Posted on

Our Favorite Handmade Handpainted Majolica

From leaves and flowers to frogs and ornate curlicues, handmade handpainted majolica spans a range of styles. Partly the differences have to do with changing fashions and artistic movements. For example, English Victorian-era majolica is much more vegetal in shape than Italian Renaissance pieces, as these examples show:

Victorian majolica

Victorian majolica

I think having a snake as the spout of your teapot (bottom shelf in the middle) is a bit over the top, which is probably why I’ve never really gotten into collecting this style of majolica. Many pieces in this style were also mass-produced instead of handmade and handpainted; I definitely prefer ceramics where you can tell they’ve been made by human hands. That said, these majolica serving platters are pretty impressive. Each plate depicts the food it’s designed to serve, though with the lead used in glazes in this period, I wouldn’t eat off of them.

majolica serving platters

Of course, three-dimensional ceramics are live and well today. Just look at these French serving platters, each with a different relief around the border.

French serving platterfrench serving platterHowever, contemporary majolica artists often leave their pieces smooth to really show off the intricacies of designs painted in glaze, like these Mexican serving platters.

Mexican serving platter

 

Display is a crucial aspect of any majolica collection. This kitchen uses a mixture of vintage-looking majolica plates and platters for a great focal point over the stove that doesn’t conflict with the ceiling pattern.

majolica plate displayWhat are your favorite examples of handmade handpainted majolica serving plates and platters?

English tea service images courtesy Martha Stewart Living, March 2005, via Martha Moments.

Green kitchen image courtesy Mendelson Group via Laura Casey Interiors.

Posted on

Can History Explain the Popularity of Italian Ceramics?

Deruta patterns

Italian ceramics are incredibly complex and time-intensive, especially the task of hand-painting, which is a precise skill that allows for no errors. So how has majolica been a ceramic favorite for over 500 years? Maybe looking at history will explain it all.

Italian ceramics waiting to be glazed

Before Italian Ceramics

The majolica process originated in Mesopotamia during the 9th century, though the white tin-glaze process wasn’t yet known by this name. Both practical and beautiful, the process traveled along major trade routes in these early centuries. The Moors brought majolica techniques with them to Spain and from there they made their way to Italy, usually by way of the port in Majorca (thus gaining their name).

Italian Ceramic Artists

Italian ceramic artist

In Italy, the conditions turned out to be perfect for the craft and Italian majolica pottery quickly took off. Faenza, Deruta, and Montelupo-Fiorentino all become production centers due to their location, natural resources, and talented artists. Italian ceramics proved extremely functional as both storage vessels and tableware — In fact, ceramic tableware actually changed Renaissance eating habits as people shifted from eating off common platters to using individual ceramic dishes! Among aristocrats, Italian style dinnerware becomes a sturdier alternative to porcelain and other more fragile ceramics.

oval limoni platter

Beyond Italy: Majolica Around the World

Of course, majolica didn’t just get made in Italy during the Renaissance. Important Spanish and Portuguese ceramic centers were also in high demand. In the 19th century the technique became the basis of Wedgwood and other companies which manufactured in the United States and Britain. Meanwhile, Central American ceramics also adopted and adapted the technique, fusing it with traditional designs that are still in use today.

Technique and Talent

The five step majolica process hasn’t changed much, which is perhaps why it remains so popular. Artists have passed the traditions and techniques down through the generations: just look at historic examples of Italian ceramics next to contemporary creations. Ornate Deruta patterns make for hand painted dinner plates that truly stand out. Tuscan cheer endues pitchers and serving platters. Looking at the end results, I feel like Italian ceramic artists will be making beautiful ceramics for generations to come, no matter how arduous the process seems to an outside observer.

Italian ceramicItalian ceramic canister

Historic majolica image from Maiolica, Delft and Faïence by Giuseppe Scavizzi.

Posted on

What’s the Secret Technique for Hand Painted Italian Ceramics?

Italian ceramic artist
The intricate designs of hand painted Italian ceramics take hours of work that can be ruined with a single misplaced brush stroke. Whenever I visit ceramic artists in Italy, I always take some time to just watch the master painters at work; it’s simply mesmerizing. So how do they do it?

Painting is the fourth step in majolica’s five-step process (after shaping, the first firing, and dip glazing the piece in a white, fast-drying mineral oxide glaze). No matter how intricate the design, all this hand-painting is done freehand. That’s right: No pattern, no tracing. There is usually a pattern or example for the artist to follow, particularly for traditional patterns. But some artists have been painting the patterns all their lives and don’t even need an example to follow.

P1010261

One major challenge of hand painted Italian ceramics is the medium itself. The glazes are all soft, white-ish pastels that change into deep vibrant colors after firing. Shades can be difficult to distinguish, so an artist needs to keep track of what color goes where. Look at the incredible number of colors highly-detailed Italian ceramics require; this is definitely a task that requires lots of practice and a systematic approach.

GabrielleAtTuscia

Often an artist will do a number of pieces with the same design at once, allowing them to get into a groove of lemons or roosters or flowers (see photo above of Gabrielle the head painter at Ceramiche d’Arte Tuscia). But since glaze color and depth vary where brush strokes overlap, no two pieces will ever be exactly alike. (Thank goodness!)

P1010134

The istoriato style, made popular in the Renaissance, is an extreme example of how detailed hand painted Italian ceramics can be. These ceramics look like paintings and literally tell a story (like on the Harlequin Plate above). The level of detail continues in the Deruta region, where Italian hand painted ceramics are characterized by intricate, jewel-like designs (like the stacked Raffaellesco plates below). I can only imagine how long it takes an artist to get all those colors and details exactly right!

charger_orange_dinner_salad_raf

So I guess the secret of hand painted Italian ceramics isn’t really a secret after all. Instead it takes dedication, practice, and plenty of repetition to bring these beautiful, functional works of art to life. And looking at the results, I’m certainly glad there are still artists who continue this tradition so that we can enjoy these Italian ceramics today and well into the future.

Posted on

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.

Posted on

Italians and Their Coffee: Centuries of Love and Espresso

The legends surrounding coffee are vast. From goats eating coffee beans and jumping around in Ethiopia to the over 2,000 coffeehouses in 17th-century London, coffee’s past is as dynamic as it’s energizing effect.

A merchant from Venice introduced coffee to Europe in 1615 after having some courtesy of the Turks, says National Geographic. Coffee has been smuggled on ships across the Atlantic, was at the heart of colonization efforts (starting in Java, home of the first European-owned coffee plantation), and is even made into beauty treatments at exclusive spas. Not bad for a little bean full of a lot of caffeine!

hand painted Italian coffee mugThe Italians have honed their coffee over the years and drinking a coffee at even the most remote roadside café is a delicious experience. But beware: drinking coffee in Italy is quite different than we do here stateside. Here’s a run-down of what you should know about drinking coffee in Italy, inspired by this post by Anna Maria Baldini.

First off, caffè means espresso. American-style drip coffee is hard to find in Italy, though a caffè Americano (espresso with hot water added) comes close. Italian coffee mugs are more likely to be espresso cups, though you’ll find larger cups holding morning cappuccinos (espresso topped with hot, steamed milk). Don’t want that much milk? A caffè macchiato has just a dash of hot milk on top. Italians never order a cappuccino in the afternoon or evening, some say the amount of milk is bad for digestion. Stick to this treat early in the day unless you want some raised eyebrows from your server and surrounding café patrons.

Just as with most of Europe, in Italy the price of coffee changes depending on where you sit. The cheapest and fastest coffee is drunk right at the bar; sitting at a table means that you can watch the world pass by, but you’ll pay premium prices for the privilege. If you do order your drink at the bar, be prepared to order and pay first, then show your ticket to be served with your delicious drink. If you order sitting at a table, like these people at Caffè Florian in Venice (Italy’s oldest café), you’ll pay afterwards.

Caffe Florian in Venice, ItalyPeople rightly can’t get enough of Italian coffee, which is one of the reasons I think the hand painted Italian coffee mugs in the Emilia Ceramics collection are so popular. I know that every time I use one I feel like I’m back in Tuscany. Although my stovetop espresso maker isn’t quite the same as a full-fledged Italian machine, the combination of it and an Italian coffee mug still does the trick until I go back to Italy myself. What’s your favorite Italian coffee drink? Let us know by leaving a comment below!

Italian coffee mugs

Italian espresso maker and grinder image courtesy Jonathan Rubio.

Caffè Florian image courtesy Son of Groucho.

Posted on

La Dolce Vita

florence1After a long day of train rides, I made it from Nice (where I dropped off my rental car) to Florence. It was actually a longer journey than I had envisioned (in the past, I’ve always stopped along the way) and I arrived starving. About halfway to Florence, I had decided I was going to wait to eat until I could eat real Italian food… so I checked into my hotel, splashed some water on my face, and headed to the nearest trattoria. It was worth it! The fresh tagliatelle al funghi was delicious and the “house red” tasted as good as any wine I’ve had in a long time.

The next day I woke up early and headed back to the train station for the 20 minute ride to Montelupo Fiorentino. Montelupo is famous for its majolica because of the town’s location on the old Roman road that brought Moorish traders (and their ceramic wares) from Spain to Florence. During the Renaissance, artisans in Montelupo began elaborating on the ceramic designs, adding realistic imagery and brighter colors, transforming them into the high art form we know today.

me

painting

While there are many ceramic artists in Montelupo, I am pretty confident Emilia Ceramics buys from the two best! My first visit was to Ceramiche d’Arte Tuscia. Co-owner (and grandson of Tuscia’s founder) David met me at the small train station and we drove to Tuscia. new_piecesWe found Gabriele (the head-painter and other co-owner) working and telling jokes to three other painters. They greeted me — most remembering my first visit 5 years ago — and were very nice when I wanted to take lots of photos while they worked.

As I’ve described before, Tuscia is located in a 2 story brick building, filled with ceramic artwork. Each shelf in each room is stacked with plates, bowls, canisters, and pitchers that look like they belong in a museum.

I selected a number of new pieces to add to the order I had already placed with Tuscia and had an espresso with David — who was expecting a new baby girl at any moment! Then David drove me to Ceramiche Bartoloni, which is in a more industrial part of town. We were greeted by Patrizio and Lucia Bartoloni. Lucia is Patrizio’s wife and helps run the business along with Patrizio’s brother Stefano and his wife. The four of them do almost everything themselves, only hiring extra painters when needed. Lucia speaks some English, so she talked with me about the recent order I had placed and showed me all the new designs and patterns.

tile

blogOf course, the limoni and rooster patterns are my Bartoloni faves… but there were a few new patterns that jumped out at me. So I added some new styles as well as some more sizes of bowls to my order (expect some great new salad and pasta bowls from Ceramiche Bartoloni). Patrizio was very busy and had to leave soon to pick his son up at school, but he gave me a double-cheek kiss and posed for a picture before he ran out the door. Then Lucia drove me back to the train station and I spent the 20 minute ride back to Florence trying to digest all the beautiful artwork I had just seen.

The next day, after another awesome pasta dinner and a few gelatos, I went to visit Daniela’s ceramic shop in downtown Florence: La Botteghina del Ceramista. Daniella is a good friend of my uncle Gifford (who is also responsible for introducing me to the ceramics from Tuscia and Bartoloni). I visited Daniella’s shop on my first trip to Florence, before I even knew I was going to start a ceramics-importing business. I fell in love with her collection though, which includes ceramics from the Bartoloni brothers, among other great Italian artists. On my first visit I bought the Square Blu Limoni Platter from Daniella and gave it to my brother as a wedding gift.

I’ve been back a few times since and been able to share with Daniella the progress of my growing business. As always, she was very helpful in pointing out new pieces and best sellers, telling me where they were from, and giving me contact names and numbers. It was great to visit with Daniella and watch her in her element, surrounded by the beautiful Italian majolica, sharing it with tourists and local Italians alike. It reminded me what a great job I have!

daniella

Posted on

The Staying Power of Fine Italian Ceramics, Past and Present

Fine Italian ceramics are nothing new. Dating back to the Middle Ages and beginning to flourish in the 1400s, the ceramic centers of Italy have been producing incredibly detailed ceramics for literally hundreds of years. I recently came across a little book discussing Italian and other European ceramics throughout history – Maiolica, Delft and Faïence by Giuseppe Scavizzi – and wanted to share some of its beautiful images with you. Just look at the inside of this “loving cup” from circa 1500 Faenza, used to celebrate engagements or as a gift for a beloved:

fine Italian ceramic loving cup

The detailed likeness is strikingly similar to work by Tuscia d’Arte, such as this Italian canister.

Italian canister

Another timeless piece is this plate of a solider from circa 1630:

Italian soldier plate

He looks so jaunty, reminding me of this contemporary Italian ceramic plate with a drummer at its center.

Italian ceramic plate

Italian ceramicsOne of the amazing things about hand painted Italian pottery is that patterns and techniques have been passed down through generations. Artists today hand paint using the same process as those centuries ago, following traditional patterns as well as adding some contemporary touches. Historically important areas for Italian ceramics have stayed pretty constant throughout the years, many of them in the center of Italy. One is Montelupo Fiorentino, outside of Florence in Tuscany. It’s where I get the fine Italian ceramics for the Emilia Ceramics collection. In a few months I plan to travel to Italy to visit both Tuscia d’Arte and Ceramiche Bartoloni as well as some potential new artists; I can’t wait!

Other famous centers are Deruta, Siena, and Vietri, examples of which are easy to find at Biordi Art Imports, also here in San Francisco. Biordi has a huge selection of typical Italian patterns that go back to the Renaissance; their walls are stuffed with dinnerware, decorative pieces, and exquisite tiles. If you find yourself in North Beach and want to see some Italian ceramics in San Francisco, check Biordi out.

No matter where hand painted Italian pottery comes from, I love how it connects to the artists that create it. Fine Italian ceramics are usually hand signed, a fitting recognition of all the time it takes to paint as well as form these pieces of art. Italian canisters, Italian utensil holders, or dinnerware pieces, these are all ceramics rich in history and tradition that make it easy to bring Italy to your home.Italian hand paintingWhat are your favorite fine Italian ceramics? Any recommendations for places in Italy I should visit this coming summer? Leave a comment and let me know.

Posted on

Our Favorite Italian Ceramics, Patterns, and Pieces

Italian ceramics
I’m planning to go to Italy in the spring to look for new artists to add to the Emilia Ceramics collection. There are so many traditional patterns used to decorate Italian ceramics, from intricate Deruta patterns to the whimsical animals of Vietri dinnerware. Many of these motifs are nature-inspired, with fruits, flowers, and animals common for Italian majolica pottery.

Italian platters

Lemons, for example, are a widely used pattern. The bright yellow can be paired with deep cobalt blue backgrounds or creamy white, giving a very different look to the piece. Cheerful serving pieces are typical, like the blu limoni serving tray by the brothers at Ceramiche Bartoloni.

A totally different look, this oval serving platter is subtle, refined, and has a refreshing color pallet.

oval_due_limoni

Cherries are another of my favorite fruit motifs. Mixed with greenery, they enliven plates, mugs, and pitchers of various sizes. The deep red of the glaze is quite striking and gives an almost modern sensibility to this unusual pattern.

Of course, there’s no reason to stop at just one fruit. Mixed fruit patterns are another of my favorites for Italian ceramics. They add elegance to planters and platters alike with colorful peaches, pears, apples, quince, and grapes. I love using this mixed fruit platter as a centerpiece on a long table – it looks fabulous full of food or empty.

Tuscan Fruit Long Platter

new_rooster_bowl_2Roosters are another common motif I’m sure to find on my Italian travels. Invoking the countryside, Italian ceramic artists can’t seem to get enough of these feathered friends. Tuscia d’Arte’s playful blue rooster is almost comical, while Ceramiche Bartoloni’s roosters are more intricate and lifelike. The beautifully painted rooster salad bowl and rooster pitcher will add color and possibly some good luck to your kitchen.

There’s also istoriato ware, a style of Italian majolica that tells a story. Historically these were hand painted dinner plates that featured intricate central imagery of people (though not always) surrounded by a rich border. The style is still popular today, often for wall plates. Tuscia d’Arte’s harlequin plates are a variation on this tradition, as are the figures on Bartoloni’s ceramic canisters and jars.

What are your favorite Italian ceramics and Italian patterns? Have any suggestions for where I should visit when I’m in Italy looking for new ceramic artists? Love Deruta patterns or another Tuscan style dinnerware? Leave a comment and let us know!

Posted on

Just Opened: New Exhibition on French Ceramics in LA

Love French ceramics from the seventeenth- and eighteenth-centuries? Then you need to check out the exhibition that opened last Saturday, October 6, at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA). Entitled “Daily Pleasures: French Ceramics from the MaryLou Boone Collection,” it features over 130 examples of faïance, soft-paste porcelain, and hard-paste porcelain used in French daily life.

I found out about this exhibition months ago and wrote about it when comparing French ceramics past and present. For example, the curves of French country pottery pitchers mirror those of antique ewers which traditionally held water for washing in the morning. Other French ceramics in the exhibition include tablewares, tea accouterments, toiletry items, and even pieces used in times of sickness. The sugar bowl and spoon featured on LACMA’s blog is charming, with soft pink accents and a curiously slotted spoon.

Covered Sugar Bowl, 1780, Lunéville, France; and Sugar Spoon, 1775, Lunéville Petit Feu Faïence Manufactory, Lunéville, France; gifts of MaryLou Boone, photos © Susan Einstein

“This exhibition reveals and celebrates both the artistry that exists in the service of the utilitarian and the ability of this discriminating collector to bring together remarkable examples of that artistry,” said Elizabeth Williams, assistant curator of decorative arts and design at LACMA, in a recent press release.

Wine Bottle Cooler (Seau à demi-bouteille). Chantilly Porcelain Manufactory, Chantilly, France, c. 1730-1735. Soft-paste porcelain with glaze and enamel, The MaryLou Boone Collection. photos © Susan Einstein

I couldn’t agree more, especially looking at examples of handmade French pottery today, from French platters to the elegant curves of a French ceramic serving bowl. I was amused to see a French ceramic wine bottle holder circa 1730-1735 as a featured piece on the LACMA website. The Asian influence is obvious, as is the practicality of having something to keep wine cool. Unlike the porcelain jars for pomade, a wine bottle holder is a practical ceramic piece people still use today.

Many of these pieces look like they came from Asia because they were imitations of pieces from Japan and China that only the very rich could afford. Today’s French ceramics embrace colors, shapes, and textures of a timeless (yet contemporary) French aesthetic. French country pottery is a pleasure not only to see, but also to use, though the delicate artistic touches on Sylvie Durez‘s birds or the edging of Poterie Ravel’s French platters invoke the early examples of this tradition the LACMA exhibition highlights.

“Daily Pleasures” runs until March 31, 2013, so if I make it down to L.A. before it’s over, I’ll definitely check it out. Have you seen this exhibition or know of others that focus on French ceramics in your area? Leave a comment below and let us know!

“Daily Pleasures” images courtesy of LACMA.

Posted on

A Look at French Ceramics, Past and Present

Think you know French ceramics? Many people picture porcelain when they think about French ceramics, such as the famous Sèvres porcelain. Louis XV became the owner of this producer in 1759 and it was a major maker of French porcelain throughout the eighteenth century (according to the Metropolitan Museum of Art). Most of these early porcelains were imitations of pieces from Japan and China that only the very rich could afford, though there was plenty of French innovation once the new processes got traction. Because of a lack of essential materials to make a clay body that was the same as the Asian pieces, all of the French ceramics made before 1770 were soft paste porcelain, not hard paste. (For those that are wondering, soft paste porcelain requires a higher fire temperature and is much harder to form than the more plastic and malleable hard paste porcelain, which contains minerals like kaolin and quartz.)

Technical talk aside, these old French ceramics are certainly beautiful to see. If you’re in the LA area, an upcoming exhibition at Los Angeles County Museum of Art will feature examples of porcelain from seventeenth- and eighteenth-century France that have a whole range of style and function. What’s particularly interesting about this collection is that it also features faience, which is simply another name for tin-oxide glazed pottery… also known as majolica.

Flash forward to today where faience/majolica is still going strong in French ceramics. Sturdy, rustic, yet also refined, this ceramic tradition continues to grow with modern sensibilities while staying true to its roots.

Just look at the curves of the pitchers by Richard Esteban and Poterie Ravel. Simple and elegant, their rich glazes are enticing for hands and eyes alike. Compare a faience ewer circa 1700 (like the photo above) to Richard’s barn red milk pitcher – they have the same clean lines and visual appeal with tall, stately spouts.

Poterie Ravel’s fancy pitcher, stunning in mustard yellow or creamy ivory, also reflects shapes and function from the past that fits in with today’s aesthetics for French ceramics.

Then there are French ceramics like those by Patrice Voelkel and Sylvie Durez. Patrice does so much with colors like white or blue, creating pieces that are deceptively simple. His large serving dish has a delicate rim that exposes the black local clay of Provence, while the white irregular glaze gives it real character. Sylvie goes a completely different direction, treating her bowls, serving platters, and pitchers as canvases for playful animals, dreamy women, or pastel landscapes with a surreal feel.

No matter your style, the variety of French ceramics being made today are sure to be just as sought after in hundreds of years as those that were made in the 1700s. So which French ceramics suit you best?

French faience ewer image courtesy of Sean Pathasema/Birmingham Museum of Art.

Posted on

Serve It Right with Blue and White Mexican Pottery

Whether it’s a white serving bowl or a white platter, everyone needs a few pieces of go-to serving ware that can adapt to any occasion from causal to formal. When it comes to pieces that are clean and crisp, you can’t do better than white pottery platters. They really show off your food without taking up too much attention, whether canapés during cocktail hour, scones at brunch, or a succulent side dish at dinner.

Of course, there are lots of stark white platters out there, like those mass-produced in China. To me, the feel of these pieces is impersonal and almost clinical. And who wants to serve their food on something that seems like it belongs in a hospital? White serving ware that uses natural glazes has a warmer tone, giving an authentic, at times rustic look, which is a much better compliment for your home-cooked meals. Pieces like the Gogo oval platter, long serving platter, or round white platter are just some examples of white platters that really showcase your cooking.

White all the time can get a bit monotone, however. That’s why the blue and white combo of Mexican pottery is a surefire winner. It’s a simple equation: blue and white Mexican pottery has the crisp neatness of white, along with the rich contrast of blue. There aren’t many blue foods out there, so most items will really pop on blue serving ware. The end result? Food that looks even tastier, no matter the meal or occasion. Blue and white Mexican pottery like Gorky’s oval serving dishes or Talavera Vazquez’s blue and white serving platter will enliven any table. They’re also sturdy enough to be used everyday for family dinners, not just special occasions.

Want to add some unique serving dishes to your collection of blue and white Mexican pottery? When it comes to blue and white platters, I love the unexpected shape of El Mar and Las Flores pottery platters.

Not quite rectangle, not quite oval, these unique serving dishes are a fantastic example of what makes blue and white Mexican pottery appealing to so many people. The border detail isn’t overpowering, but it makes the perfect frame for your desserts, appetizers, or cheeses.

Do you have favorite pieces of blue and white Mexican pottery? Let us know about your go-to serving ware pieces by leaving a comment below.

Posted on

The Italian Legend of the Black Rooster

I hadn’t been importing ceramics for long when I got what seemed like a strange request: Do you sell any black roosters?! The answer was no. I had colorful Italian roosters on plates, mugs, bowls, and pitchers, as well as tons of  blue and white roosters decorating Mexican pottery, but not one “black rooster” in the collection. While I was a little thrown off by the request for a black rooster, I did have a faint memory of a story related to the black rooster from when a friend and I tasted our way through the beautiful Chianti wine region.

It wasn’t until a few months ago that I realized Ceramiche Bartoloni paints the black rooster. I was ecstatic, both because of the Bartoloni brothers’ unmatched painting skill and because I’d finally have a black rooster for the Emilia Ceramics collection. After all, we’re not talking about any old Vietri pottery rooster, this is a proud black rooster with a story and tons of personality.

And the new black rooster plates from Ceramiche Bartoloni did not disappoint: The dynamic blue, white, and yellow border perfectly frames a proud black rooster getting ready to crow. It’s also the perfect counterpoint to Bartoloni’s colorful rooster ceramic serving platters, bowls, and mugs.

And now to the story about the black rooster, which goes back to the 1200s in Italy. Florence and Siena had debated for years over who had claim to the Chianti region, each wanting it as part of their territory. Finally, the legend goes, leaders decided to settle the matter by a competition. Two knights (or horsemen, depending on your source) would set out at cock’s crow in the morning, one from Florence and one from Siena. Wherever they met on the road would determine the southern border for each city’s claim over the disputed land.

Siena chose a well-fed white rooster as official timekeeper, while Florence picked a starving black rooster. Again, sources differ as to why the black rooster was starving; the Florentines might even have kept it in a box with no food for several days. In any case, when the day of big event came, the black rooster crowed before dawn while the white rooster slept in and only crowed at sunrise. Thus, the Florentine rider traveled much farther than his Sienese counterpart, and the two men met about 19 or 20 km outside of Siena, giving most of the Chianti region to Florence.

Whether or not this legend is true, the black rooster was branded in 1384 as the emblem for the winemaking League of Chianti and is an important and common symbol for the region. The next time you get a bottle of Chianti, look for the black rooster (gallo nero in Italian) on the seal around the neck of the bottle. Different background colors and borders also represent different kinds of wines, says Wine Trail Traveler.

Complete with a legend, I’m excited to offer these new rooster ceramics. Whether you use them as ceramic serving platters or as a unique wall decoration, these black rooster plates are perfect for anyone who loves rooster chic with handmade Italian charm.

Rooster wine bottle label image courtesy of Live from Italy.

Posted on

Historical Roots of Blue and White Mexican Pottery

Archeologists recently discovered a kiln more than 1,300 years old in the Oaxaca region of Mexico. Used by the Zapotecs to make ceramics, it’s one of the best-preserved kilns found to date, says Mexico Today. Not surprisingly, a strong pottery tradition still exists right down the road from the discovery, and in fact, throughout this region of Mexico. From the all black pottery associated with Oaxacan artisans, to the multicolored and blue and white Talavera-style made in Puebla and Dolores-Hidalgo, Mexican pottery is definitely thriving. Modern day artists have put their own stamp on the craft, while adhering to some techniques the Zapotecs would have used over a thousand years ago.

This link between past and present in Mexico creates truly unique pieces, from serving dishes to pottery platters. Reading about this kiln made me think of Gorky Gonzalez pottery, which combines traditional Mexican techniques with Japanese, Spanish, and Italian influences. The resulting fusion is something unique, yet still invokes an ancient pottery past.

Of course, being tied to the past doesn’t need you mean to be stuck there. Nothing exemplifies this concept more than the Gogo line, created by and named for Gorky Gonzalez’s son. When it comes to blue and white Mexican pottery, Gogo serving pieces might not be what you expect. Sleek and modern, these contemporary pieces speak to a design aesthetic of today while staying true to techniques honed for hundreds of years.

But serving ware needs to have more than an interesting past. For me when it comes time to choose pottery platters or serving bowls, I’m concerned about how the piece will look and function with food on it. Blue and white consistently looks clean and sharp, making Mexican pottery in these colors great for showing off your favorite dishes.

Shape also matters when it comes to unique serving dishes. Round pottery platters are versatile; use them for main dishes, finger foods, or even as a charger to give your table a pop of color.

The length of this white platter is striking filled with fruits or snacks at a party. And an oval serving dish handles a roast or an array of cupcakes with equal ease. Having a variety of shapes is a simple solution that certainly packs a design punch.

By mixing blue and white Mexican pottery together, you’ll create a distinctive table or party spread perfect for so many occasions. Historic, stylish, and modern – now those are some unique serving dishes!

Posted on

French Ceramics: Spotlight on Quimper

One thing I love about ceramics is its rich history and variety worldwide. French ceramics is a great example: From Provence to Brittany (Bretagne), French ceramics are as varied as the people and traditions that make them. Recently I came across my parents’ collection of hand painted plates from Quimper (pronounced kemper) and got inspired to find out more about this famous center of French ceramics for myself.

Artists in Quimper have been making pottery since the Roman times. Near four rivers there’s both an abundance of clay and an easy way to ship the finished product. But Quimper faience (remember, faience shares the same glazing methods as majolica) began around the start of the 18th century. Its history reads a bit like a soap opera: Jean Baptiste Bousquet moved to Locmaria (or Loc-Maria) in the 1690s, setting up production for useful items like pipes and tablewares. His son Pierre Bousquet came to help out later on. Pierre’s daughter married Pierre Clément Caussy, an artist trained in the multicolored glazing approach like that in Rouen. Before pieces had been blue and white, but now red, purple, green, and yellow began to be used as well.

The nobility clamored for faience for their tables (a trend that started when Louis XIV confiscated dinnerware made from precious metals as a fund-raising move, says Antiques Journal) since it was easier to get than porcelain from China. These antique hand painted French dinner plates are popular with some collectors today. Even with the link to nobility, Quimper ceramics survived the French Revolution by changing production to brown and reddish earthenware. In the early 1800s glazes using multiple colors reemerged and around 1880 the “petit Breton” motif appeared.

There are still many “Faïenceries” in Quimper, including Faïenceries H.B. Henriot started by the Bousquet family. They continue the tradition of handpainting without transfers, which is an impressive feat in itself. There’s also a Quimper Faience Museum you can visit and learn more about the methods of these famous French ceramics. If you start delving into more about Quimper ceramics on your own, be prepared: the best information is in French.

 

 

Image of Henriot faïencerie courtesy of Thesupermat.

Image of “petit Breton” courtesy of Patrick.charpiat.

Posted on

Italian Coffee and Our Favorite Italian Coffee Mugs

I know that the Clover coffee machine is old news, but it fascinates me that people are so enamored of coffee that there’s a machine on the market that costs thousands of dollars and claims to brew the perfect cup. Personally, I like making my morning coffee at home and savoring it in an Italian ceramic coffee mug. I feel momentarily transported to Italy, if just for a few lovely minutes before my day truly begins. One of my favorite parts of traveling in Italy is getting to experience the relaxed, community-oriented culture found in local cafés. Coffee definitely has a way of bringing people together and in Italy, coffee helps me feel right at home.

Why is it that we think of Italy and coffee together though… I mean, coffee isn’t even grown there! Part of it is history. Venice was home to the first coffeehouses in Western Europe. The first one was recorded in 1645. Coffeehouses quickly became a place to do business and talk with like-minded people (hence their attraction to students and thinkers the world-over). The modern espresso machine was created in Milan in 1945, and the subsequent craze over this bitter yet delicious concentrated brew continues today with cafes and aficionados world-over.

And when did Italian ceramic coffee mugs come into the picture? Right at the beginning in fact. Italian coffee mugs were traditionally made of ceramic because it kept the coffee hot for longer. Cool coffee didn’t have the same appeal, so Italians ensured their coffee mugs helped draw out the delectable experience just a little longer. Clever, no?

Of course, espresso is another story. It is best drunk quickly, while it’s still hot. Many Italians grab a quick shot on their way to work, just drinking it at the bar, explains Life in Italy. However, you’ll still see people lingering in a café in the late afternoon, enjoying company of friends or simply soaking up the atmosphere. You can visit some of the original coffeehouses in Venice or frequent the local café no matter where in Italy you might be. Even the train stations have incredible brews and they often serve them from the cutest little Italian coffee mugs and espresso cups.

Not going to Italy anytime soon? Then create your own café feel with Italian ceramic coffee mugs at home. And don’t believe purists who tell you espresso is the only way to drink it – coffee has been brewed in a variety of fashions since it was first discovered (probably in Ethiopia, though sources don’t always agree). So whether you filter, French press, or use a stove top espresso maker, take a few moments to really savor your next cup. May I suggest these ideas For Coffee & Tea Lovers, including my favorite Italian coffee mugs.

Coffee bean image courtesy of Jeff Kubina.