Caldas da Rainha, a town in the west of continental Portugal, owes its name to the abundant warm thermal springs (Caldas) whose medicinal characteristics led to the foundation by Queen Leonor (1458 – 1525) of the Hospital Thermal in 1488.
A village borough since 1545 and a town since 1927, Caldas da Rainha has been associated since early days with ceramic production, through the activity of potters who produced utilitarian wares for the population and for the hospital, taking advantage of the quality of local clays.
Setting aside the archaeological finds that indicate far earlier dates, the first datable pieces of Caldense (From Caldas) pottery production date back to the 15th century. Nevertheless, and according to various authors, it is around 1820, with Maria dos Cacos (? – 1853), that the Caldense tradition of “artistic ceramic” begins, it will make the region become one of the country’s main ceramic centers.
Maria dos Cacos would be followed by Manuel Cipriano Gomes “o Mafra” (1829 -1905) and amongst others, by José Alves Cunha (1849-1901), Francisco Gomes d’Avelar (1850-1918), Rafael Bordalo Pinheiro (1846 -1905) and Avelino Soares Belo (1872-1927).
All were part of a naturalistic trend strongly influenced by the ceramic work of the Frenchman Bernard Palissy (1510-1590), object of revivalism in various European countries, namely France, England and Portugal, during the second part of the 19th century.
Most of these ceramists created their own factories, but the one that was to become the principal reference after 1884 is the Fábrica de Faianças das Caldas da Rainha (FFCR).
Its artistic director Rafael Bordalo Pinheiro reached a notoriety maintained to our days. He would be simultaneously responsible for the continuity of the naturalistic trend and for the introduction of new references and designs. His son Manuel Gustavo Bordalo Pinheiro (1867-1922) continued his father’s work at the Fábrica San Raphael (Fábrica Bordalo Pinheiro from 1920), a factory that he founded in 1908, as after the death of Bordalo the FFCR changed owner and the artistic direction was taken up by António Costa Mota Sobrinho (1877-1956).
António Costa Mota Sobrinho, following directions already indicated by Rafael and Manuel Gustavo Bordalo Pinheiro, will produce until 1914 pieces that stray away from the “palissist” model by their refinement and stylization, and are totally integrated in the Art Nouveau style.
In the same tradition, although moving away from the production of purely decorative ware, the Fábrica de Cerâmica Mestre Francisco Elias is funded in 1944 as a tribute to a local family with various generations of potters and ceramists. The project and its mentor Joaquim António Ribeiro (1921-1989), together with Fernando da Ponte e Sousa (1902-1990) and other partners, are the origin of SECLA – Sociedade de Exportação e Cerâmica Lda (Today S.A) that would become an important benchmark for the Portuguese ceramics of the second half of the 20th century. The SECLA factory was dedicated, as the name indicates, to the production of utilitarian ware for export, and it would boost the local and national industrial ceramic sector, not only due to its dimension and growing production volume, but mainly with innovating techniques and designs.
In this last aspect, a crucial role would be played by Hansi Stael (1913-1961), joining the factory in 1950 as creative director and funding in the same year the Estúdio SECLA, thus creating space within the factory for the collaboration between workers and external artists and architects. For nearly two decades, the project had the collaborations of Thomaz de Mello (Tom) (1906 -1990), Maria Antónia Parâmos (1922 -1976), Jorge Vieira (1922 -1998), Alice Jorge (1924 -2008), Júlio Pomar (1926 -), António Quadros (1933 -1994), Miria Toivola Câmara Leme (1933 -), António Areal (1934 -1978), José Aurélio (1938 -) and José Santa-Bárbara (1936 -), as well as Luís Ferreira da Silva (1928 -) and Herculano Elias (1932 -), the last two would join the factory and participate in a more permanent way.
Other factories appear in the following decades, amongst them the Faianças Subtil in 1977, also dedicated to export. As a whole they would employ an important part of the local population.
Apart from this more massified production and from the constant production of smaller scale factories giving continuity to the production of traditional models, there is also the local craft of erotic-satirical ware, whose origin is still to be investigated.
The history of the Caldense ceramic includes also the local establishments of artistic and industrial education, who played an important part in the development of this subject and in its expansion to other arts and to design: From the now extinct Escola Industrial e Comercial das Caldas da Rainha, to the Cencal (Centro de Formação para a Indústria Cerâmica) and the ESAD (Escola Superior de Artes e Design).
AAVV, Roteiro do Museu Nacional da Cerâmica, IPM, 2003.AAVV, Estúdio SECLA: Uma Renovação da Cerâmica Portuguesa, MNA, IPM, 1999.Calado, Rafael Salinas, “Cronologia geral dos fabricos de faiança das Caldas da Rainha”, in Faiança das Caldas da Rainha: Colecção Berardo, Câmara Municipal das Caldas da Rainha, 2005.Horta, Cristina Ramos, Manuel Mafra: Ceramista da Casa Real Portuguesa, Caleidoscópio, Casal da Cambra, 2016.Katz, Marshall P., Cerâmica das Caldas da Rainha: Estilo Palissy 1853-1920, Edições INAPA, Lisboa, 1999.Queirós, José, Cerâmica Portuguesa, Lisboa, 1907.