Potty about Ceramics - part 2

Christine Webb | Fri, 03/19/2010 - 12:50

Words and Images by Christine Webb

As promised, here's the second part of the guide to maiolica museums, workshops and potteries in Italy. Did you miss the first part? Click here to read it.

The first place to start your search for maiolica is Deruta, the most famous of the ceramics towns. Situated 15 kilometres south of Perugia, in Umbria, this tiny town of only 8,500 has nearly 200 operating workshops. The tiny hilltown has a picturesque centre where you will find shops selling the finest work.

There is also a museum where you can see the original white and green decoration and the progress of design and colour development. Along the streets, many of the museum works have been faithfully reproduced. At the base of the hill, along Via Tiberina, numerous factories are located and worth visiting, especially if you are placing a large order.

Family tradition

The most famous of these is Ubaldo Grazia Maioliche Artistiche Artigianali, the oldest continually-owned family pottery in the world. For 500 years the Grazia family have been making fine maiolica, passing down tradition and developing new markets. Today the 25th in line heads the company.

Ubaldo Grazia is a charming man and happy to welcome guests to his extensive showroom. The building is easy to find, at Via Tiberina181, as it’s covered in ceramic designs and is clearly the oldest in a street of modern industrial outlets. Nearly all of Grazia’s wares are made to order from the show-room.

More than 80% of their production is shipped to the USA and exacting standards ensure that the works arrive safely. Ubaldo is not only the ubiquitous showman, he is also keen to make sure that the company continues on into the future, with a balance of traditional designs and modern innovations. On one his many forays to America, Ubaldo invited a prominent ceramicist as a guest artist to his studio and started what became a regular stream of visiting artists commissioned by Grazia.

Not far from Deruta and also in Umbria is the mountain town of Gualdo Tadino, town of ceramics and good living. It is well off the tourist trail but boasts some of the region’s master craftsmen.

Gubbio, a fierce rival of Gualdo Tadino, is yet another centre for the craft. Mastro Grilli has been a master craftsman for decades and his shop is in Via dei Consoli, not far from the Piazza and the Palazzo, which has an excellent collection of ceramics on display. Every year on May 15th the Gubbio Ceri is held and as they raise the giant wooden candlesticks, a brocca (pitcher) for each of the competing teams is smashed. The people from Gubbio are proud of their sense of humour and this is reflected in the ceramics.

Urbino, in Le Marche, specialises in white ware, a delicately crazed, milky smooth glaze. Nearby Urbania also has a large ceramic art base, school and museum.

Celebration of ceramics

One of my favourites is Montelupo Fiorentino, a town only 15km from Florence. At the end of June the town hosts its Festa Internazionale della Ceramica (International Ceramics Festival) and from March to December the third Sunday of each there is a ceramic market.

What caught my eye is the bright yellow Arlecchini (Harlequins) design that originated in the second half of the 16th and during the 17th Century (inset, centre). These bold figures of musicians, warriors, women and knights require a mastery of line and freehand colour. They are certainly not restricted to a rigid schematic and demand the most expert hand.

Much of Montelupo’s output during this time was exported to the United States and for an exhibition the excellent Museo Archeologico e della ceramica di Montelupo had to appeal to collectors in America to loan their works.

The museum, housed in the Palazzo del Podestà, holds special tours every Thursday morning (www.museomontelupo.it) where visitors can try their hand at painting.

Faenza is probably the most highly industrialised of the ceramic towns but it is historically very significant and still boasts about 60 workshops. The word ‘Faenza-faience’ is used in some European regions as a synonym of majolica. The major interest is the International Ceramics Museum which displays prehistoric, pre-Columbian, Roman, Far Eastern, Middle Eastern as well as the middle ages and Renaissance works.

Hunting down and discovering the styles you like the best, adding to your collection and remembering the towns is only part of the thrill. Perusing fabulous museums is all part of the Italian experience, but it’s not often that you can walk outside and find a shop that sells a reproduction, made in a time-honoured tradition and often at an affordable price.

To read the first part of this guide click here.

More information

You may be interested in this guides that we published few time ago:
Day Tripper: Urbino.
A wondeful medieval town: Gubbio.
On the rails..the Faenza-Florence line.