Developments in majolica production in Santiago de Guatemala: from the late 16th to the late 20st centuries

By Tony Pasinski


Between the 1580s and 1770s, a number of very different majolica industries functioned in colonial Santiago de Guatemala to meet the needs of the Spanish population. The city was destroyed by an earthquake in 1773 and eventually abandoned. However, with its 19th century revival as La Antigua Guatemala, ceramic workshops began functioning again. They reproduced two colonial majolica groups and added vessel forms and decorative elements to meet the needs of the native population. In the 20th century, part of the production turned to architectural and decorative ceramics. This article examines the developments in the Colonial rise, the Republican revival and the Modern-world impact on the majolica industry in what was once the capital of the Kingdom of Guatemala.


The earliest date for which there is a record of the arrival of a Spaniard with sufficient knowledge for the production of lead-glazed ceramics is 1544. In that year Alonso de Figuerola, cantor of the church in Oaxaca, Mexico, bought a house in Santiago de Guatemala (AGCA A1.20 732 f.59v). Earlier, in a letter written to the King in 1541, Figuerola claims that he has shown the Indians of Mexico City how to glaze their ceramics but that they are not interested (A.H.N., Diversos-Colecciones, 22, N.31). It may have been he who showed local native potters how to glaze their Late Post-classic style indigenous ceramics and how to produce hand-made, lead-glazed, Spanish chamber pots, both found only at the Santo Domingo monastery site (Pasinski 2004).
Archival records indicating a definite production of local lead-glazed ceramics appear in 1566 (AGCA A1.20 733 f.11v) and in 1572 (AGCA A1.20 440 f.144) with mention made of olleros Juan Rodríguez and his father-in-law Pedro de Salas, respectively. It may have been they and other un-named potters who produced some, if not all, of the wide variety of 16th century wheel-thrown, Spanish-style, lead-glazed ceramics that, while found only at the Santo Domingo monastery site (Pasinski 2004), would have been available to the local Spanish population. They set the stage for the future production of local majolica ceramics.

Leave a Reply