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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

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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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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.

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Montelupo Fiorentino and the Tradition of Majolica

Thanksgiving is one of my favorite holidays, and not just because of the food. I love the family traditions that surround the day, even as they evolve with expanding and changing family structures. So as I reflect on Thursday’s feast of turkey, stuffing, and cranberry sauce, I’m reminded of another place where family and tradition rule the day: Montelupo Fiorentino in Italy.

In world of Tuscan ceramics, Montelupo Fiorentino is famous for its quality majolica (it is one of a few major historical centers of Italian hand painted ceramics). Located on an important crossroads between the Florentine area, the Apennines, and the Tyrrhenian coast, Montelupo Fiorentino has the perfect access to clay, water, and transportation that ceramics needed to thrive in the Middle Ages. The Florentine Republic took over the area in 1204, enlarging the defensive castle (you can still visit its remains today). Construction of walls in the 14th century helped protect the town and the Priory of St. Lorenzo, and helped it grow into a thriving city and production center for Tuscan ceramics in the 15th and 16th centuries.

But none of this really explains why Montelupo Ceramics are so famous. The craze for majolica in the Renaissance brought in wealthy families who needed beautiful, sturdy dishware. Montelupo Fiorentino became the center of production for the Medicis (who built the Villa dell’Ambrogiana nearby) and other noble families.

The detail and craftsmanship of Montelupo ceramics led to its distribution around both the Mediterranean (Greece, Egypt, Morocco, Spain, and France) and the shipping lanes of the Atlantic (Southern England and Holland). Talk about being internationally renowned! You can see beautiful examples of Montelupo ceramics from this era at the Museum of Montelupo.

The production of Montelupo ceramics was hit hard by the plague that ravaged Italy in the 17th century — creating a shortage of labor and an economic recession. Luckily for us, there was a revival in the 19th century of the art form, and today Montelupo Fiorentino is once again a major center of beautiful, quality, handmade majolica combining innovation and modern style with the traditional techniques that originally made it famous.

Many consider Montelupo Fiorentino to be the best of Tuscan ceramics. You can celebrate the traditions of the region at the annual International Ceramics Festival, held on the last week of June. There you’ll find great examples of the art, as well as see masters at work, hear live music, and sample traditional Tuscan food. If you can’t get to Italy next summer, add a touch of Tuscan elegance to your home with gorgeous Montelupo ceramics by Ceramiche Bartoloni and Tuscia d’Arte.

Villa dell’Ambrogiana drawing image courtesy of Sailko.

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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.

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Ceramiche Bartoloni

Patrizio and Stefano Bartoloni
Brothers Patrizio and Stefano Bartoloni in front of their workshop

Brothers Patrizio and Stefano Bartoloni started their ceramics business when they were 18 and 20 years old. At the time, their “studio” was a wood shed with a dirt floor in Capraia, a tiny village bordering Montelupo. When they outgrew that space, they moved to their current workshop in Montelupo, about 10 miles outside of Florence.

Patrizio is more of the flamboyant painter and Stefano does more of the intricate designs and lettering. My uncle met them in 1987 in their “studio” in Capraia and has been friends with them ever since. He nicknamed them the “Blues Brothers,” which they think is really funny.

Below is an old photo of the Bartoloni brothers and their father. Their parents have always worked with them and their dad still does some of the painting. Over the years they’ve hired a few other people to help run the business, but the Bartolonis still do all the artwork themselves.
Bartoloni Brothers With Their Dad
Bartoloni Brothers With Their Dad
The Bartolonis are located in Montelupo, which is a short train ride from Florence. Montelupo became became famous for their ceramics beginning in the 13th century, when Moorish traders traveling to Florence along the old Roman road, passed right through Montelupo with ceramic wares from Spain. Then, during the Renaissance, artisans in Montelupo began elaborating on the ceramic designs, adding realistic imagery and brighter colors – transforming it into the high art form it is today.
I’m including a few photos and links of my favorite Bartoloni pieces.  These are truly works of art – but art that was created to be used and enjoyed.  I love imagining how each of these pieces began as a piece of clay on a wheel in the Bartoloni studio… was handcrafted by this family with love and artistic passion… then painted following their traditional techniques… and finally, after a long trip, arrived here in the US, to be appreciated and used by a new family.  Nothing makes me happier than finding loving homes for these beautiful pieces.  Hope you like them!

Jessica Vases
Jessica Vases
Limoni Pitcher
The Limoni design is by far the most popular in my Bartoloni collection
Rooster Casserole Dish
Roosters are popular among Majolica designs in general, but I think the Bartolonis do them best!
Frutta Venezia Canisters
Frutta Venezia Canisters