided the Moor invasion of Spain, which likely led to the imitation of Chinese porcelain. There are several theories on tin glazed pottery and how Talavera de la Reina became so famous, but one can be sure this technique did not originate in Talavera de la Reina itself.

The first Spaniards were noted for carefully transporting ceramics from Talavera de la Reina to New Spain, so Monks could ornament their churches. The Spanish introduced modern techniques to local indigenous peoples, who had long mastered coil pottery. By the late 16th century, when Spain developed trade with China via the Philippines, through the port of Acapulco on Mexico’s west coast, Chinese porcelain found its way into the hands of Mexican artisans. Not only did Chinese porcelain influence the floral and feather motifs that became synonymous with Mexican Talavera pottery, it also influenced vessel shapes and styles. With the addition of the wheel and tin-glazes at their disposal, artisans in Mexico quickly gained recognition for their Talavera and artists across the country were celebrated for quality craftsmanship in a variety of mediums, from textiles to ceramics, metal work and wood carving.

Though documents do not detail how widespread the manufacturing of handicrafts by indigenous artists developed, historians theorize it became problematic in some way: Artisan guilds previously developed by indigenous artists were suddenly designated for the Spanish-born, due to economic protectionism, and were only later utilized for protecting authenticity and quality control. During this time, indigenous peoples were prohibited from participating in this craft.

The first government measure for creating policies around production started with a municipal meeting in Mexico City on February 1, 1552. This rendered the prohibition of Spanish merchants purchasing handicrafts by indigenous craftspeople. In 1653, the first Potter’s Guild was formed in the city of Puebla. The guild regulated the production of Talavera pottery through a number of strict ordinances, including the origin of the clay itself. The Potter’s Guild that was formed in 1653 was replaced by the Talavera Regulating Council in 1993.

Today, strict regulations still limit production of Talavera ceramics to Talavera de la Reina in Spain, and San Pablo del Monte, Atlixco, Cholula, Tecali and Puebla City, in Mexico. The pieces are hand-thrown onto a potter’s wheel, then finished with a crazed glaze that is porous and creme in colour. Traditional paint colours are limited to black, blue, yellow, orange, green and mauve, which must be derived from natural pigments. Another indication of authenticity, is the exposed Terracota rim on the underneath of the piece. If true Talavera pottery is flawed, it is sent to a “hospital” within the factory, where artists work to rescue it. If the piece cannot be rescued, it is smashed and sold in bulk to mosaic artisans.

All certified pieces must include the logo of the manufacturer, and location of production. If a piece has been rescued from the hospital, the markings must indicate that it underwent this process. As Talavera must be comprised of natural clay, with a process that can take three to four months per piece, the cost of Talavera is much higher than imitations from other parts of Mexico.

In Mexico, Guanajuato State is known for Majolica and Talavera styled pottery. Majolica pottery became particularly popular during the Italian Renaissance, following mass export from the Spanish island Majorca to Italy. Artisans of majolica pottery in Italy employed a second popular Hispano-Moresque glaze, called Lusterware. There are distinct differences between these pottery styles, and what remains rampant in Mexico, is the continuous marketing of a tin-glazed pottery that is none of these styles, yet is sold as Talavera. These ceramics are made in Guanajuato State, and mainly sold in the Pueblo Magico of Dolores Hidalgo. Though colourful, beautiful and affordable, the quality is not high, nor are the pieces scrutinized for flaws.

Guanajuato has applied for Talavera designation but have been denied due to lack of quality control, different process, clay sources and colours employed. The pieces from Guanajuato often feature the colour red, which is not one of the certifiable colours of Talavera. Once one compares a true piece of Talavera next to the ceramics of Dolores Hidalgo, it is quite easy to understand the price difference. The ceramics sold as Talavera in Guanajuato are full of flaws, whereas certified Talavera is destroyed for visible flaws. There are only 9 studios worldwide, that produce certifiable Talavera pottery, with the bulk of them located in Puebla.

Talavera pottery is an interesting example of how cultural styles circled the world in two directions, rendering a fusion of style that became distinctive. From the porcelain tradition of China, it’s influence on the Middle East, with onward movement through North Africa, Spain, Italy and into Puebla, Mexico from the west, then from China through the Manila Galleons and Acapulco, into Puebla, Mexico from the east, discerning the motifs and vessel shapes of this exquisite art form is as fascinating as it is complex. This marriage of cultural art forms is yet another example of our shared human experience.

Though we will not visit Puebla during our Silver Road Tour, we will stop at the ceramic shops in Dolores Hidalgo, where guests can marvel at the inexpensive and beautiful ceramics that are so well loved, even if they are not authentic or certifiable Talavera. Affordable, beautiful and functional, these make delightful collectibles and gifts.

Of course - if you would like to visit Uriarte Factory in Puebla City, we are happy to offer you an amazing experience that includes a workshop, where you can paint a tile and have it delivered to your home. Please contact us if you would like to visit Uriarte prior to our Silver Road Tour. (This requires a minimum of 2 days before our tour begins).

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