Italian Handcrafts: Umbrian Ceramics
- WTI Magazine #92 Jun 16, 2017
From the most distant past, the portion of Umbria between the upper and middle valley of the Tiber River and its tributaries, the Chiascio and Paglia, was settled by communities whose earthenware objects, moulded with sedimentary clay from the local soil, provide important evidence and documents of the development of civilisation.
The Umbrians and Etruscans developed a particularly refined and varied productive and artistic capacity, which laid the foundation for a tradition that has continued uninterrupted down through the centuries.
Terracotta production is documented since the 13th century and the use of these materials confirms the genuine inclination of the Umbrian people towards this type of work.
Further evidence is provided by the presence of furnaces, very common until the start of the twentieth century (with some still in use), where simple glazed pottery for beautifying and embellishing 18th-century sideboards and tables was produced together with more refined decorated majolica.
What is clear is that this activity laid the foundations for a craft culture that produced the greatest expressions of ceramic art: the sheen of bucchero pottery, Renaissance grotesques, the magical reflection of lusterware and the innovative forms of modern ceramics are just some examples.
This wide range of products has made Umbria known throughout the world and is closely linked to the charm of the country residences, the buildings in the old town centres and the farmhouses of this land.
Ceramics in Deruta achieved their greatest expression in the long period from the second half of the 15th century until the end of the 17th century.
Various styles developed during these two and a half centuries, including “petal back”, featuring petal-shaped decorations on the back of the plates and “severe style” motifs on the front, and more complex figuration, such as the Raphaelesque style, with it characteristic blue and yellow pastel shades.
The objects that marked the passage from domestic ceramics to more ornamental work include large display plates, amatory cups and two-handled globular vessels on tall bases.
The 17th century also saw the appearance of the “compendiario” style, featuring essential pictorial motifs applied to complex, almost sculptural shapes with graceful contours.
Notable examples of Deruta ceramic art include the floor of the Church of San Francesco and the votive offerings in the nearby sanctuary of the Madonna dei Bagni. The old town of Deruta is also home to a regional museum with a rich collection of artefacts as well as spaces for thematic exhibitions.
The Ceramics of Gubbio
The origins of ceramic pottery in this city date back to the middle ages, with production characterised by the use of cobalt blue. Development occurred in the late 15th-early 16th century thanks to the presence of Mastro Giorgio Andreoli. He introduced the “riverbero” and lustre techniques, featuring intense colours such as gold, silver, green and, above all, ruby red.
The second half of the 20th century saw the development of the “floral” style and particular production of Bucchero ceramics decorated with sgraffito and polychrome and gold enamel.
The ceramics of Gualdo Tadino
Under the influence of nearby Gubbio, a flourishing ceramics production came to life in Gualdo Tadino in 16th century and developed in the 18th century, with multiple images of the Madonna and child and votive offerings. It achieved its finest expression, however, in the late 19th century, with the work of Paolo Rubboli.
He settled in Gualdo in 1875 and revived the gold and ruby-red lustre technique inherited from Mastro Giorgio.An echo of the Risorgimento can also be seen in his work, which includes plates commemorating Giuseppe Garibaldi and other heroes of the time.
Santarelli initially continued Rubboli’s work, but then pursued a direction of his own, reinterpreting patterns and decorations from the most diverse styles, including Medieval, Renaissance, Hispanic-Moorish, Art Nouveau and Art Deco.
Present-day production is still characterised by the lustre technique and the influence of these great masters, as further proof of their creative ability and originality.
The Local Area
The ceramic art of Umbria has undergone remarkable developments in many important centres, but Deruta, Gubbio and Gualdo Tadino are the brightest stars in this firmament. Their legacy lives on through craftsmen who constantly research, document and safeguard the original and specific features of the tradition.
The development of these industries was favoured by the local geographical morphology, with the presence of good quality clay soils, river water and woodland providing fuel for the furnaces.