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The Real Deal: How to Find Authentic Deruta and Spot Fakes

Deruta ceramics are justly famous. Their rich colors and intricate patterns also make this Italian ceramic style one of the most copied. Today seemingly every store sells Deruta and Italian style dinnerware, but most of it is not actually from Italy. So how can you avoid fake Deruta and get the real stuff?

Deruta ceramics

Buy handmade Italian ceramics

Many of the “Deruta-inspired” ceramics are labeled as such, but not all. Of course there are plenty of beautiful Italian handmade ceramics from other regions than Deruta. If a piece hasn’t been made by hand, it isn’t real Deruta majolica. Price can be an obvious give-away. If the price of a platter or pitcher seems too good to be true, it probably is.

Look for the mark

Genuine handmade Deruta should have a maker’s signature on the bottom of the piece, whether it was made this year or in the 1500s. This mark will often say the country of origin along with the name of the studio. Some pieces will even have the artist’s name or initials.

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Check out the glaze

Authentic handpainted ceramics have an unglazed foot at the bottom. This ring will look and feel slightly rough to the touch, like in the photo above. If a ceramic is completely glazed, including the foot, it’s likely been painted by a machine. Handpainted glaze will also have slight variations in thickness that you can feel.

Learn about pattern types

Deruta majolica has a fair number of named, traditional patterns. Some standouts: Raffaellesco (look for the dragon), Galletto (look for the rooster), Arabesco (inspired by Persian calligraphy), and Ricco Deruta (based on stylized wheat-shafts and scrolls used by early Romans).

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All are characterized by intricate details and rich colors. Deruta artists also create their own pattern variations, making for lots of options (sometimes too many!). Get familiar with what’s available, then mix and match to your heart’s content.

Find the brushstrokes and crazing

Even the most experienced artists have visible brushstrokes on their ceramics. Deruta’s intricate patterns can make these a little hard to see, but any large section of color will have visible variations. You’ll also likely see slight variations in the pattern from piece to piece. Any older Italian majolica ceramics will have crazing, little hairlines in the glaze, a natural result of the aging process. Be suspicious of anything that looks too perfect.

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Ask about the artists

Deruta’s artists made the region famous for majolica in the 1600s. If you can find out about the studio where the ceramics were made, you’ll be less likely to end up with something manufactured on an assembly line elsewhere.

 

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Deruta Plates: Italian Dinnerware at Its Finest

Deruta has been famous for centuries and after a quick look at its ceramics (both old and new), it’s easy to see why. One of Italy’s largest ceramic production areas, there are more than 300 ceramic workshops in Deruta today. Just as with other historical ceramic centers in Italy, modern Deruta is home to a mix of traditional artists still crafting everything by hand and those now mass producing their work. What’s wonderful about Deruta in particular is that it’s still possible to visit the artists who are following the old ways, in their studios. I’ve visited many artists there over the years while looking for the perfect fit for the Emilia Ceramics collection. Finding the Gialletti family-run studio took a long time, but was definitely worth the effort.

DerutaDeruta jewelry boxes

Ceramics have been made in Deruta since the 14th century. Classic patterns such as Raffaellesco, Arabesco, and Gallo Verde harken back to its Renaissance peak, with each piece of Italian dinnerware painted by hand. Artists train under masters for years, perfecting their technique since majolica is a completely unforgiving medium. You can’t erase the glaze if you paint outside of the pattern. With all those intricate details, I always hold my breath when watching the artists at work. I’m afraid if I make a noise I’ll ruin everything!

Deruta Italian dinnerware
Italian dinnerware

This video by Geribi underlines the epic nature of Deruta as well as shows examples of its long history. Some of the fragments look much like pieces made by Ceramiche Gialletti Giulio, which is quite amazing.

Want more Deruta? Check out the area’s history and incredible Italian dinnerware to see for yourself why so many people are just a little obsessed. Pinterest is also full of beautiful Deruta, though it’s a mix of authentic, handpainted pieces and imitation designs that have been mass-produced. With all these beautiful pieces of Italian dinnerware, I’m sure that Deruta will remain loved for centuries to come.

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What Makes Deruta Patterns Unique Among Italian Ceramics?

Deruta is one of Italy’s historic ceramic centers, known for intricate designs and truly amazing Italian ceramics. Vietri dinnerware is famous for its animals, Tuscan majolica for its nature motifs of flowers and fruits. Deruta patterns are intricate and detailed, often combining organic and abstract motifs. The results are similar to the patterns in a kaleidoscope: ever-changing and always beautifully striking.

Italian Deruta

 

Deruta is especially famous for hand painted dinner plates. Patterns go back to the Renaissance when the area manufactured ceramics for popular demand (Faenza catered to the aristocrats and Montelupo Fiorentino to trade outside of Italy). The geometric motifs continue with today’s Italian ceramic artists, many of whom use the same colors and techniques as their predecessors.

Looking at the plates from Ceramiche Gialletti Giulio, I see a rough divide in motifs: organic flourishes and stylized geometry. The organic-inspired plates are what many imagine when they think about Deruta patterns: arabesques, plenty of colors, and whimsical figures (like the dragons on these hand painted dinner plates in the traditional Raffaellesco pattern).

Raffaellesco Deruta plate

These Italian ceramics are full of personality and whimsy. Every time I look at the Raffaellesco and Fogliame (inspired by waving leaves) I find something new. The Fogliame design makes me think of waves and breezes, not just curled leaves.

fogliame Deruta plate

The Deruta patterns with stylized geometry have an almost Art Deco feel. Though inspired by natural phenomenon as their names suggest (Nevicata is “snowfall,” Alba is “sunrise,” and “Il Sole” is “the sun”), the patterns feature more angles and repetition.

Deruta patternDeruta pattern

The contrast with deep jewel tones and bright gold also makes these geometric plates stand out. Although rooted in centuries of tradition, this Italian style dinnerware feels quite modern.

Deruta patterns definitely stand out from other Italian ceramics. They also mix well with less intricate motifs, like these boldly striped plates. Much as people did in past centuries, layering Deruta plates is a wonderful opportunity to mix patterns and colors to create a table fit for your most special occasions. And since Italian majolica is quite sturdy, you can use these gorgeous Italian ceramics for every meal, adding elegance to your breakfast, lunch, and dinner. It’s no surprise that people can’t get enough of their favorite patterns for plates, serving ware, and table accessories.

Deruta Italian plate

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New Hand Painted Italian Ceramics from Ceramiche Gialletti Giulio

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When thinking about hand painted Italian ceramics words like durable, intricate, original, and historic come to mind. From the locally sourced clay to fabulous, colorful glazes, Italian ceramics certainly stand out. That’s one of the reasons I was so excited to find Ceramiche Gialletti Giulio, a studio run by the brothers Antonio and Carlo, in Deruta, Italy. Another historic center for majolica, the highly ornate designs and lush colors of Deruta ceramics are justly famous. After I met the amazing team of artists at this third generation family workshop in the summer of 2013, I knew I had to share them as part of the Emilia Ceramics collection. Unpacking the boxes has been amazing.

For centuries hand painted Italian ceramics were used by wealthy families for their meals and home decor. Deruta became known for the intricate decorative work on their ceramics, setting their plates particularly apart from the rest. Gialletti Giulio’s exquisite plate collection continues this tradition, with intricate borders in an amazing array of colors. I love how the patterned borders create a strong statement when stacked together.

Italian hand painted ceramic platesItalian hand painted plates The decorative patterns really shine on their one of a kind jewelry boxes too. The flower-inspired motifs remind me of mandalas. You can also see every brushstroke, which makes these pieces even more special. These jewelry boxes are definitely a great gift idea for anyone who loves Italy and needs a small piece they can see every day on a dresser or tabletop.

Italian jewelry box

Other great daily reminders of Italy also include a variety of home accessories like salt and pepper shakers, oil and vinegar sets, and soap dispensers.

Italian salt and pepper setServing platters are another versatile, high-impact piece whether used as a centerpiece or holding your main course for dinner. Watching the artists work at Gialletti Giulio was much like visiting my other Italian artists; these are truly people who are meticulous and have a passion for their craft. I can’t wait to see what I unpack next so I can share even more of their amazing hand painted Italian ceramics with you all.

Italian serving platter

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Majolica Madness in Deruta!!

drive_to_derutaAfter a few days in Florence, I was excited to get back to the country. It has been 5 years since I was in Italy last and I had forgotten just how beautiful Tuscany truly is! Especially this time of year — rolling green hills, red poppies everywhere, and little hill towns around every bend in the road. I spent 2 nights in beautiful Montepulciano and then headed even farther south, to the equally beautiful region of Umbria. orvieto_2The most visible difference between Umbria and Tuscany seems to be slightly steeper hills in Umbria… and a different name for the delicious local wine served at restaurants. I was staying in Orvieto, a town known best for its cathedral, its ceramics, and its Classico wine. I was of course there for the ceramics, but I also enjoyed time spent gazing at the cathedral and drinking the Classico.

But back to the real reason I was in Umbria: a visit to Deruta, a small town with a big ceramics industry. There are actually two parts of Deruta: the small old town up on the hill, which is quaint and full of ceramic stores, and the larger “new” area down below, which is a little faster-paced, but also full of ceramic stores (as well as workshops and showrooms). I started my day in the old section, enjoyed a cappuccino on the main square and then strolled around, doing a little window shopping to whet my appetite. Then I ventured down into the more modern town, where I went looking for old acquaintances and new ceramics for the Emilia Ceramics collection.majoliche

My first stop was visiting my uncle’s good friends Silvana and Marcello who have a small ceramics business at the outskirts of town. I interrupted Silvana in the midst of her work and explained in my best Italian: il zio mio e Gifford (my uncle is Gifford), which was all the introduction I needed. We had a fun catch-up session (which was repeated when Marcello arrived a few minutes later) in which I spoke my few words of Italian mixed with much more Spanish and they spoke Italian quickly with lots of hand gesturing to try to make me understand. In the end, Silvana suggested that I go visit a ceramics shop in town that I hadn’t heard of before. She offered to take me and introduce me to the nice people who worked there.

gialleti            sale_pepe
And that’s how I ended up at Ceramiche Gialletti Giulio, a beautiful shop packed with vases, lamps, plates, clocks, and lots of fun smaller pieces like salt & pepper grinders and oil & vinegar dispensers. I got the royal treatment from Michele—including a tour and explanation of the process (all in amazing English)—and found some great pieces. I am most excited about the colorful, yet sophisticated table settings I am hoping to add to the Emilia Ceramics collection!

My next stop was right nearby — I was meeting with Gerardo Ribigini whose shop Geribi (which I just realized is a combination of his first and last name : ) I visited 5 years ago. I spent quite a while walking around, looking at his beautifully painted pieces and asking about different patterns, styles, shapes, and designs. I’m definitely looking forward to adding some of his skilled work to the collection as well.

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womenThe final place I went in Deruta was another special visit suggested by my uncle Gifford. Over the years that he’s been visiting Deruta, he has befriended Carmen Monotti, an exceptional artist who creates various types of ceramic artwork. My favorites are her recreations of Klimt paintings (on vases, wall-hangings and necklace pendants — photo on the right)… And the tiles she paints, upon request, for the nearby church, La Chiesa Madonna dei Bagni (photo below). When “miracles” happen in peoples’ lives miracles_1(anything from surviving a car crash to having a healthy baby), those touched by the event commission Carmen to make a tile (in Italian called an ex voto) depicting the scene. The ex voto is hung in the church. I LOVE these tiles — there’s something about their soft colors and simplicity that is so charming.

I had a great time hanging out with Carmen, joking about my uncle, discussing my business, and looking at her artwork. On the way out of town I stopped at La Chiesa Madonna dei Bagni. It is a small church, with simple white walls that make the perfect backdrop for the tiles covering every wall. I would have taken more pictures, but my camera had run out of batteries after the long day filled with so many photogenic subjects! Below you’ll see one of Carmen’s most recent tiles that is hung in the church, followed by an older one done by another artist.

I’m off to the Amalfi Coast now for the final leg of my Italian adventure. I’m going to visit Vietri Sul Mare, another ceramic-centric town, where the well-known Ceramica Solimene is located. I’ll keep you posted!

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Off to France and Italy! What French and Italian Ceramics Will I Find?

TuscanyAs some of you already know, I’ve just gotten to France for the first leg of my June buying trip. Visiting Richard’s studio was stunning, as always, and I’ll write about all that I did there soon. But though I’m excited to be reconnecting with my French artists, I’m particularly looking forward to Italy since it’s been a few years since I’ve visited in person. I’ve done some research on things like Deruta patterns, Vietri dinnerware, and other types of Italian majolica pottery, but there’s really no substitute for actually being “on the ground” where these Italian ceramics are made.

There are three centers of Italian ceramics: Faenza, Deruta, and Montelupo Fiorentino. All three of these areas have access to the raw materials necessary for Italian majolica pottery as well as to major trade routes necessary for success in the Renaissance, making them ceramic centers for hundreds of years. Both Ceramiche Bartoloni and Ceramiche d’Arte Tuscia are in the Montelupo Fiorentino region, and I cannot get enough of their intricately hand painted dinner plates, servingware, mugs, and other Italian ceramics. Both studios are home to incredibly talented Italian ceramic artists and it’s always exciting to see the new ways they combine traditional and modern elements to create unique, personal ceramics.Italian ceramic platterhand painted Italian platter

But what about Italian earthenware or Italian pots? Vietri ceramics or Tuscan style dinnerware?Italian pots These Italian ceramics, along with the famous Deruta, are what I’m hoping to find. I have some leads on some studios that practice traditional methods with everything made by hand and hope to unearth some new gems to add to the Emilia Ceramics collection. I love the geometric shapes that make up Deruta patterns, resulting in breath-taking plates, bowls, and platters. And with all the possibilities for rustic Tuscan style dinnerware, I’m sure to find pieces that fit in with my existing collection. New artists are always a thrill and I can’t wait to start exploring.

Have any suggestions for Italian ceramics I should go after? Know of any artists that would be a good fit for the Emilia Ceramics collection? Leave a comment and I’ll see what I can do!

 

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How Much is Too Much (Italian Ceramics)?

Recently, someone emailed me with a question about Italian ceramics. She has some old Raffaellesco pieces (like the goblet below) from her mother and wanted to buy new Italian ceramics to match. However, she was concerned about going overboard with the design of her table and ending up with way too much of a good thing. Some people might think that I’d never say you could have too much Italian ceramics. But, they’d be wrong. Especially when it comes to the typical Deruta patterns like Raffaellesco, I believe that too much is, in fact too much.

(On a side note, I imagine this is one reason that Vietri dinnerware has incorporated the more subtle single color look, to augment their busier designs. While Vietri pottery is in fact “made in Italy,” it is designed to sell in America which their Italian-style dinnerware patterns seem to do excellently.)

Deruta patterns vary quite a bit from bold floral motifs to the more detailed and geometric (I definitely consider the Raffaellesco dragon pattern one of the busiest). The collage of Deruta patterns pictured at the beginning of the post demonstrates this variety. While I agree that when seen en-mass they can be a little over-bearing, I think that setting your table with authentic Deruta patterns is a great way to celebrate true Italian style and pay tribute to real Italian ceramic artists.

On the other hand, if a full collection of Tuscan style dinnerware is not your goal and you merely want to incorporate the relaxed beauty of Italian earthenware into your home, I would suggest focusing on statement pieces: Italian vases, pitchers, platters, and lamps. Imagine a simply set table with beautifully-painted, conversation-starting Italian majolica pottery, like the Foglia e Frutta Footed Platter with Angel or the Large Limoni Bowl — both work great as a centerpiece or to serve pasta. I always use my Square Plate with Oranges to serve cheese and crackers because of it’s unusual shape and design. Other current favorites include the Large Pomegranate Pitcher for serving ice water and the Blue Fruit Lamp, just because I think it’s spectacular! As you can probably tell, the majolica designs that I am drawn to are much more relaxed than the formal Deruta designs. They are handmade and painted in Montelupo-Fiorentino and convey the more laid-back feeling of the Tuscan countryside right outside Florence.

I love Italian ceramics – all shapes, sizes, colors, designs, and traditions. But for my own everyday life, I prefer it to accent more relaxed pieces (like the Mexican Gogo plates or French polka-dot bowls), so that it can really stand out and make a statement.

What do you think? What’s your favorite way to incorporate Italian majolica pottery into the home? And can you ever have too much? Write a comment and let me know…

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Italian Style, Italian Ceramics: 5 Top Tips

Italian style seems so effortless, from a relaxed afternoon sipping espresso in the piazza to zipping around town on a Vespa. I know that life in Italy isn’t all what we see in the movies, but there’s still an enviable charm about “la dolce vita.” It’s one of the reasons that Italian ceramics are consistently top sellers – people long for a way to incorporate some of this laid-back style into their own homes.

So how can you add a little Italian style into your home? Here are some tips I’ve picked up over the years when it comes to Italian ceramics:

1. Matchy matchy. Italian style dinnerware comes in many textures, colors, and sizes. Some people have a favorite Deruta pattern and only buy pieces from a particular artist or manufacturer (much like what my grandmother’s generation did with china patterns). I encourage mixing and matching various styles instead of becoming dependent on one specific Deruta pattern, which could stop being produced before your collection is complete or as soon as you break a few dinner plates. Ceramics that are painted by hand will always vary anyway, so why not embrace the variety!

2. Start small. All transformations take time, so gradually introducing Italian ceramics into your home with a piece or two is a smart way to go. An Italian earthenware utensil holder adds color and personality to your counter while keeping ladles, wooden spoons, whisks, and all your other kitchen tools in easy reach. Other options are perhaps an Italian ceramic centerpiece platter for your kitchen or dining room table, a spoon rest for your stovetop, or a handmade Italian ceramic vase in your living room.

3. Money doesn’t buy happiness. Sometimes a price tag can be informative… “made in Italy” on a platter that costs $19.99 for instance, probably means it was signed in Italy. However, that doesn’t mean you can always equate expense with quality. I think this assumption is one reason people spend so much money on Vietri dinnerware. While well-known for emulating Tuscan style, I think that Vietri ceramic fails to capture a truly handmade spirit. While quality is definitely worth paying for, a large price tag doesn’t guarantee quality. Skip Vietri dinnerware and find Italian ceramics that showcase the artist’s personality and match your aesthetic.

4. Color counts. Instead of trying to get the patterns of your Tuscan style dinnerware to all match, chose a few colors and build a collection around those. The variety will add depth and interest to your table, particularly when it comes to layering pieces. From Deruta patterns to Italian majolica pottery, you’re sure to find colors that work with your style. Warm yellows, soft greens, vivid blues, and rich reds are just the beginning.

5. Pack a design punch. Statement pieces are another quick way to transform a room or entire home. Instead of an entirely new collection of Italian style dinnerware, incorporate some stylish serving platters. Italian ceramic planters are another favorite as are wall plates or large Italian earthenware vases. Tuscany here you come!

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My Obsession with Handmade Ceramic Pottery

I don’t know when exactly it started. On my first solo trip to visit my artist uncle in LA, I spent all day making clay models of his dog and trying to figure out the potter’s wheel; I proudly centered my first pot sometime around the second grade; And my mom hand-crafted and painted an entire set of miniature dishes for my doll… no kidding! I went on to take ceramics classes in school through my senior year of college, when my professor was so fixated on the foot of each piece (the ring of clay that protrudes at the base) that to this day I immediately flip a piece over to analyze its foot.

After college I moved to Spain and immediately sought out a ceramics class. I landed in Yoko’s workshop, where little Japanese Yoko and ten Spanish señoras gossiped every Wednesday night about their husbands and neighbors… while making ceramics of course!

Apart from my personal attempts at the craft, I grew up surrounded by the handmade ceramic pottery of real artists. It was normal for my parents to return from a trip with delicately painted Italian ceramic plates to hang on the wall or Mexican dishes for serving chips and salsa. Our home was full of Quimper faience, those simple French designs that capture your imagination and transport you to another era. I loved that these handpainted ceramic works of art could decorate your walls like paintings, your shelves like framed photographs, and your table as an actual dinner plate. Function and beauty together… I was hooked.

My obsession quickly moved from household names like Quimper and Deruta to the unexpected and original. Artists worldwide have adopted the timeless techniques of handmade ceramic pottery and made them their own. I find it fascinating to see how different cultures and moments in history have influenced the craft. For example, traditional artists like the Bartoloni brothers in Italy and Gorky Gonzalez in Mexico have created their own interpretation of timeless images like the rooster:

Meanwhile, individualists like Sylvie Duriez and Richard Esteban follow tradition only so far as their technique on the potter’s wheel. When it comes to glazing their handmade pottery, these artists exert their own unique creativity — resulting in handpainted ceramics that express the artist’s true personality and cannot be replicated.

Large Bowl by Sylvie Duriez

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It is this mixture of tradition, innovation, and originality that really draws me to handmade and hand-painted ceramic pottery. Each piece has its own unique story, which not only impacts its look and feel, but also its function. These are not just beautiful paintings by amazing artists that we hang on our walls to appreciate. They are also our everyday plates, our special occasion serving dishes, our favorite mugs, and the centerpieces on our tables. They are thrown by hand and expertly painted in order to be used, enjoyed, and passed on to future generations.

So yeah, I’m obsessed with handmade ceramic pottery, but at least I’m willing to admit it!

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Maiolica… or is that Majolica?! Three Historical Centers of Italian Hand Painted Ceramics

Is there a difference between Maiolica and Majolica? It’s a good question and the answer is, kind of. Both words describe the double-firing technique most often associated with hand painted ceramics from Italy. I’ve talked about the history of Majolica before and how this labor-intensive process moved across the world, its patterns and designs evolving from geometric shapes to elaborate images of people and animals. The result is the diverse collection of Mexican, French, Spanish, and Italian hand painted ceramics we know today. (As a side note, Faience, Delftware from Holland, and Staffordshire ware from England are all descendants of Majolica too.)

So back to the question about Maiolica versus Majolica… It turns out that Majolica is just the English version of the Italian Maiolica, though sometimes older and/or finer wares are referred to as Maiolica in English. Confused yet? Think of it this way: either term refers to hand painted Italian ceramics, probably from one of the three epicenters of production in Italy.

  • Faenza. Historically important, it’s no wonder that the International Museum of Ceramics in Faenza makes its home here. A leading city for ceramics from medieval times onward, Faenza was a natural crossroads for the Po valley and Tuscany as well as blessed by rich clay sources in the soil. The Renaissance was when things really got going for these Italian hand painted ceramics. Pieces were described as “faenza-faience,” expressing the elegant and complex style. I saw some marvelous ceramics when I visited the museum, like this one in their Italian-only newsletter. Padovani ceramics continues the long-standing techniques of these Italian hand painted ceramics; their decoration and motif timeline and complex, limited production creations are truly inspiring. These high-end plates take over 10 hours (one even 48 hours!), but the results are magnificent.
  • Deruta. If Faenza became known for its aristocratic style, Deruta is all about manufacture for popular demand. This is the region where lots of “typical” Italian hand painted ceramics come from; its central location in Umbria probably contributes to its ubiquity. Blue, yellow and orange are popular colors, along with strong geometric designs. Even Sur la Table has a “Deruta-style” line of dishes, though they’re obviously not hand made. When I was in Deruta, I met the owner of Geribi Deruta, a great artist that I’m hoping to work with in the future. His collection is definitely worth looking at if you’re interested in seeing more of this style of hand painted ceramics from Italy.
  • Montelupo Fiorentino. Outside of Florence in Tuscany, this is another historically important ceramics center. Florentine merchants helped popularize this Tuscan-influenced ware from the Renaissance onwards, while lots of high quality clay meant production could keep up with demand. This is where I get hand painted ceramics from Italy for the Emilia Ceramics collection; Ceramiche Bartoloni and Tuscia d’Arte both follow the traditions of the area while adding a personal and modern flair. The Museum of Montelupo has a great variety of tours (if you go there) as well as a helpful timeline about this region’s proud tradition of Majolica ceramics.

Deruta ceramics image courtesy of Zyance.