Excellence in Clay

by Danilo Brunetti

Move over, Murano glass. Italian ceramics represent some of the most exquisite and artistic of the country’s handicrafts. Antonella Mastrosanti takes a look.

Italian ceramics, alongside the sought-after Venetian hand-blown glass, embody the excellence in craftsmanship that the bel paese has come to be famous for, approaching the sphere of art itself. The word “ceramic” derives from the ancient Greek word keramos, or pottery, and has passed into modern languages to indicate any object made of clay. These objects differ depending on the nature of the clay and the ingredients that are sometimes added to form the raw mixture, each requiring a specific degree of heat. There are two fundamental processes that go into the production of ceramics: the shaping of the clay and the baking. During this last phase, changes to the physical state of the object take place, as well as continuous and progressive chemical re- actions that serve to create the desired type of ceramic.

The initial raw product, once shaped, is specially dried, and then subjected to ring that contracts the earthy paste, hardens it, and fixes  its form permanently. Depending on its chemical composition, this process can change the form dramatically or subtly, and changes to its color can likewise vary. But unlike the process of creating glass art, the clay does not melt (which would distort the product).

Excellence  The simplest expression of ceramics can be found in objects that are formed exclusively in clay, that is, terracotta (literally “baked earth”). Works in terracotta are made of a porous and richly colored clay, without the application of an external coating. We see this in everything from simple tiles to the common garden pot, from statuettes to ornamental terracotta. But practical purposes as well as aesthetic tendencies have necessitated, since as far back as ancient times, the adoption of a corrective process that affects both the porosity and the color of the final product, by way of the application of a coating of varying thickness and opacity.

These coatings come in two principal types: paint and enamel. The first is transparent, while the most famous and commonly used enamel is brilliant white, and is known as majolica. Both types can also be dyed with vitrified colors, which create a completely different  effect. Most ornate painted ceramics are decorated with vitrified dyes, and it is these that are often considered to possess great artistic value, by virtue of the incomparable Italian master painters who decorate them by hand.

Many Italian cities and towns can boast centuries-old traditions in the production of ceramics, each with its own recognizable personality and style. Among them, the most important and representative are Faenza, Deruta, Laterza, Caltagirone, Vietri sul Mare, and Napoli Capodimonte, each different from one another, but all characterized by the same polychrome magnificence and fantasy of ornamental detail.

Rome has at least two reliable reference points when it comes to purchasing Italian artistic ceramics. L’ Artigianato is a shop specializing in Capodimonte porcelain as well as ceramics from Sicily, Tuscany, and Umbria of extraordinary chromatic richness, including dishes, pottery, and statuettes that continue to amaze for their beauty and originality. Modigliani, which has locations in a number of Italian cities, is synonymous with hand-made and hand-painted ceramics of the Italian regional tradition, with an innovative approach to design and functionality

L’ Artigianato  – Piazza Navona 84  – Tel. 066874476  italianhandicraft.i

Modigliani  – Via Frattina 56 – Tel. 066790258  modigliani.it