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Deruta Ceramics – the Potter’s Wheel Workshop

A workshop to discover the craft techniques of the ceramics district of Deruta

from 80€ Per person
Price is lower based on umber of people

The ceramics in Umbria

Due to its rich history, Umbria has four cities with strong links to the production of ceramics: Deruta, Gualdo Tadino, Gubbio and Orvieto. A source of pride since antiquity for their regional artistic production, the four cities are part of the ‘Associazione Italia Città della Ceramica’. Among the many types of ceramics produced, we will look in particular at maiolica, a technique that consists of immersing a terracotta product in white enamel, decorating it and then firing it a second time.

Gualdo Tadino maiolica has established itself as one of the city’s most important products since the 14th century. In 1361 a certain Angelo da Gualdo was the official ceramics supplier of the Sacro Convento di Assisi for the festa del Perdono (Forgiveness festival). In the following century, the fame of Gualdo’s ceramic production increased such that a law passed by the city of Gubbio in 1456 allowed the sale, by way of an exception, of valuable vases and pots from Gualdo on the city’s markets throughout the year. Later, the reputation of this maiolica reached Rome: in the 17th century, a ceramist obtained permission from the Pope to apply gold to ceramics according to an innovative technique developed in the city. The foundations were thereby laid for the development of the specific technique that would transfer the fame of Gualdo ceramics outside Italy’s borders some two centuries later, that is, the revival of the fascinating technique of lusterware. In 1873, after almost 400 years, Paolo Rubboli rediscovered this technique, which gives ceramic such extraordinary iridescence that it makes it look like a precious metal. Gualdo Tadino still carefully preserves this tradition, both through the Museo della ceramica – Casa Cajani, which exhibits some of the finest maiolica ever produced in the area, and because the tradition has been maintained over time, to the extent that ceramics has become one of the city’s most important economic drivers.

Deruta has been an important ceramic production centre since the Middle Ages, especially because of its commercial links with the nearby city of Perugia. In 1277, the Municipality of Perugia asked Deruta’s labour force to make more than one hundred thousand bricks to be used to pave the city’s streets. Building materials and pottery were the leading products of Deruta, which has now become one of the most famous cities for craftmanship. The production quality was so high that in some cases maiolica was used as a bargaining chip in the payment of taxes or trade to replace cash when the money supply was running out.

Around the city, the remains of ancient kilns used for firing ceramics reveal that during the Renaissance, there were fifty-two active workshops in the historic centre alone. The remains  recovered show that innovative and sometimes revolutionary techniques and styles were adopted which nevertheless preserve elements of continuity with the past: a kind of ‘potter’s memory bank’ that fearlessly welcomed the originality and modernity of the new.

The treasured collections of the Museo Regionale della Ceramica – housed in the 14th-century convent of San Francesco – reveal the profound artistic creativity and pride that Deruta’s maiolica experts transferred to their present-day descendants. Today, the home and the workshop are still characteristic and fundamental aspects of life in the town. Each artisan’s workshop tells the story of this ‘civil’ art form, the talent that has made Deruta famous worldwide, and the fascinating secret techniques that have been handed down for generations.

In Gubbio, traces of a ceramic tradition date back to the Neolithic area (6th-5th millennium BC) and span all historical periods to reach maximum splendour in Roman times. In the Middle Ages, ceramic production saw a period of intense development starting from the mid-15th century. In that period, Gubbio welcomed numerous foreign masters from major centres nearby (Siena, Norcia, Borgo Sansepolcro, Teramo, etc.) who joined the local potters, creating fertile ground for fruitful artistic sharing and cross-contamination. One of the results of this cultural exchange is ​​represented by the red, silvery and golden lustre obtained in the third firing in the technique developed by one of the most important Renaissance ceramists, Cipriano Piccolpasso. After this period of greatness, interest in Gubbio ceramics suffered a minor decline but reclaimed the centre of attention in the mid-19th century, when the technique of ‘lustreware’ was rediscovered and developed, adapting it to modern factories and new production demands. You can trace the history of this important tradition through beautiful collections like the 17th-century workshop of Mastro Giorgio Andreoli or the red pharmaceutical earthenware pots at the Museo Civico di Palazzo dei Consoli, located in the centre of the city.

Orvieto’s ceramic tradition is over a thousand years old and is rooted in the Etruscan era, a period in which one of antiquity’s most refined productions spread through the settlements in the region, that of bucchero, a black and shiny ceramic that is incredibly fine and light-weight. But Orvieto’s Etruscan production reached its zenith in the so-called ‘multicoloured architectural terracottas’: decorative elements of public and private buildings that were even praised by Pliny the Elder in his Naturalis Historia.

The artistic tradition of Orvieto ceramics continued throughout the Middle Ages, when new decoration techniques were developed, such as lattice patterning, a true geometric lattice painted on the glazed background to give depth to the surfaces. In the early 20th century a historic discovery was made in Orvieto. Almost all the medieval houses had ‘butti’, that is, pantry spaces dug underground and forgotten over the years and over multiple renovations. In each of these places a large quantity of ancient medieval pottery, fragmented but in good condition, was found. This discovery made Orvieto one of the most important fields of study on the subject of ancient Umbrian ceramics. A systematic and deliberate plunder of remains ensued, lasting for many years and making the fortunes of local antique dealers and some of the most important museums in the world, as well as the local Museo Archeologico Nazionale.

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