Tall bowl with Moorish-inspired designs

Tin-glazed earthenware

10 ½ inches high


Collection of Emily Johnston De Forest and Robert Weeks De Forest, New York, by 1911-until 1942; thence by descent until 2018.


During the first decade of the 20th century, when Emily De Forest formed her collection of the tin-glazed pottery known as Talavera Poblana, the fact that it had been made in Mexico, not imported from Spain, was newly recognized.  When De Forest offered the collection to the Metropolitan Museum, she emphasized the historical significance of what she called “Mexican maiolica” as the first glazed ceramic ware produced in the Americas.[1]

Tin-glazed earthenware, or maiolica, was produced in Mexico City by the mid-16th century, after the technology was introduced by Spanish potters.  From the early 17th century on, the principal center of ceramic production was the city of Puebla de los Angeles.  The forms and decoration of the earliest Puebla pottery derive from Spanish and Hispano-Islamic traditions.  The modern term by which it is known, Talavera Poblana (Puebla Talavera), is taken from the name of the Spanish ceramic-producing town of Talavera de la Reina.

The distinctive blue-and-white ceramics for which Puebla is famous were inspired by Chinese porcelains brought to Mexico on the ships known as the Manila Galleons.  Luxury goods from Asia, including porcelain, were exported from the Spanish Philippines to the Pacific port of Acapulco.  Much of it was then transported overland via Puebla to Veracruz for shipment to Spain.  Puebla potters adopted Chinese forms and motifs, often combining them with European decorative styles.

Emily Johnston De Forest was the daughter of the Metropolitan Museum’s first president, John Taylor Johnston, and, with her husband, Robert, a founder of the American Wing there.  An avid collector of folk pottery, she was introduced to the ceramics of Mexico during a visit there in 1904.  She bought several pieces and later acquired many more with the assistance of the archaeologist Zelia Nuttall.  Robert De Forest, later President of the Metropolitan Museum himself, shared his wife’s interest in the arts of Mexico.  Their collection of Mexican ceramics was shown to the public in a landmark exhibition at the Hispanic Society of America in 1911, accompanied by a catalogue by the distinguished archaeologist Edwin Atlee Barber.  That same year they gave to the Metropolitan Museum several works from their collection, which forms the basis of their holdings of Latin American art.

Emily and Robert De Forest retained several pieces from their collection for their family, and it is from their descendants that the ceramics presented here come.  These works -- of disparate forms, dates, and decorative styles -- demonstrate the quality and variety of these historic and uniquely American objects.

[1] Information and text adapted from Metropolitan Museum of Art educational materials.