The History of Blue Italian
With its floral chinoiserie border encompassing a rural Italian scene in shades and textures of cobalt blue, the Spode Blue Italian print is one of the most recognisable and admired British designs of all time. But how did it become the icon it is today?
Master Potter, Josiah Spode developed the innovative ceramic production method known as underglaze blue transfer printing on earthenware in Stoke-on-Trent in 1783–84. An achievement that was ground-breaking and redefined the British pottery industry.
To adapt the process from the production of small porcelain wares to larger earthenware required pioneering thinking and creativity not to mention the development of a glaze recipe that brought the colour of the black-blue cobalt print to brilliant perfection.
First introduced in 1816, by Josiah Spode I’s son, Josiah Spode II, the distinctive Blue Italian design was immediately popular and remains a best seller to this day. Over the years it has been produced on a wide variety of shapes in earthenware (and is manufactured in Stoke-on-Trent to this day).
In the early 1800s, many of the pieces produced in the pattern were on items found almost exclusively in wealthy households, from asparagus servers, huge meat dishes and enormous soup tureens with ladles to cruet sets, foot baths, and more. By 1827, when Josiah Spode II died, Spode had become one of the world’s leading pottery manufacturers and Blue Italian was being exported around the globe.
Moving on a century to the 1930s, one Spode catalogue recorded over 700 different shapes of Blue Italian available, – quite a feat of production – including coffee and teacups and saucers, tea and coffee pots and breakfast sets, to name but a few.
Today Blue Italian is produced in Portmeirion Group’s factory just 500 meters from the original Spode site.
Though the Spode archive – now based at the Stoke-on-Trent City Archives – is impeccably well kept, the origin of the design is a mystery and the scene puzzles collectors to this day.
Engravers in the 18th century derived many of their pictorial subjects from scenes which had appeared previously as prints. Researchers and collectors have attempted to trace the building types to unravel the mystery of the source of the Blue Italian scene.
There is no one place in Italy that appears to match the scene in the pattern, which seems to be made up of several disparate elements. A ruin to the left of the design may be based on the Great Bath at Tivoli, near Rome. A row of houses along the left bank of the river is similar to those of the Latium area near Umbria, north of Rome, and a castle in the distance is like those found in Northern Italy in the regions of Piedmont and Lombardy.
It’s thought that a travelling artist from Northern Europe could have made sketches of the scenes he encountered while making his way through Italy. In 1989 the Spode Museum purchased a late seventeenth-century pen and wash drawing by an unknown artist. The rendering of the scene is very close to that of the Blue Italian pattern and may well have been the original inspiration for the infamous Spode design. However, this remains unverified.
Over the years there have been many blue and white tableware designs, however, none have stood the test of time in the same way as Spode Blue Italian. The Blue Italian pattern is still in production over 200 years after it was first created in 1816.
Take a look at how we have been perfecting Blue Italian for over 200 years in the video below. To start your own blue Italian collection shop here or share your love of Blue Italian with us on social media using #SpodeDNA.