National Ceramics Museum: the largest pottery collection in Spain
Valencia’s most beautiful palace, the Palau del Marqués de Dosaigües in the heart of the city’s historic quarter, houses the Museo Nacional de Cerámica [National Ceramics Museum]. The museum’s collections showcase the art of ceramics and trace the industrial history of Valencia through its great ceramics tradition.
Before gaining an insight into the history of ceramics, visitors have the opportunity to marvel at this seventeenth-century palace’s imposing Rococo alabaster entrance. Its stunning imagery has made it one of the most photographed sights in the city. Its outstanding feature is the niche containing the Virgin of the Rosary, the Marquisate’s patron saint. Below her, two carvings of Hercules hold aloft the noble coat of arms. On the lower part of the entrance, two Atlases rest on amphoras from which streams of water flow like rivers, in a reference to the Marquisate’s title.
Valencia’s ceramics museum
A desire to discover the most cosmopolitan side of Valencia (that of the polished metallic finish crockery so prized by Europe’s royal families) leads us straight to the second floor of the museum, where the collection of Spanish ceramics is to be found. It is well worth setting aside half a day for your visit, as each piece on display in these rooms is a valuable treasure.
It’s a good idea to begin your tour in the sala de las culturas [Culture Room], which takes you on a journey back to the prehistoric age, to a time when the craft of working with clay began to shape the history of mankind. Although the craft of pottery, or working with fired clay, would not emerge until the Neolithic Age—during the Sedentarisation period.
We see the beginnings of pottery’s utilitarian use as a receptacle in the form of pots used for trade among the peoples of the Mediterranean region. The Romans were the first to develop the skills to produce pottery on a large scale. While the Greeks, 2,500 years ago, embellished their pots, making them into aesthetic creations with their black bas-relief decorated with delicate figures. The Iberians brought to the Iberian Peninsula the technique of oven firing and the use of the potter’s wheel.
The ceramics tradition in Valencia shows evidence of having been strongly influenced by Hispano-Muslim culture. In the museum’s sala del mundo musulmán [Muslim World Room], we can see not only the technical advances in making utensils for culinary use, hygiene purposes and even architectural claddings, but also the emergence of ceramics created for purely decorative use, such as the medieval fountain that stood in Valencia’s Plaça de la Figuereta square.
The change was wrought in Valencia
From the fourteenth century onwards, the town of Manises began to play an increasingly important role in the history of European pottery. By now, the Muslim Kingdom of Valencia had been reconquered by the Christians, and the hordes of master potters who had fled to Christian territory from the Kingdom of Granada led to a cross-fertilisation of Hispano-Moresque traditions with Gothic and Mudéjar designs. The result was the characteristic greenish-blue gilded lustre ware which was so highly prized in Europe, particularly among the royal families who considered its presence on their tables a symbol of their status.
As you admire the impressive sculpture of the reclining Pope Luna, (or Benedict XIII) in the sala de cerámica mudéjar [Mudéjar Pottery Room], don’t forget the origins of the popular phrase “mantenerse en sus trece” [to stand one’s ground, literally to stick to one’s thirteen—the deposed Pope Benedict XIII is supposed to have constantly proclaimed, “I am Benedict XIII” while in exile in Spain]. The saying was inspired by this Pope’s stubborn resistance in the face of his enemies. The statue is a splendid piece created in Teruel, and has the characteristic blue turquoise hue.
In the sala de cerámica arquitectónica medieval [Medieval Architectural Pottery Room], the most eye-catching pieces are the thick Valencian tiles or socarrats so typical of the factories that stood on the banks of the River Túria, along with those from the town of Paterna. The characteristic Valencian tiles are decorated in red and black, colours obtained from iron and manganese oxides. There are also pieces from other regions of Spain—in Moorish, Gothic and Renaissance designs.
These were used as decorative plaques on ceilings and paving. Bourgeois families liked to have their crests depicted on these plaques, and this can be clearly seen in the seven complete sections of paving preserved in the museum, as well as those of the palace in which the museum is housed. Or the one from the Palacio de los Boïl, the residence of the Boïl family, the lords of the ciudad de la cerámica [town of pottery], as Manises is popularly known.
Valencia was the birthplace of lustre ware, whereby the ceramic pieces were given a gilded appearance by the incorporation of metallic lustre. This extravagant style became fashionable throughout Aragon and Catalonia. In addition, it was influenced during the Age of Enlightenment by the Italian polychrome style and by French tastes in table decoration.
Valencian ceramics: the height of fashion
In 1727, with the approval of the Bourbon monarchy, the Real Fábrica de Alcora [Royal Factory] was established in Castellón. Taking advantage of the area’s renowned pottery tradition, this great innovative enterprise in earthenware and chinaware was launched. The roughness of traditional Spanish pottery was abandoned in favour of smooth lines and delicate shades. Aesthetically, there was also a move towards the Baroque and Neo-Classical styles that were in vogue at the time.
The application of pictorial decoration to ceramic tiles is a nineteenth-century development. The prevailing Romantic movement led to these pictorial tiles being incorporated in all types of decorative furnishings. At this time, industrial production of ceramics was pioneered in Valencia, and went on to flourish throughout Spain. It was a golden era, boosted by the export trade to America.
Via unique pieces such as those influenced by the Orientalist movement, dedicated to the museum by Pablo Picasso, as well as other pieces that reflect the cultural movements of the last century (such as Modernism), we finally reach the end of a tour in which we have seen how mankind has devoted its endeavours to the creation of ceramics.
The History of the Palace
The Palace itself is built around a central courtyard. The Marquises’ apartments have been preserved on both the main floor and the first floor. The family’s appreciation of the arts is evident in the terracotta relief work on the courtyard around the fountain. Here, the visitor will find representations of Sculpture, Music, Architecture (if you look closely, you will see that Architecture is holding up a plan of the palace), Trade, Agriculture, Science, Humanities, and Navigation.
Stepping into the sala de personajes ilustres [Hall of Fame], visitors can see portraits of eminent individuals in the world of the arts in Valencia, set on Baroque medallions. Among those whose portraits are held up by cherubic figures are the Jewish humanist and pedagogue Lluís Vives; the medieval poet Ausiàs March (the outstanding Valencian Golden Age writer), and the Renaissance painter Juan de Juanes. The salón chino [Chinese Room], which still looks like a setting in which to take tea, retains the original black-lacquered furniture created by the Valencian cabinet maker Federico Noguera y Picó. It is well worth stepping into the oratory to take a look at the paintings by José María Brel, one of Valencia’s most outstanding artists.
The best-kept secrets
Among the Marquises’ private apartments, the extravagant boudoir is noteworthy for its feminine styling and its floor inlaid with the Marquisate’s crest. Pillars with Louis XVI reliefs and a dome featuring Venus, Cupid and the Three Graces complete the Marchioness’s inner sanctum. This provides access to the salita de porcelana [Porcelain Room], which retains its original furniture decorated with porcelain plaques from the Royal Factory of Berlin, paintings of picaresque scenes, winsome cherubs, and playful works which reflect the light-hearted style of the room.
The discovery of the city of Pompeii inspired the sala pompeyana [Pompeii Room], which contains copies of decorations found in the city devastated by the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in 79 AD. The last of this floor’s noble apartments is the vibrantly coloured salón rojo reina Ana [Queen Ana Red Room] and, most ostentatious of all, the Ballroom. This would be shown off to guests, its extravagant Neo-Imperial décor proclaiming the opulence of the Marquisate.
Information of interest
- Tuesday – Saturday: 10:00 AM – 2:00 PM and 4:00 PM – 8:00 PM.
- Sundays and public holidays: 10:00 AM – 2:00 PM.
- Closed: Mondays; 1 January; 1 May; 24, 25 and 26 December, and on two local festival days.
- Opening hours on 12 October; 6 and 8 December: 10:00 AM – 2:00 PM and 4:00 PM – 8:00 PM.
How to arrive
- By Metro: Lines 3 and 5, stop: Colón.
- By bus: Routes 6, 8, 9, 10, 11 27, 31, 70 and 71; in addition to the routes whose destination is the Plaça de l’Ajuntament.
- By bicycle: With Valenbisi http://cas.valenbisi.es/ at the Carrer Salvà, Plaça de la Reina, Carrer de les Barques and Plaça de l’Ajuntament
- Nearby municipal cycle parking: Carrer del Marquès de Dos Aigües, Carrer Salvà, Carrer del Poeta Querol, Plaça de la Reina, Plaça de l’Ajuntament.
- By car: public car parks available at Plaça de la Reina, El Corte Inglés, Carrer Pintor Sorolla, Carrer Colón and Plaça de Tetuán.
Please bear in mind
- Admission to the temporary exhibitions is free once you have bought your entrance ticket. This can be purchased either at the ticket office or through the online sales service. https://ventamcd.entradasmuseos.com/reservarEntradas.aspx?opc=18
- Free admission to the museum is available on: 18 April, 18 May, 12 October and 6 December.