is the name of a major ceramics center situated some fifty kilometers
southeast of Moscow. The village of Gzhel is mentioned for the
first time in the fourteenth century in the testament of Ivan
Kalita the Moneybag, the Grand Prince of Muscovy. Otherwise
historical chronicles note that the dominant pursuit of the
local population was the making of pottery, for which reason
the very name of Gzhel derives in all likelihood from the Russian
verb zhech which means burn in the sense of firing clay. Though
the secrets of the craft were handed down from generation to
generation long before, Gzhel really rose to fame as a large
center of ceramics in the eighteenth century when local potters
mastered the making of majolica or majolica tin-glazed earthenware,
which owes sonbriguet to the island of Majorca, where these
ceramic wares were made.
At that time
majolica wares were called in Russia tsenina. The origin of
the word is not known exactly. Majolica wares were termed
in Europe faience. The product was usually made of tinted
clays, had a massive porous shell, and was decorated with
enamel colours in polychromatic, typically peasant-style designs.
True, tsenina was first manufactured in Moscow at the establishment
of the merchant Afanasy Grebenshchikov, who employed a number
of potters from Gzhel. Returning home and having learned the
secrets of majolica manufacture, they started their own potteries.
Though we have no idea who they were-their names have been
lost - they made so fine a start that within the space of
but several years, Gzhel majolica was already successfully
competing with Grebenshchikov's produce.
Whereas the celebrated Italian Renaissance
majolica borrowed subject material from contemporary painting
and served an exclusively decorative purpose (produced mostly
were large vases, giant dishes and bas-reliefs), Gzhel ware
was, on the contrary, of utilitarian shape and form and was
decorated with the two-dimensional designs that are typically
of folk origin; the large local pools of bright color displayed
a marked affinity with the lubok, the Russian folk picture
The range of Gzhel majolica included virtually
the entire assortment of domestic utensils, such as breakfast
and soup plates, dinner-services, mugs, tankards, and pitchers.
More often that was only white-glazed earthenware devoid of
decoration; however it was prized precisely because of its