Italian Maiolica from 17th to 20th cebturyDuring the last years of the 16th and the early years of the 17th century, pottery in Italy started to change. Cities like Florence, Casteldurante (called Urbania now), Deruta and Urbino that were of great ceramic importance in the 15th & 16th century became relatively minor centers and only Faenza remained a really significant pottery center. In addition, new styles appear with rustic plates portraying warriors, horsemen and sporadically ladies on sketchy landscapes (production of Montelupo) or wares with white grounds that acquired the name compendiario because of its sketchy type of decoration (originator was Virgiliotto Calamelli in Faenza). The success of the compendiario led German and French potters to imitate the style with products that are almost impossible to distinguish.
In Sicily, the ‘a quartieri’ style that we initially met at Faenza continued at Palermo, Burgio, Sciacca, and Caltagirone till the 18th century. In addition, on the south-west coast of Sicily, Trapani centre produced Albarelli wares (cylindrical shaped vases often used by the chemists) decorated with ribbons and armorial cartouches.Caltagirone (Sicilian: Caltaggiruni), known as “the city of Sicilian ceramics”, is a town in central Sicily that during the 16th -17th century was the main provider of maiolica to Italian mainland. In the 17th century decorative medallions filled with figurative vignettes of effigies of saints became popular. A century later, moulded relief was applied to vases with elaborate volutes and polychrome decoration. Among the pottery production of Caltagirone, there were tiles, relief small basins, maiolica vases, flower-stand head vases, candlesticks, oil-lamps, altars. In the 20th century, the potters began also to produce small figures in polychromatic terracotta representing shepherds, craftsmen, brigands, nativity scenes (presepi), but also continued to reproduce the splendid maiolica of the previous centuries.
In Apulia, at Laterza, a small town with 3500 inhabitants, one could find a great pottery production with typical ‘compendiario’ style wares (initially) or large blue and white dishes with naïve painting in the center and borders decorated with scrolls and formal foliage till the end of the 17th century. Apulia continues to be an important ceramic center during the 18th and 19th century producing a wide range of ceramics until nowadays. Fine examples include jugs and plates depicting the local tradition and history, known thieves & priests of the villages, horsemen, women figures, traditional farmhouses and other themes.Grottaglie is a town in the province of Taranto, Puglia, southern Italy. During the 17th and 18th century, Grottaglie’s ceramics industry focused on the “practical” – that being the production of floor and roof tiles. In 18th century a qualified production started to be distinguishable in which the typical “whites of Grottaglie” stand out, such as tureens with stellaria, “ciarle” and “vucali” with plasticized items. At the turn of the 18th and 19th centuries the craftsmen created a less refined ceramic product to satisfy the growing demand of the rapidly growing middle classes. Typical of the production in Puglia are the wedding cups, jugs (sruli), plates, storage vessels for oil and wine and anthropomorphic bottles. The most original expression of maiolica is represented by the typical “ciarla”, a kind of amphora with two handles and a lid.
In Abruzzo behind Naples, a small and rustic centre called Cerreto Sannita, operates in the 17th and 18th century producing vases, plates and other wares enriched in the ‘benitiers’ way. In the 17th century Cerreto ceramics were influenced by the Faenza whites but one could also find examples of freely interpreted artistic schemes with colors that vary from yellow to green and blue. In the early 18th century Cerreto ceramics experience their Golden Age as old industries and artisan workshops revived. Great masters of ceramics as Marzio Carafa, Nicolo Russo, the Marchitto and Di Leone families created important production that was exported to all around South Italy. Cerreto production continued till the end of 19th century when limited demand made potters to close almost all of their workshops.
North east in Abruzzo is Castelli, a major centre of ceramic production from mid 17th till the 19th century with maiolica that could compete the output of centers like Urbino, Faenza and Pesaro. Production included plates, apothecary vessels and pitchers, albarelli and vases for medical storage (Castelli masters are responsible for the important ‘family’ of apothecary pitchers with the Orsini – Colonna family symbols).
Castelli initially produced wares of ‘compendiario’ style (majority of them from Antonio Lolli). The Golden Age of maiolica at Castelli was established in the 3rd quarter of the 17th century by the Grue (most important), Gentille and Capelleti families and remained for over a century.
If we continue north in and around Milan we find many more factories producing wares under the influence of the European faience or the rose decoration from the Chinese – Imari style. Ceramics from Rossetti and Ferretti factories in Lodi (few miles from Milan) and those of the Rubati and Clerici factories in the city of Milan are really difficult to distinguish.The area around Genoa, and especially at Savona and Albisola, become important centers during the 17th and 18th centuries. Emphasis is given on the production of pharmacy jars. The classic Savona wares were decorated with mythological and religious figures in blue and white. Although many of them are armorial you can also find landscapes, ships, animals with deliberately visible brushstrokes. There were several factories operating in Savona and Albisola as the Falco, Guidobono, and Girodano, but the styles and products are similar and difficult to distinguish.
In Piedmont, the maiolica production of Turin was influenced from France and especially Moustiers and Alcora. This is due to the constant exchange of potters between France and Italy. The first known ceramist that opened a pottery factory in Turin in 1646 was the Genoese G.G. Bianchi. The leading Family of Torinese faience was the Rossettis (most important from the Rossetti family was Giorgio Giacinto Rosseti around 1730). Another factory that flourished in 1765 was that of G.A Ardizzone. These 18th century potters produced mainly faience plates with ornamental designs in muted tones of blue, yellow and green.
In Venice the links were with the Orient and are reflected in the Candiana wares of Padua (2nd half of the 17th century) influenced from Iznik in Turkey. Other than the Candiana wares, a continued production of pharmacy pots existed but not a great deal of maiolica was produced.In the Veneto area, the earliest factory was at Angarano where the Manardi family produced remarkable maiolica at the 2nd half of the 17th century. Also in the Veneto, a few miles away, was the Bassano factory at Le Nove where in 1728 Giovanni Battista Antonibon established a maiolica factory that survived till our days (Barettoni factory today). During those years the factory played an important role expressing the artistic avant-garde taste and becoming a reference point for all companies in the area.
Naples was always an important ceramic center but became one of the most important during the production of cream wares for the quality of the decoration and the sophistication of the shapes, probably due to the close ties with England.
Italian ceramic history of the 14th century till nowadays is one of the most important. For ceramic lovers, Italy, through museums, private collections and manufactories that continue their production till today, is a place we all must visit.
1. European Pottery, Hugo Morley-Fletcher and Roger McIlroy (Phaidon – Christie’s Ltd, 1984)
2. Ceramiche Pesaresi dal XVIII al XX secolo, Grazia Biscontini Ugolini -Museo Internationale in Faenza (Grafis Edizioni, 1986)
3. Τα Λαήνια, Συλλογή Έφης Μιχελή, Ελένη Πίταρη – Μαγιολέττι (Ίδρυμα Π. & Ε. Μιχελή, 2008)
4. Hermitage Museum.org – Internet Site
5. Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia