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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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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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The Best Place to Buy Italian Ceramics: It’s Closer than You Might Think

So you’re on a whirlwind vacation in Italy and want to buy some ceramics? Think again. I know what you’re thinking, while there are some things you can’t bring home – the espresso in the piazza, the incredible pizza, the sun glinting on canals – but beautifully-painted Italian ceramics seem like a great, tangible souvenir that will forever remind you of your Italian adventure. However, there are some solid reasons why importing Italian ceramics yourself is just not worth it.

I hear horror stories from customers all the time that go something like this:

“We visited a small town known for its ceramics and shopped around until we found the most interesting artist. We fell in love with the work – it was so unique and perfect for our home! After developing such a strong connection with the people at the workshop, we thought that splurging on an entire set of dishes would be the perfect souvenir.

“The seller told us they could ship directly to our home and that we would avoid paying VAT because of the customs regulations. It was definitely pricey, but we figured it must be cheaper than what we’d pay in the US; even when we found out the handling and shipping fees it still seemed worth it.

“Imagine our frustration when we received our package (a few months later) and found almost half of the pieces broken! I can’t even tell you how upset and disappointed we were.”

Besides the complicated dance that is getting an Italian VAT refund and paying duty at US customs, there’s nothing more upsetting than finding a box of broken shards after you’ve invested hundreds of dollars. Many people just don’t realize how well ceramics need to be packed to make the long journey. I know this from personal experience, you can be sure. I spend a lot of time (and money) researching packing and shipping methods so that everything arrives in one piece, wherever my artists may be located. I hate the idea of letting even one of these works of art break in transit.

Tuscia d'ArteSo what’s the answer? I recommend touring the workshops while in Italy, meeting the artists, gaining an appreciation for the craft, and identifying your favorite designs and styles. Then, once you’ve returned to the States, find a reliable place to buy Italian ceramics. Enjoy your Italian experience and then let someone else do all the legwork that goes into importing. You can buy Italian ceramics online from a reputable source – inquire about their shipping methods and policies before you buy. And think about bringing some less breakable souvenirs home from your next Italian vacation.

Photo of Grand Canal courtesy of Dennis Jarvis.