As 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.
But what about Italian earthenware or Italian pots? Vietri ceramics or Tuscan style dinnerware? 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!
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.
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.
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!
Arabs brought Majolica with them to Spain and from there it was introduced to Italy. The name Majolica comes from the misconception that it originated on the Spanish island of Mallorca (or Majorca) – when in fact, it was only shipped through the port of Mallorca on its way to Italy.
In the 13th century, Italian ceramists began making their own Majolica, defining the colors and designs that are most famous today. At that time, Majolica was meant to be primarily utilitarian and decorated with abstract and geometric patterns. In the 15th century, the patterns started depicting people and animals and by the 16th century, it also became popular to have dinnerware designed with the family crest.
Majolica underwent further adaptation when it was brought to Central and South America, where native artists adopted the technique and added their own style and traditional designs.