29 December 2010

Spode and Italian Pattern

Catalogue page c1900
One of Spode's most famous patterns, the Italian pattern, also known as Blue Italian and Spode’s Italian, was introduced by Spode in about 1816. It was in continuous production up to the closure of the factory in 2009. Since this blogpost was first published I have written a lot more about the pattern and published more images. You can find the links by going to my Spode & Italian page - click/tap here.

The design was immediately popular and remained a best seller. Over the years it was produced on a wide variety of shapes in earthenware. One Spode catalogue from the 1920s/1930s records over 700 different shapes available - quite a feat of production.

Dinnerware was also produced on bone china until about 1976 and decorative wares until about 1986. Italian was also produced in black from about 1954 until about 1974 on decorative items. In 1962 a limited range of tableware was made in black with pattern number S3372.

In 1998, whilst at the Spode Museum, I calculated Blue Italian was still produced on a huge range of shapes - 58 tableware pieces, 10 cookware and 30 giftware.
Pattern 2614 c1818
The pattern appeared in several different versions over the years. One of my favourites is pattern number 2614 first recorded in c1818. The pattern was printed underglaze in the same way as the plain version but then the border was decorated in red by hand followed by the addition of gilded decoration.
Backstamp to plate in pattern 2614
Unlike many of the other classical scene patterns on Spode of the early 1800s, the origin of the view for the Italian pattern is not certain. The scene has puzzled collectors for many years. The Spode engravers derived many of their pictorial subjects from scenes which had appeared as prints. Publications of prints of scenes associated with the Grand Tour were the inspiration for many patterns produced at this time. Merigot's Views Of Rome and Its Vicinity (published 1796-1798) was the source for several Spode patterns, including Tower and Castle, but none of these views has been associated with Italian pattern.

Tilman Lichtenthaeler, a Spode collector and researcher, carried out an architectural quest to trace the building types in an attempt to unravel the mystery of the source of the Italian scene. He found there is no one place in Italy that seems to correspond to all the features included in the picture. The scene is a composition made up of several elements. The ruin on the left, although architecturally incorrect, might have been based on the Great Bath at Tivoli, near Rome. The row of houses along the left bank of the river is similar to those of the Latium area near Umbria, north of Rome. The castle in the distance is of a type which occurs only in Northern Italy in the regions of Piedmont and Lombardy.
Tureen, cover & stand, earthenware, Italian pattern c1816
The suggestion is that a travelling artist from Northern Europe made sketches of the scenes he encountered as he made his way through Italy. On his return home the sketches were combined into an attractive scene which, later, Spode used and chose to call the Italian Pattern. It is not possible to date this. There may even have been a print from a painting and then another painting taken from the print by a different artist.

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 Italian pattern and may well have been the original inspiration for the famous Spode design. 

In 2007 and 2010 I received new information from a private researcher recording a painting of remarkable similarity to Spode’s Italian scene which was formerly in Schloss Paffendorf near Cologne. All this can be researched further and perhaps the true origin of the design may one day be known. Most of this information can be found in the Spode archive where I have also passed on the most recent research to be added to the relevant papers.
Page from 'Illustrated Italian Price List 1930
In the early 1800s most of the pieces produced in the pattern were on items which would have been for the wealthy - asparagus servers, huge meat dishes, enormous soup tureens with ladles, cruet sets, foot baths,and more. Many a graceful home used Spode's Italian. Variations on  the pattern existed, for example, pattern 2635 of about 1818 uses the border of the design with a floral centre and is handcoloured over the blue print. A green version is also known dating from about 1833.
Copeland & Garrett, plate, earthenware, Italian pattern printed in green c1833 
Backstamp on green Italian plate
From its introduction as a Spode pattern Italian was an immediate success. Remarkably it  has retained its immense popularity for over 200 years and was a huge commercial success for the Spode company. The reason for its tremendous appeal is difficult to place but perhaps it is due to the unusual combination of a classical scene with a Chinese border. The border is a direct copy of an Imari design on Chinese export porcelain dating from about 1735. This unusual and difficult combination of oriental and western designs works perfectly in the Italian pattern.

By the end of production at the Spode factory much of the Italian pattern was produced overseas. In 2009 Portmeirion purchased the Spode brand. Italian is in production again with the Spode brand under the ownership of the Portmeirion Group. By 2017 the range from Portmeirion was much reduced.

The Spode archive holds a great deal of material with reference to the Italian pattern such as pattern books, catalogues, price lists, researches by individuals both staff and independent, collectors, enthusiasts and curators as well as marketing material up to 2008. Some Spode collectors collect just this pattern and some specialise further collecting only the oldest pieces dating from c1816-1833.
Cherries in Spode Blue Italian Bowl
Pieces in the pattern crops up all over the place in fabrics and accessories as well as on TV for drama; and even, in 2010, on Channel 4's 'Big Brother'. It has appeared in the amazingly popular 'Great British Bake Off' on BBC and Channel 4. Watch out for it in many an old American film and also in modern TV dramas of all periods. It is also beloved by interior designers in both the UK and US and can been seen in many glossy magazines.

Lovers of this pattern should also see paintings by Jeanne Illeyne such as Cherries in a Spode Blue Italian Bowl shown here courtesy of the artist. Click/tap her name or use my Links page to explore her work.

Thanks to all those who have shared their research and enthusiasm for this pattern over the years.


  1. Wow! This is more information than I ever thought I'd encounter about this pattern. Many years ago I began collecting what I now know to be Spode's Tower. But for years I thought it was Blue Italian due to an error in a magazine. I will look to see if you have covered Spode's Tower somewhere else on the site. Many thanks, I came upon this page in an effort to learn more about the origins of the transferware designs for an article I am writing on blue and white china for our local newspaper. Wonderful information clearly brought out! I am delighted to find your blog!

  2. I have removed my incorrect link to information about Spode's Tower pattern - here is the correct one http://spodehistory.blogspot.com/2011/02/tower-pattern.html