29 December 2010

Spode and Italian Pattern

The Italian pattern, also known as Blue Italian and Spode’s Italian, was introduced by Spode in about 1816 and was in continuous production until the closure of the factory in 2009. 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!
Spode Catalogue page c1900
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 I calculated Blue Italian was still produced on a huge range of shapes - 58 tableware pieces, 10 cookware and 30 giftware.

Unlike many of the other classical scene patterns on pottery of the early 1800s, the origin of the view for the Italian pattern is not certain and 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 in 1796-1798) was the source for several Spode patterns, including Tower and Castle, but none of these views has been associated with Italian.
Spode Illustrated Italian
Price List 1930

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 corresponds 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.

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 Trust 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 Spodes Italian scene which was formerly in Schloss Paffendorf near Cologne.

 Italian pattern
in green c1833
So, all this information 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 Museum Trust's archive at the Stoke-on-Trent City Archive where more recent research will be added.

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, etc. 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. Detail of another coloured version can be seen here too. A green version is also known dating from about 1833.
Saucer (detail), Italian pattern 2614
printed in blue,
handcoloured in red & gold, c1818
From its introduction as a Spode pattern Italian was an immediate success. Remarkably it retained its immense popularity for nearly 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 new ownership of the Portmeirion Group.

The Spode Museum Trust’s archive holds a great deal of material with reference to the  Italian pattern – pattern books, catalogues, price lists, researches by individuals, 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 1816-1833.

Cherries in Spode Blue Italian Bowl
The design crops up all over the place in fabrics and accessories as well as on TV sets for drama and even in 2010 on Channel 4's Big Brother. 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 on her name or use the link my Other Useful Websites panel on the right of this 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